Japan – the earth moved

Posted March 11th, 2011 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on Japan – the earth moved

We live on a dynamic planet. The Earth is alive with energies and forces of magnitudes that are hard for us to comprehend.

In fact, we westerners often do our best not to comprehend that.

A living planet – we’ve heard that term so often it has lost its impact. We humans are a natural species, an animal species, living within these dynamic forces. Indeed, these forces gave birth to life, to us. As I wrote in my book released back in 2008, Living Beyond the ‘End of the World’ (see sidebar), what the Earth just did off the coast of Japan is something it needs to do in order for there to be life, one of the ways the Earth recycles, regenerates, the conditions for life to exist. It’s what is known as a subduction earthquake, meaning two tectonic plates crunching into each other, the tensions building, then one day, one of them gives way, it snaps up. And that’s what just happened on the other side of the world – an event that will have impacts all around the planet.

Pacific Ring of Fire - Source: Wikipedia

As I write this, tsunami waves are headed at hundreds of miles per hour towards the coast of Oregon and California.

This disaster continues to unfold, with floods and fires, natural gas burning out of control, and a couple of nuclear power plants that are not stable at the moment. We hold our breaths for what still could come.

Source: Dangerous Harvests

In the first chapter of my book,  “Of Earthquakes and Hurricanes, or, Learning to Face Disaster,” I wrote about what it will mean for us, crowded as we are on the planet now, often living in places of great vulnerability – especially coastlines and fault lines, along rivers and valley streams – when these disasters strike. I write in the book about the deep spirituality required for us to deal with a steady stream of events like these as we move, hopefully, towards a less crowded planet in generations to come, and as we – one fervently hopes – learn to live more humbly and appropriately on this planet.

We cannot beat this planet into submission. We little human creatures, smart as we think we are, cannot make this planet obedient to us. The damage we are doing to ecosystems is beginning to come back to us in many small disasters and diminishment of our quality of life all across the Earth. Meanwhile, we forget that at any moment, these enormous energies of the planet’s ongoing creation of itself can in a moment remind us of what we are a part of – not in charge of.

Video source: CNN

This morning, my heart goes out to the people of Japan. I pray for courage in the days ahead as the full impact of this disaster sinks in. May we, all of us, take this moment to deepen our human solidarity as we face a time of great challenge and transition for this species over these next generations.

Below is an excerpt from the first chapter of my book, the earthquake reference here being that of the great earthquake and tsunami that hit Indonesia and Thailand in 2004:

As we crowd this planet, more disasters will affect more people. Some of these will be purely the forces of nature, like earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes. Some of these will be human-made, natural disasters grown more unnatural because of the heavy human footprint on the planet, or because we have lived as if the earth would never move under our feet, or our nearby volcanoes would never explode, or that the ocean would never send a killer wave to our coasts as well, not in my lifetime.

What happened on the day after Christmas 2004 was necessary for life. That may be hard to hear, but the kind of earthquake that created the tsunami is, literally, something the earth needs to do so that there is life. That earthquake was the result of one tectonic plate slipping underneath another. It is a form of recycling. The oceans and continents drift on the earth’s crust as on a conveyor belt, moving inches every year. The crust recycles, creating mountains and volcanoes, enriching soils, maintaining the chemical balance of the oceans. This recycling makes the planet habitable. If the earth doesn’t do this, life as we know it dies.

Wounded Earth - Mary Southard, CSJ

It is hard to grasp the renewing nature of what in human terms was such an enormous disaster. But it may tell us something about our planet that we need to know, what we are a part of, the meaning of the regenerating nature of life and death and life and death, and how we might learn to live more humbly, more appropriately, more tuned in to the forces of nature as they create and recreate life through the churning, teeming, often violent, forces of this uniquely amazing Planet Earth.

At the same time, because we humans are everywhere, we had also best search deep within ourselves for the values and meaning, the deeply rooted spirituality, that will carry us through these disasters, horrific as they are in human terms, until we can achieve in future generations a better balance of human population with the forces and energies of the Earth.

We will need all our spiritual and moral strength to bear the costs. We will need to not be crushed by the death and suffering, nor to turn away from it. We will need a whole lot more compassion that doesn’t diminish with the passage of time. We will need to decide as a society what kind of people we are, what we are willing to let go and let be, as we face more of these crises.


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