On Religion: Looking for the face of God

By Eliana Maxim

There is no way we can imagine, much less measure, the enormous tragedy caused by the Indian Ocean Tsunami of late December. The suffering and loss experienced by South Asia is devastating, their pain indescribable. And in the midst of this devastation; it is difficult to perceive the God who loves us. In the heartbreak of natural disaster, it overwhelms us when we try to understand the ``why.''

Yet, as one of my children sadly remarked to me, this has been one of those few times (the other she remembered was 9/11), when the world has seemed as one, and we have clung to each other, as we have desperately waited to hear news of survivors.

If there is one thing I can be sure of, it is that the aftershock of the 9.0 earthquake halfway around the world has shaken me; awakened me to the rest of humanity and united me in their grief.

Perhaps here is God; in the uniting of a Mercer Islander with an Indonesian. It is in prefacing of all my prayers for nameless brothers and sisters living in places I can hardly pronounce. It is in vowing not to forget them; each time I set the table for a meal, each time I wriggle under my comforter, each time I kiss my loved ones goodnight.

Individuals around the world are moved to take action. The small country of Spain pledges over $69 million dollars in assistance. A movie star donates $1 million to the Red Cross. A little boy sets up a hot chocolate stand and collects over $200 during his Christmas vacation. Here is God.

Vacationing westerners caught in the natural disaster decided to remain and help the devastated communities that had so recently hosted them. Doctors Without Borders and Northwest Medical Teams drop everything and live out their vocation. Suddenly, there are no differences in religion or politics or ideologies. Humans reach out to their neighbor in need; no questions asked, no explanation needed. And here is God.

God is also in our mourning, and in our grief, we are refined to be the people He created originally. The ones who care for one another, who give each other hope, who create rather than destroy and who share each other's sorrows.

As I consider this, I have another ``why.'' Why is it we only seek unity among ourselves in the face of tragedy? We pour money into humanitarian relief and yet decline to participate in global environmental reconstruction. We remember struggling nations when they lead the top of the news, and then quickly forget them with the latest romantic entanglement of a pop star. We share of our wealth and comfort when jarred by pictures of the hungry and homeless, yet look past the figures huddling in Pioneer Square doorways.

God is not missing. God has been here all along. It is we who lose our vision, when we disconnect from the rest of humanity.

Eliana Maxim is the director of children's ministries at the Mercer Island Presbyterian Church.

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