This week while reading the Mail Online, I came across the startling images of Ghost Villages in the shadow of Mt Sinabung, North Sumatra, Indonesia. Mt Sinabung is now an active volcano, which despite being dormant for 400 years suddenly sprang into life in 2010. Consequently, all residents who lived within a 7-kilometre radius around the mountain have been relocated for their own safety. The images were of houses, cars, bikes, and church buildings, everything slowly decaying, as ash and lava continue to spew out of the mouth of volcano. The people, who lived in these villages, were farmers, and the images included an ash covered coffee plantation. Some images were particularly poignant, one was of a family’s shoes, another was a family portrait hanging on the wall, and another was a clock and a mirror.
Upon seeing these images, I asked myself, what was it like for these families, to be uprooted from the familiar places of their homes, their local communities, which included their church, schools, shops and relocate to an unfamiliar place.
I can imagine they knew from a logical and rationale perspective it was for safety reasons they had to re-locate. For these villagers an erupting volcano is definitely out of their control, a physical re-location was not their only response, and I imagine they offered up their own emotional responses to what was currently happening in their lives. Grief I am sure was present at what was being left behind, which they had to let go. Then there is the relief at being safe, coupled with the anger at having to move. Of course there is fear coupled with courage and hope in what might be and the possibilities for a new life? These villagers left the life they knew, for a life they didn’t know. They left behind the life that was for a life that was uncertain and unknown. I am sure their re-location journey was filled with a variety of emotions.
How we individually and communally respond to events, which are unpredictable, unexpected and beyond our control, will be different for each of us, as we seek to live with our human fragility. This was brought home to me this week when I watched Jonah Lomu’s Memorial Service at Eden Park. There was much passion and energy present in the form of singing and the Haka, yet one ex All Black said, “… yet, there is a fragility to human life.” How very wise and true.
In responding to beyond our control events, there are some we are able to accept. We rationalize through logic that it has happened, and we had better get on with life; we become stoic. Other happenings arrive at the front door of our lives and we find it difficult to accept the logic or rational for such things. Yet there are other happenings, like illness and disease, which enter into our lives and we become aware of the fragility of our human existence. In the womb of our fragility we respond with a mix of thoughts and emotions, each seeking our attention.
We always have to wrestle with the raw material of our humanity: grief, and love, anger and fear. These experiences are ever present in our thoughts, attitudes and influence our perceptions and responses to the unexpected, to those events and happenings, which are beyond our control.
I have purposely refrained from being too specific. I leave you to reflect upon your own life and become aware of that which you have control over, and those events and happenings like the villagers who once lived around Mt Sinabung, that are beyond your control.
Christmas, for many is never an easy time. It too brings to the doorway of the heart memories of people and past happenings, which invite our response. How we respond will be unique to us. It will involve our thoughts, feelings and maybe tears or smiles of delight. Our response is our response; it is never helpful to compare.
A New Year beckons. It will bring unexpected and traumatic news via our TV screens and web pages. Sadly much of this news will be old news within a few hours, as the latest news images take its place. Yet, it will leave its mark on our soul. Our response is our response.
The New Year will also bring into our individual and communal lives the unexpected, and the unplanned, along with painful and delightful moments. It is never helpful to say before an event or happening, if such and such happens, I will respond in this way or that. Instead, we refuse to let fear influence our thoughts of what might be or seek to create possible scenarios. Rather we trust that God is present. For in the words of Julian of Norwich: “And all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
As Christ followers we also make our responses within the divine embrace of love. Rumi the 13th Century Persian Poet writes:
How can I know anything about the past or the future
when the light of the Beloved shines only in the Now?
These words from Rumi are a reminder to live in the Now, not in the past or the future. For the presence of the Beloved, Jesus the Christ is ever present in the Now of life. I conclude with these words from last month’s Informer:
As followers of Christ we travel together along the WAY, believing that God is with us in the darkness and the light, in moments of joy and sadness. Even though at times we are unable to see the pathway ahead, we walk on with hope in our hearts, for we will never walk alone.
I leave you with these well-known words:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Meanwhile I take this opportunity to offer to you and those you love this Advent and Christmas season, the deep Shalom, Salaam and Peace of the Prince of Peace, Jesus the Christ.
Yours in the extravagant love of God