The Washington Post has a stunning feature today on one neighborhood's recovery from the earthquake in Haiti called "The Spirit of Survival" written by Manuel Roig-Franzia. I haven't read anything like this in the newspaper for a while--a truly vivid portrait of human community and human suffering which never crossing the line to sensationalism. The piece begins, "Earthly spasms could not undo the Village of God," so needless to say I read on.
Roig-Franzia captures some of the voices he hears in this Haitian tent camp in a former soccer field: a "preacher lady" screams "There's nobody who can do anything for you if you're not a God-fearing person; only Jesus!" A "lawyer" yelling on a street corner "If [international relief agencies] want to help, the aid has to be distributed! If they can't bring the aid, we should tell them to go!" And a "gangly teenage boy" raps along with a song on a stereo, "fight for what you believe/if you want this life to change/don't just sit and look around."
Those three speakers concisely summarize the range of options we have when we are in crisis: call on God, call on others, and call on yourself. I imagine that all three appeals are needed for Haiti to rebuild. But in the end, I guess I'd have to side with the preacher-lady: when everything falls down around us, the love of God gives us a foundation on which to rebuild.
Chris Beyer spoke at KC this past Sunday, and he ended with an image that has been on my mind ever since. Chris was reflecting on two passages from the week's lectionary (Exodus 34:29-35 and Luke 9:28-36) which both describe a direct, unmediated experience of the divine which a group then tries to manage or control in some way. He reflected on how often we put up barriars, "veils", in between ourselves and God, valuing a leader or a church or a practice or a call or even an identity more than we value God. That's all well and good until we lose the leader or the church or the identity, etc., and suddenly realize that we don't have no sense of connection to God, no spirituality, no faith, without those things.
Chris ended by saying, "All my life I've had this recurring nightmare; I am trapped beneath tons of rubble, in pitch-blackness, unable to move any part of my body.... As we've just seen in Haiti, many people have suffered this precise horror. I just pray that, if ever in that situation, I would not panic because God would be there with me, and that I wouldn't be too afraid to see Him."
I pray the same thing. I put a lot of value on my call, my community, my family, my sense of purpose, my identity, etc. But I pray that if I were to lose those things, I would have a connection with God that wasn't dependent on anything other than God's own love for me. I trust that connection exists, not because of I have a particularly pure faith (I don't) but because that's who God is.
The unfailing, freely-given love of God is, in the end, the only thing I know that can combat despair when other people and groups fail us and we have lost even our own sense of self.