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Water into wine.Hallo again to all.

In the last two weeks, massive earthquakes have struck two of the world's most vibrant centres of Anglican life. The first had a magnitude of 7.1 or 7.2 and shook the earth throughout the Anglican Church of Melanesia. Despite some landslides and collapsed buildings, our friends in this part of the world have written to say that they are safe and sound, that there is no humanitarian or natural disaster. The second measured 7.0 on the Richter Scale and wrought still uncalculable devastation in Haiti. It was felt throughout the West Indies, as far north as Florida and as far south as Venezuela. Even in an age when live-broadcast suffering dulls our senses of shock and sorrow, the latter earthquake is wrenching and striking for the ways in which it has stolen life from those who already had nothing but life.

As aftershocks from both earthquakes continue, there is for many of us a sense of helplessness. The safe are still by and large safe. The injured are still injured. The dead are still dead. The question of why one island should endure a larger earthquake and come away mainly unscathed, while the people of another—already too familiar with crushing poverty—are plunged still further into chaos and destruction is still as unanswerable for us today as it was in Christ's own day.

The Tower of SiloamWe are sure your minds go almost immediately to the same place ours do when you feel an earthquake or learn of one. We imagine ourselves in the crowd around Christ as he spoke about the collapse of the Tower of Siloam. In this quick glimpse into an urban New Testament disaster, we see innocent people—eighteen of them—dying in an instant as a building falls on them. Our Lord tells us in clear terms that these people did not die because they were sinners, or because they had done something worse than their neighbours. But neither do we learn why they did die. Christ says instead, somewhat cryptically but imperatively, that this is a sign that we must change our hearts.

So the abiding question is not in the end Why disaster, but How do we respond when disaster must needs happen? Faced with shaken foundations and brokenness, even all of the worst brokenness the Great Litany can muster, we have an invitation to change and growth. We have an order to reorder our lives, to turn ourselves, to metanoia and transformation. For most AO readers, we suspect that may mean foregoing a week of lunch, or cancelling a dinner out, or holding back on a book purchase, in order to donate to one of the relief efforts already in place. This kind of tiny change in our own lives may speed relief in the short term and even now begin to provide strength for those who will rebuild. It is a small change with a big potential impact, and we'd encourage you to click mindfully about it.

Yet there are probably more drastic heart-changes possible. Maybe one of us will go to Haiti and use her medical training to care for the wounded. Maybe another will go to distribute water-purifying units so that those who have survived may continue to survive healthfully. One of us may go to help the Sisters of St Margaret with their long-term and more-than-ever urgent work in Haiti. There are probably as many practical responses possible as there are practical Christians.

Perhaps a few of us will even know internal changes that stir up a fallow dimension of our lives into fruitfulness. With a new awareness of the fragility of life in the face of indiscriminate death, perhaps we will start to mend an old breach in our family or circle of friends, seek a new way of really listening to someone who tries our patience, break a habit that saps our energy, undertake a project for which we know we have the appropriate gifts, commit to some new spiritual practice we have always put off until next Lent. These are the responses that build daily strength for daily needs, the same at-first-imperceptible changes that make water into wine, that build cathedrals out of ashes and rubble—whether they are in Coventry or Port-au-Prince. The resilience of individuals in the worst of situations is one of the best proofs we know for the reality of divine grace. This grace-filled resilience was already a deep channel in the history of the Haitian people, and we have confidence even in these dark days that with God's help and not a little of our own it may once again have the upper hand.

What is certain is that there are no pat theological responses to what has been called a 'mega-disaster' of horrific proportions. But there is always the possibility of graceful response, of openness to God's leading, and these are the very foundations of the unshakeable kingdom of heaven.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 17 January 2010


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