The earthquake in Haiti has dominated the news this week. It is human nature to ask “why?” and “what does it mean?” and there have been a variety of responses: some logical, some spiritual, and some just willfully ignorant.
First things first. This earthquake has killed thousands and devastated millions. Real people are suffering – DO something. I’m giving to the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, but there are numerous organizations that have the infrastructure to respond to a crisis like this and could use your help – if you don’t give to the UUSC, give somewhere.
And remember Haiti in your prayers, no matter how you pray.
But eventually, we have to answer the question that this event brings to those of us who call ourselves Pagans – how can you worship Nature when Nature does things like this? Most people asking those questions don’t think twice about worshipping a God who supposedly is in control of everything including earthquakes, but let’s leave them alone for now – their failure to answer this question for themselves doesn’t invalidate the question.
Why did this happen? There is only one answer that can be given with complete and honest certainty: we don’t know. As rational, scientific, post-Enlightenment Westerners, we think every question can and should be answered. They can’t. Mystics and honest religious practitioners have understood this since at least the Axial Age. And since we can’t know, we have to make a choice: do we believe that Life is good or not? Do we order our lives as though Life is a blessing and the joys are worth the sorrows that accompany them, or do we order our lives as though Life is suffering and must be escaped?The essence of Paganism is that Life is good. The Charge of the Goddess, which is the closest thing there is to a universal creed of modern Paganism, says “Sing, feast, dance, make music and love, all in my presence, for mine is the ecstasy of the spirit, and mine also is joy on earth. For my law is love unto all beings.” Life contains suffering, but ultimately, the joys are worth the pain.
Once you accept that, something else becomes obvious – Life isn’t just about humans. The monotheistic religions in which our culture is grounded teaches that God made Man “in his image” (and if there was ever any doubt that men wrote the Bible, that should settle it!). Science has shown that we weren’t placed on the Earth, we grew out of the Earth – along with every other living thing on this planet. And if you subscribe to the Gaia Hypothesis (materially or spiritually or both), then the geological processes that cause earthquakes are just as much as part of Life as we are. The needs of humans must be balanced against the needs of plants, other animals, the atmosphere, the ground itself, and everything else on our planet and in our universe.
That’s a humbling concept that most people don’t like to consider. But the evidence tells me it’s true.
I do not accept the theory that says suffering exists in order to provide humans with opportunities for service and growth. But suffering does exist, and it does provide us with opportunities for service and growth. Give to the relief effort and remember the land and people of Haiti.
May we learn and grow as we help others in great need.