Hurricane Katrina Revisited
Wanting to live peacefully and without conflict, many shy away from politics and even religion. Admittedly that this is a tempting prospect. However, being a citizen of this world for over 50 years now, I know it is impossible to totally avoid both subjects, especially conversations about God. Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul, in another of his books – the name of which escapes me now – suggests that we cannot separate our religious, spiritual and political lives. We are impacting the community with everything we do, whether our action is in the spiritual, political, business or cultural realm.
The underlying message of this blog has always been spirituality. While women and those who love them are our primary audience, this blog extends to all. My concern is those people in our world who are experiencing life challenges and are living in difficult circumstances due to race, gender, ethnic background, sexual orientation or economic status. God, Source, The Creator – whatever name you choose to call that which you feel animates life, is always in the mix on this blog. Today, the question is flipped. Are we always in God’s focus?
Why now, why today, what gives rise to this conversation? As it was with last week’s post, my intention is not to delve into the United States politics, history, culture or the varying religious beliefs in that country. My thoughts went to Hurricane Katrina, an event that many described as an horrific display of human callousness one to another. It was also one during which many cried out to what they believe as God and some say they heard no response.
Like most who watched that event as it unfolded, my pain, shock, and even anger were real. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 affected me, obviously not physically, but emotionally and spiritually. What you are being invited to is and exploration a few of the issues from our collective past and how they can affect our present.
God And Natural Disasters
This is a republishing of a post written in 2005. If you read the original, you will recognize that my editorial ‘pen’ did a number on the length and, to some extent, content. The core, however, has not changed. In truth, it has more clearly come to the forefront. Is God interested in the world and us? If He/She is, how could It allow these horrific things to happen to us?
Before going any further, out of respect for varying beliefs as well as for my own non-traditional one, references to “God” will interchange. God, Source, Life, The Creator, Almighty, The One Power are few of the names that will be used interchangeably to point to the entity the majority believes to exist.
Since and even before Hurricane Katrina there have been numerous natural disasters around the world. There have been other types of disasters as well and acts of terror have been on the rise. Both the naturally occurring and the man-made disasters have caused many to question “God’s” existence and sense of justice.
How Does One Understand This Creator?
How could One that created with such detail and precision deliberately cause disasters purely as punishment for human sin?
Mary McCarthy, the author of “Memories of a Catholic Girlhood,” expressed sentiments about this kind of God:
. . . I do not mind if I lose my soul for eternity. If the kind of God exists who would damn me for not working out a deal with Him, then that is unfortunate. I should care not to spend eternity in the company of such a person.”
Think about it. If Source would destroy what He/She created, kill thousands of people because they are not Christians, Caucasian, Muslims, rich or any other factor such as these, then He/She must be evil? It is hard not to come to that conclusion. As I watched the images of death, destruction and the mayhem in New Orleans back in 2005, and people asking after God, I knew that platitudes of any kind will not heal those wounds.
Continuing to watch the news reports, images of animals displaced from their natural homes and separated from those who provided them began to emerge. Human beings and animal (beings) alike were joined in this grim scenario. However, it was the pain of the humans that was highlighted.
A System Of Belief
One of my first courses at theological university was Theological Anthropology. During the first or second lecture, one of the professor’s comment had me reeling. He said that man is the pinnacle of the universe and of God’s creation. My reaction set the tone of our future relationship. I politely, barely so, asked him where does he get off with such a notion.
“That is pure arrogance and intellectual ignorance,” I remarked. Fortunately, he was to some extent open-minded enough not to kick me out of the class. That would have been unfortunate. See, I was one of few women in his class and the only person of African descent in this small university at the time.
At that point of my spiritual journey, theological scholars would describe my brand of theology as “syncretism.” According to the Chambers’ Twentieth Century dictionary, this is a person who attempts “to reconcile different systems of beliefs, especially of different forms of Christianity; fusion or blending of religions.”
However one wishes to describe it, we all have our paths to God/Source/The Creator. To my mind, there is no one way to have a relationship with what is sacred to him/her. Therefore, my practice is to not only respect but honour each person’s journey. This has been a freeing experience for me. It has also made my faith life and my relationship with the Sacred that more rich and meaningful.
Ordered and Ordering Universe
An important aspect of my syncretistic approach is the belief that we share this universe equally with the animal and plant kingdoms. With such respect and reverence for the sacred in all life, it is hard to shut up pinnacle comments are uttered. The thought that human beings are the pinnacle of creation has an accompanying behaviour. It is one of indiscriminate use and exploitation of natural resources and animals. That has led us to this place of a fragile environment. Not for a moment would I claim any scientific or environmental expertise. However, you would have to be a serious climate change denier to not realize the connection.
It is my belief that we live in an ordered and ordering Universe. What do I mean by this?
Among the many theorists, some people believe:
- that God created the intricacies of the Universe, including placing man at its pinnacle and left it. The clock-maker theory.
- There are others who believe in the Big Bang theory. The world developed and will continue to develop out of physical constants or energies which arise for the Big Bang. The Universe, according to some of them, will evolve mechanically in accordance with these initial energies.
- Then there are the process thinkers, who reject this latter theory. They seemingly agree with the notion of a Big Bang. For them, a Deity lures or persuades the Universe into being long before this event. This “Force” will continue to do so, encouraging more complex living beings into existence. However, the forms of these beings are not predetermined but will be affected/shaped according to free will, chance and prevailing situations.
Hands of God
My line of thinking falls somewhere within process philosophy and theology. I ‘see’ the hands of a God, a Force, Something Bigger Than Myself in creation. Deep in my heart, I feel that we all, animals, plants and humans alike, are being urged “to life, to live well and to live better,” to borrow a phrase from process theology. Bishop Spong says it best – “to be all that we can be and to love wastefully.”
Is there evil in the world? Is there death and destruction from natural disasters? Indeed there are. Is God responsible for this? I have had to look deep within to come to what for me is a ‘reasonable’ response to this question.
There is a saying, “No pain, no gain,” used to urge athletes in particular to peak performance and is relevant to this conversation.
When my only child was getting her first tooth, try as I might, there was nothing that I could do to totally eliminate the pain. Obviously, she needed this wonderful ‘tool’ to help her to process required nutrition for further growth. This was something that I have reflected on and I have come to certain ‘truths’. One of them is this – life is very much like that – a constant process of tooth bursting the gum. There is no way we can avoid or eliminate the physical pain. If we are to grow, if we are to move on to the next level, if we are to become all that we can be and make a way for the next generation, there will be pain. Further, because we are humans – thinking beings – there will be suffering.
God In Pain And Suffering With Us
It, therefore, means that, in a sense, God has something to do with that process. Some would say that God is part of the process right along with Creation. They believe that the Almighty is, in fact, feeling our pain and maybe experiencing our suffering.
Someone long ago made an interesting distinction between pain and suffering. He said to me that pain is what we experience on the physical level. Suffering is an emotional and spiritual experience.
Whether you agree with that is up to you. Examining my own life challenges, I can understand where he is coming from.
For example, when I fell and broke my leg at age 33, there was a serious physical pain. Yet, it was more bearable than the suffering that I undergoing just prior to the incident: being underpaid and feeling exploited by a chauvinistic employer and unable to pay my bills. Breaking my leg was a blessing in disguise, in fact, it was a turning point. Ordered to rest, after four weeks of lying in bed, prayerfully I came to some decisions and the windows of opportunity opened. Within a couple weeks of having the cast taken off, I was offered a job that would pay me three times what I was earning and had me travelling across the Caribbean.
Why Do You Cry Out To Me?
My reading of the Christian Bible is different from that of many. Take for example the question allegedly posed to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me?” Was God being unkind or evil to the Hebrews?
In my way of understanding, God was doing what God does in any situation, whether you break your leg, lost your job or a hurricane sweeps over your town and totally changes your life.
The response,“Tell the Israelites to go forward,” is a command to do what we were ‘designed’ to do – keep moving, keep growing.
Does luring to growth eliminate life’s pain and the suffering we experience? This is where my syncretism kicks in. I honestly do not believe in a punishing deity. Especially one that causes death and destruction. Neither do I believe that God is distant and that the Universe is completely mechanical.
Indeed there is an order to life and that order includes rivers rising when there are heavy rains. People living along the riverbanks in Jamaica, for example, complain about the destruction caused by floods. My response, maybe an ungodly one for some, is the same wherever it occurs. “Hello people, you live along the riverbanks and it rains heavily every year at this time! So either you permanently move if you cannot withstand the physical and emotional stress or evacuate as ordered!” Of course, I get it that socio-economic issues cause them to live where they do. There, however, comes a point when you have to “go forward.”
Like It Or Not: Through Pain You Know Pleasure
We are going to feel pain – it is simply part of this physical life, it is part of growing. If you fall, there will be the pain. Coming into your womanhood, there will be the pain of menstruation. If you drink and drive and have an accident, you will be in serious pain. We cannot completely drug ourselves from feeling pain.
Pain is simply a fact of life that no amount of Tylenol or Prozac will eliminate. If hurricane winds blow down your house with you in it, you will be in pain. You will feel pain if you are hungry and thirsty.
Suffering, on the other hand, I honestly believe can be reduced. In some instances, suffering just does not have to be part of the experience. What some of the people in New Orleans experienced in 2005 is what I would describe as avoidable suffering. It is a brand of suffering that we see over and over again.
The suffering that New Orleans endured, particularly those of colour, was not only avoidable but inexcusable and intolerable anywhere in the world. It is a state of suffering that, unfortunately, people of colour, the poor and women across the world have been undergoing on a daily basis. This suffering is not because of God or even natural disasters. This suffering is the result of evil, perpetuated not by God but by humans against each other and humans against the rest of creation.
Now we are in 2017 and the suffering in our world as increased for many. We see refugees from many Middle Eastern and African countries suffering due to political decisions made by power-hungry leaders. People and animals are suffering as a result of personal choices and decisions made by worldly power. Many America sought to ‘learn the lessons’ from the Hurricane Katrina experience. As a world, we are all still learning the lessons that disastrous events impart.
We are again at a crossroads – and God did not cause it. We did. Our choices led us to this moment. Whatever name you call what is sacred to you, let us connect hearts and minds and be more sensitive to each other. While the pain of many events, accidents, illness cannot be avoided, let us end the suffering and heed the call to “move forward,” in community and in love.