I’m profoundly grateful for – and slightly overawed by – the contribution made by the Uniting Church’s Disaster Recovery Network (DRCN) chaplains over the last few months. Their willingness to offer not only their skills and experience but also their heartfelt compassionate attention to individuals and communities dealing with overwhelming disasters has simply been extraordinary. I know that it was intense, confronting and seemingly relentless and I know that many chaplains started the New Year, exhausted so, please, church, look after them even as you continue to pray for the recovery and renewal of communities around the state.
Every time we face disasters like this, it seems we’re reminded again that we are all in this together and dependent not only on each other but on all forms of life. In these circumstances, the continued emphasis on ‘economy’ at the expense of ‘ecology’ seems short-sighted, problematic and verging on mystifying. That we are ‘all in this together’ is demonstrated in the spontaneous eruptions of hospitality that have also been evident across devastated communities – hospitality in the ancient sense of welcoming the stranger. I’m sure that, for many, it has been a grace-filled experience of ‘entertaining angels unawares’ and I’m reminded of the biblical story of Abraham by the oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18: 1ff.) depicted in the wonderful Rublev icon from the fifteenth century (pictured above). These experiences humanize everyone and bring communities closer together and they also give us a glimpse into the heart of God. And yes, I do know that they don’t always bring out the best in everyone as the sad stories of looting and vandalism indicate, but that too is part of the human story of these times.
When we learn – usually the hard way – that the status quo is not nearly as secure as we once thought, it can be a profound and perspective – altering experience. For some people, it’s been a ‘mad as hell’ moment that has given new energy and urgency to their activism and advocacy in their communities as well as a sharper awareness of the bigger picture and the interconnections and dependencies of all living things. This is at least a hopeful consequence.
It is hope itself that takes a battering in circumstances like those we’ve experienced over the last few months. As so many have commented, these are unprecedented experiences – how many stories have you heard that start ‘in the 20, 30, 40, 50 etc. years that I’ve lived here...? The scale of the destruction and devastation pulls apart all the old securities and leaves all our vulnerabilities exposed, a situation not greatly helped by competing political ‘climate’ agendas. Disciples live in the tension between being creatures made in the image of God with responsibilities to the whole creation (stewardship) even as we remain creatures bound to the rest of creation and its circumstances. As Wendell Berry puts it, …The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope…
Disciples also live in the knowledge that God is in the process of creating and redeeming the whole creation and our hope and imagination is always oriented towards the unfolding of God’s coming kin[g]dom. It’s possible that we haven’t always realised just how personally disruptive and challenging living this hope might be and how many times on this journey we will need to change our minds in God’s direction, nevertheless, that is what we’re repeatedly asked to do and asked again in the face of this devastation. Individually and collectively, can we find the courage to face this unfolding reality and contribute hopefully and heartfully to bringing God’s vision for creation to life?
Rev. Jane Fry, General Secretary