We who have heard and watched video reports from the tragic earthquake in Haiti cannot help but feel overwhelmed by the devastation and loss of life. As I watched initial reports of the suffering on television, I nearly burst out in tears as I saw children, parents, and residents of the Port-au-Prince in shock, seriously injured, and crying for loved ones. It is overwhelming to watch from here; what must it be like to be there? Initial reports suggest the death toll in the hundreds of thousands. Property damages will be in the millions if not billions of dollars.
Having recently finished Greg Mortenson’s wonderful book, Stones into Schools, I immediately recalled his gripping chapter describing the awful earthquake which struck an impoverished area of Pakistan early on the morning of October 8, 2005. The Neelan Valley, surrounded by 20,000 feet high mountains was rearranged as streams stopped, whole towns entombed, and thousands of children just settled into school classes crushed to death along with teachers. The day after the devastation, torrential rains, as sort of a sadistic aftermath, poured down drowning thousands more trapped inside collapsed buildings.
Who can forget the horrific 9.5 earthquake and ensuing tsunami which struck just off the coast of Sumatra the day after Christmas in December, 2004? Over 200,000 people in 14 countries lost their lives as we heard live reports and made our donations in disbelief and shock, the day after singing songs of peace on earth.
During the winter of 1811 and 1812, the largest known earthquakes to strike America occurred in the New Madrid, Missouri area, two of the quakes estimated to be over 8.0 on the Richter scale with aftershocks continuing nearly two months! The Mississippi River was temporarily reversed, forests swallowed into the earth, herds of cattle disappeared, small towns sunk into the earth and preachers railed on the coming judgment of God upon the sins of the newly formed nation!
Where do these horrible events originate? Why do they keep happening to us? Does God really make, allow or cause them? Years ago I attended a regional Presbytery meeting shortly after a terrific hurricane has stricken the southeast coast, devastating parts of Charleston, South Carolina. A minister who was assisting worship and prayers declared, “The wrath of God has struck again!” Really?
If we hold to the teaching that God made everything we see in the time/space world, it’s hard to argue against such conclusions that God either perpetuates such tragic events or at least allows them to teach humanity some lessons, the hard way I might add. Writers like Christopher Hitchens, writer of "God is Not Great” pick up on this theme and decry such meanness of a supposedly loving and righteous God. Richard Dawkins in his recent book, The God Delusion takes a similar theme along with the absurdities which seem to abound in religious institutions. In 1963, an “in house” Anglican theologian named John Robinson addressed similar questions in his published book, “Honest to God.” He didn’t fare well afterwards in his career as a church theologian.
From ancient times certain people, often labeled mystics and seers, and “crazy,” have claimed the world we see is not real; it but an illusion of reality. Many of these folks came from ancient mountain dwellings in the high Himalayans where weather is harsh and people I suppose easily spend weeks inside caves thinking and listening. It can be dangerous! Later people like the Buddha discerned that there was another Presence beyond the seen world usually thought of as reality. This Mind was the Reality of which humanity was connected to in their essence, beyond the temporal dwellings of the body. A few centuries later Jesus appeared on earth for a short time, teaching along the streets a few short years, leaving no written words before being put to death. Yet early followers of Jesus contained a group which felt his teachings were radically different from previous ideas; God was not to be found in a special land or people or nation but within and around us at all times as Spirit. They also taught that God did not create this temporal world of duality but it was the lesser gods, the “demigods.” They fared fairly well in debates until the 4th century when they were banned from the newly recognized church (the easiest part) and their writings destroyed. Well mostly. In recent times many of the hidden ones were discovered and published.
As I wrote previously, this past century’s publication of the book A Course in Miracles takes up this theme again, as if from Jesus himself, that this world is not a world created by the Creator God, but from our own dreams. It came from our dreams of what it might be like existing in our own in a world, separate from one another and at odds with good and evil. It’s referred to in the book as “the tiny mad idea in which the Son of God forgot to laugh.” In this perspective, God didn’t create this world of polarities, we did. And we, in our supposed separation, became lost in our journey of independence; lonely, confused and cynical about the possibility of eternal peace. Yes, in time we even made up the expanded dream that if there is a God who caused all of this, we might be able to control our fates somewhat by offerings of sacrifice. We even came up with religions where we turned the tables, making God the clear cause and we but its effects, it victims. So now if we repent and make adequate sacrifice, we can later die from our body shells and get back to “heaven.” But if the proper sacrifices aren’t made, God will be very angry and we’ll never get back home!
So what if God did not really make all this world of pain, suffering, and death along with temporary times of ecstasy, bliss, pleasure and happiness? What if it is our dream, our choice and not reality? Further, what if the world we see through our body’s eyes is, as Einstein once said, “but an optical illusion of reality?” What if we really are closer to reality when asleep than “awake,” in silence rather than noise, without the body rather than with? Increasingly, it makes more and more sense to me, giving me the ability detach from mortality about me, to be in the world but not see myself as of it in the Spirit sense. I can be as the Gospel of Thomas goes, “A passerby.”
Why then do earthquakes and violence acts of “God” occur? Why can’t we all just “get back to nature” and be at peace? Because what we see and feel with our five senses is a world and universe of temporality, of time/space existence. It isn’t just beautiful sunsets, calm waters and quiet forests where nature plays peacefully. It is a harsh, violent, “eat or be eaten” world we have made. All who exist with bodies in this plane are given a “demise sentence.” Some last a bit longer, others leave early on. In the eyes of eternity, a 1000 years or billions of years are but as nothing. So we don’t blame God for creating so-called natural disasters; it a part of our dream of separation of “being on our own.” It is the nature of the world, the universe of matter. It comes and it goes. Nothing here really gives lasting satisfaction. It comes and goes. Whether we live a day, a decade or a century, it all adds up but to toil and sweat, fear and ache. It’s as the old Hebrew scripture puts it, “vanity of vanities! All is vanity!” But seeing ourselves another way, there can be healing, not of the body but of the mind, the thinking, which is in reality, the only true healing there is.
No, God doesn’t make disasters and accidents and murders and death; it is simply a part of the universe in which we live as bodies. It’s part of the “mad idea.” Yet we have choices and options to make by not seeing ourselves as victims of this world. Victimization is such a popular option for us. Notice how easily we whine and complain. It’s too hot, it’s too cold, it’s too wet, it’s too dry. A part of us “loves to get sick” just to prove it’s hopeless, beyond our control. Notice how we glue ourselves to reports of tragedies, convincing ourselves we are but victims with no choices. But the journey can become hopeful, lighter, and filled with much release and deepest joy when we realize we indeed are not our bodies but One with Creator God, free at last, with no limits, free to forgive ourselves and others, and free then to bring healing to the world. There is no death, ultimately. It is but a transition back to our home in Oneness.
A popular story from the East is about a little wave on the ocean, drifting closer and closer toward the shore, where he watched as others went crashing to their deaths. He began to feel terror at his demise and expressed his fear to another wave, an older, wiser wave who had been around many times. The wiser wave shouted over, “Don’t worry, all is well! Whether you are flapping around out here or crashing onto the shores, you are always part of the sea!” And so it is.
Take time then to “go home” each day. Take quiet walks, sit in quiet meditation, letting “goods, kindred and bodies go,” and in quiet breathing you will feel It, the Presence of Ocean enveloping you, the small wave, and carrying your consciousness deep into the Ocean of Life. And then return with a smile of peace as you continue to row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.