Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Happy Heart - An Aching Heart

My heart is happy today, because it looks as though our Br Ron is recovering well. It will take him a long time for his recovery. Indeed it takes anyone a long time to recover from pneumonia, and someone with Emphysema has more hurdles to clear on their way to healing. But he's breathing on his own now, and he's on his feet for short periods and talking about getting out of the hospital and back home, which hopefully will be in the next few days. So there is much to be thankful for, and I feel a lot of happiness.

I'm also feeling a lot of aching right now, because I've just come from looking at the collection of pictures in the New York Times of the Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan. The destruction is one thing when it's unimaginable. When you've seen the pictures it's no longer unimaginable, because it's right there in front of you.

It would be nice to think that it's my spiritual nature sensing the oneness of all humanity that causes me to feel this way. And though I won't rule out the reality that some of that is true, it's also true that a lot of it is just memory. Once you've lived through something like that, it never leaves you.

In the 1980's I was living at our Priory in South Carolina, in the village of Pineville in the Low Country between Charleston and Columbia. and it was towards the end of that time that Hurricane Hugo devastated so much of that part of the South, particularly South Carolina. So many of the newspaper pictures I've just been seeing are not like a horrible scene in a faraway place. They look like something I knew - and know - all too well.

I wasn't in Pineville when the hurricane hit, so I didn't go through the worst of it. I was, in fact, deep in the Rockies in Northern New Mexico on a fishing trip with my friend Mark, and we didn't even know there was a Hurricane until we came back down to where there were some newspapers. I got home 2 days later, my flight having been diverted from Charleston to Columbia, where the airport was still functioning. And then we drove 2 hours through a devastated land - forests flattened, towns terribly damaged, people wandering about in deep shock.

Everyone at the Priory was fine, physically, and we had shelter, at least. The Priory was composed of a large central house and a collection of hermitages in which the monks and the guests lived. The main house still stood, but the roof had peeled off in the storm, which the community had experienced because they took refuge in the house, several of them under large pieces of furniture. Several of the hermitages were damaged. A tree limb had come through one wall of my hermitage. There was, of course, no electricity. But the phone lines were underground, so the phone worked sporadically. In one of those ironic happenstances at times like this, for several days we could call out but no one could call in, or people could call in and we couldn't call out, and we never knew which was going to be which.

It was September, so the weather was ok, and there was no major suffering from heat or cold. But we usually used water from our own well, and the pump didn't work. Then very quickly one of our Associates from Florida came with a small generator which would run the pump, so after a few days we had water. We could cook because the stove used propane gas, and the tank was still connected. We were without electricity for several weeks, so we went to bed early and got up early.

We cleaned up. We piled up trash. We burned debris. To this day I think the worst part of the whole experience was not any deprivation but just the living in the middle of all that destruction. The Priory Church was a modern building and it had a lot of glass, some of which was broken out. It had one glass wall that looked out on what had been a grove of pine trees, but now was piles and piles of debris. It changed our worship, in a big way. Both we and our neighbors found that periodically we simply had to stop our cleaning up. We could do just so much, and then we couldn't do any more. And there was nothing around us for miles and miles and miles but more destruction. It was terrible to live in.

I drove to the house of a friend in Alabama who had electricity so that I could get some word out to our friends and Associates, and I remember that drive vividly. It seemed that no matter how far I drove I couldn't escape the destruction. It was everywhere. The world had turned into a nightmare.

I also remember the day the electricity came back. The first we knew of it was when Br Tom Schultz pointed at the ceiling fan in the living room of the main house because it was turning. It took a moment to realize what that meant. In the midst of the chaos, a fan was blowing.

Well, we had a place to live and we had each other, so we were in much, much better shape than many were. There were houses in our county that had survived didn't have electricity a year after the storm. We were fortunate in so many ways. That doesn't lessen the trauma.

I'm not saying that I understand the magnitude of what has happened to the people of Sendai in Japan. I'm just saying that this is what comes up for me in looking at the pictures of what has happened there.

How do I pray?

Well, I pray with my emptiness and my aching heart, or I don't pray at all, that's for sure. When I think the phrase "the people of Japan" or hear it in our Church during the Prayers of the People, that ache opens again. It's what I have right now.

And with it I have my old friend the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Word of God, have mercy." Over and over. And I have the beads that I wear on my right arm, always close to hand (literally!). And just writing this has opened me up more to the prayer that I have to have - that I have to be. I have no doubt whatever of my call to pray now. And I'm glad beyond words that I've had my years of experience at negotiating hard times in prayer, so that I don't have to use a lot of energy figuring out "how can I possibly pray in this situation?" I have my tools. I just have to use them.

The result of my prayer? I have no earthly idea, and I'm not terribly concerned with that. I am a person who aches for the people of Sendai (the city where the earthquake was strongest). That's the truth - part of the truth - about me. Part of that truth is my memories of the trauma of natural disaster. The reality is that I simply have to pray that and lay my prayers in the hands of God. We are all really one, and this is what I have to offer to those on the other side of the words with whom I am one. The "results" of my praying are not my business.

I know that doing it will work some grace in me. I have trust that God will do whatever should be done in those for whom I pray. I choose just to step into the reality of the oneness of all people.

Lord Jesus Christ, Word of God, have mercy.

3 comments:

Ildiko said...

I am so glad to hear that Br. Ronald is on the mend, I was relieved to read the much awaited news today.

I don't watch TV. I saw two pictures of Japan in the Times I can't bear myself to look. I pray incessantly too, for mercy, hope and love. I don't have even remotely similar experiences in my life. I grew up in rural Hungary in circumstances most Americans would describe devastating. To me and us was the life we knew it. Humans are resilient and resourceful.
Thanks be to God.

Ildiko

Chris said...

I'm out of the loop on your blog, Bede. Just read now about Ron's illness. My prayers for Ron attend those of many, and extend to the community as you support his recovery. And my heart aches for Japan too.

GallingGalla said...

I was at HCM very recently for an individual retreat, and I'm happy to say that it was a privilege to eat at the same table in the refectory as Br. Ron on Friday the 18th. I'm happy that he's feeling well enough to be a part of the dinner-time crowd!. Br. Andrew was also at that table; I enjoyed his company during my stay.

This was my first stay at HCM, and I want to thank you and all the brothers for making HCM such a welcoming place for all that come there.

I have been keeping Br. Ron (and the people of Japan) in my prayers since my return to Philadelphia.