Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.. – Psalm 46:2
The Ground Beneath Our Feet
I feel the earth move under my feet, I feel the sky tumbling down... – Carole King
These days, most of us feel on shaky ground.
My television set is broken, but even I have seen the horrifying images of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan. And yes, we don't forget our friends on the US West Coast, who got splashed as well. They're probably still picking up the pieces there, even as we watch anxiously to see what happens to the nuclear power plants near Tokyo. Scary stuff.
The Mediterranean isn't tsunami-prone, although quakes happen there, but they're dealing with another kind of seismic shift: in spite of the encouraging events in Egypt, regime change on the southern coast of the Med isn't always smooth. Now we're watching airplanes over Benghazi and hoping the innocent can get out of the way.
Economically, most of us feel that the ground isn't too solid these days. It's a struggle to make ends meet. Every time we think we're about to come out ahead, somebody announces that the recession's not over yet, or some company is folding, and we start biting our nails again as we hunt for steadier employment.
Even on this website, we're worrying. What's going to happen to our virtual community? Who will buy this wonderful diurnal anomaly? Will there still be room for us? Will we have a home page to come home to, when all is said and done?
Myself, I've just had a couple of deaths in the family. Through all the sadness, another fact stands out: I'm more by myself than I was before. Some of the people I used to know I could call on when I felt down, or needed a helping hand, aren't there any more. I miss them, but I also feel a little lonely and uncertain without them.
Which brings me to the quote at the top of this page: ' Therefore will not we fear... I'm suddenly reminded of a preacher I once knew.
A word about these preachers I knew: almost to a man (and they were all men, back then), they were ordinary, practical people, who for some reason related to the nebulous idea of 'having a call', spent four years of their lives getting a college degree in stuff they usually weren't good at. Like Hebrew and Greek. Most of the ones I knew nearly failed Greek. The only exception – an enthusiastic fellow who was a contractor before he 'got the call' – was so proficient at it that he bored everyone's socks off about grammar details. My mother once asked me in an exasperated tone what an aorist tense was. I replied, 'Trust me, you don't want to know.'
Since the particular preacher I'm thinking about was a practical man, like most of them, he always approached the sacred text in a pragmatic way, and in English. During a Bible study, he ran into the word 'therefore'. He pointed out, 'When you see the word 'therefore', you should ask yourselves, what's it there for?'
When you've stopped groaning, I'll go on. I'll wait.
Okay. The verse before the earthquake one said, ' God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.' That's what the 'therefore' is there. For. The question is: where is our refuge and strength, if we're worried that the ground's about to give way?
Of course I haven't got a definitive answer for that. Did you expect me to? I could give you an answer that satisfied me, and you might agree – or you might say, 'Bull', or words to that effect. So be it. I suspect we all realise that incipient seismological events require more than chocolate and huggy-smileys to get through.
That same book I've been quoting says something about some people trusting in chariots, and some in horses...(I sometimes think King David had met Malabarista). Some of us trust in logic, others in networking...still others believe in the Power of Positive Thinking. Me, I think there's somebody benevolent and knowledgeable whispering into my tinfoil hat, but you knew that. One way or another, we need an anchor...
...or we need a jet pack.
' My heart has no desire to stay
Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
Though some may dwell where these abound,
My prayer, my aim, is higher ground. – Charles Gabriel, 1902
When the 30-foot wave is rolling over the Pacific, every living thing runs for higher ground. When the menace is sweeping across the land, you head for the hills. When your own personal flood plain proves to be swampy, you...you get the idea. We need higher ground.
Where do we find it? Do we look to an established promontory, build ourselves a skyscraper and hope it holds, or lash a few logs together and make a raft? Can we float our own refuges?
Can we link our rafts, make for the shore? When we get there, what mountains will we climb? And will we do it together?
I'm not saying I'm not feeling hopeful about life. Not at all. I tend to roll with the punches – and I was the only person in Xanthi, Greece, who slept through an earth tremor. But when the ground starts tilting, it's good to stop and think about how we keep our balance.
An h2g2 friend, Helen, recommended that I watch the film Howl. It's a great film, about Allen Ginsberg and how his publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti was put on trial for releasing Ginsberg's poem Howl. Watching the film's animation of that wrenching poem, I was reminded of the struggle Ginsberg and others had to articulate their vision of the world they lived in, and their own sense of uncertainty about their role in it. The conclusion of the film, in which the judge sternly lectures the prosecutor about the importance of freedom of speech, was encouraging – as was the realisation of how great a contribution Ginsberg had made to our understanding of the human condition. Sometimes, the view from that mountaintop justifies the struggle it took to get up there.
Maybe that's what I'm trying to say: that the loss of equilibrium we experience when the world around us is out of kilter can be a cause for alarm – but it could also be the impetus we need to try to get some distance on our situation. And maybe – just maybe – what we see from our own personal vantage point might help somebody else down there on the flood plain. Sometimes it is enough, even if we don't know the answers, just to ask the questions.
I dreamed I dwelled in a homeless place
Where I was lost alone
Folk looked right through me into space
And passed with eyes of stone. – Allen Ginsberg, New Stanzas for Amazing Grace
Ginsberg was right. Everything is holy – even doubt.