Earth, Fire, Air & Water – Report (20 March)


With the barrage of natural disasters that have occured this year so far (floods in Qld and Victoria, bushfires in WA, cyclones in Qld, earthquakes in NZ and Japan, and tsunamis in Japan) it was necessary to spend some time in reflection and prayer. The aim of the service was to help people make sense of what was going on, or at least be able to express their emotions (rational or otherwise) and then be more able to move on and, where possible, act.


We kept it pretty simple for this one. I felt this wasn’t the space for flashy visuals or anything gimmicky. As such the service revolved mostly around words, with some basic responsive actions thrown in.



Slideshow of words by Kent Anna displayed in silence to mark the opening of the service:

An AnnotatedWish List for Changes in/by God

1. Rather than a God of occasional disaster-rescue miracles, I want a God whose miracles prevent the disasters in the first place.

2. Rather than a God who needed to retreat in order to leave room for human freedom and love, I want a God who finds a less painful way to make freedom and love work.

3. Rather than a system set up so that those who suffer most are also the most vulnerable (usually those who are poor), I want the wealthy to be the most vulnerable. An increase in money beyond one’s necessity could inhibit the body’s production of antibodies.

4. Rather than children being at the mercy of nature and of other people, I want no one to die or be physically or emotionally traumatized before turning twelve years old. Nobody. And the only ones who die between thirteen and eighteen should be those whose decisions represent a clear and present danger to others.

5. For every unethical action, there should be an equal and opposite reaction—immediately. If you inflict suffering, you should immediately suffer accordingly.

6. I want a small indicator button, like a low-battery light, on the prominent C7 vertebrae that protrudes slightly on the cervical spine at the base of the neck between the shoulders. A gentle red light would glow forty-eight hours before death is irreversible, when the downward spiral toward unconsciousness or pain has won. It would indicate time for final goodbyes with loved ones and that a final welcome from God is imminent: “You’re released from this life. Welcome into the next one.”


– Tonights to focus on the disasters that have confronted us this year, and the harshness with which the elements have treated us this year.

– All feelings and responses are ok here, logical or otherwise.


Confronting the Reality:

Reading of an eyewitness account of the Christchurch earthquake, encouraging people to put themselves in that position and consider their own responses and feelings.

Let’s spend some time sitting with this reality, through the various crises that have afflicted our
neighbours these last few months. How do we feel? As ourselves and as we put ourselves in their

In response, participants were encouraged to write words of feeling/response on small cards which were then placed on the altar.

(following material drawn from Christine Sine)

The earthquake and tsunami in japan has left many of us reeling, particularly as it came so soon
after the earthquake in Christchurch. We are overwhelmed by the devastation and the helplessness
we all feel to respond. So how do we pray for those who are suffering and for those who have died.
it is not easy and anything that we can say seems inadequate. Here is what came to my mind this
afternoon as I was praying for the people of Japan and remembered again those in Christchurch
and Libya, Yemen, Ivory Coast and the other many other places of unrest in our world

Responsive prayer

Lord our world has been shaken by earthquakes and wars

Lord our lives have been deluged by floods and tsunamis

Our hearts are aching and we are overwhelmed

Lord have mercy

God when we do not know how to pray speak for us

Speak for those in the midst of despair and disaster

Speak for those who are afraid of what tomorrow may hold

Christ have mercy

God whose love never lets go, be with all who have died or suffered loss

God whose compassion never ceases comfort all who feel abandoned and alone

God who stands firm as a rock provide security for all whose world has fallen apart

Christ have mercy

Lord hear our cry for mercy when we call to you for help

Lord may we be strong and and not give up

May we reach out in love and compassion, finding hope in your abiding presence

Lord have mercy

As I spent time this weekend thinking about these disasters and thinking about what I could possibly
write in my gratitude journal it suddenly struck me. There is a common theme of hope in all these
situations that absolutely takes my breath away and makes me want to cry out with thankfulness to
God. In the midst of all these disasters complete strangers are reaching out, sometimes risking
their own lives to save and comfort others.

My aunt had strangers who had travelled half way across the country suddenly appear at her door
to help with the clean up. Friends in Christchurch have been overwhelmed by the help of
volunteers who dropped everything and travelled from throughout New Zealand and Australia to
assist people they never met. And in Japan more than countries around the world have reached out
with offers of assistance.

Strangers have become neighbours. Across barriers of class and race and religion people are
showing they care. It is like the parable of the Good Samaritan being lived out in our midst. And
suddenly I see this is the God image shining through. This is our loving caring God reaching out
compassionately through the helping hands and aching hearts of those who are created in God’s
image. Why these disasters happened we do not know but God is there grieving, loving and caring.
And in that moment of recognition I see that this is the joy of salvation bubbling up within as we
immerse ourselves in the love of our God and allow ourselves to become his hands and his feet.

At this point participants were encouraged to come forward and light candles to represent their prayers of hope and for the future.
Lenten season: As this has occured during Lent, it felt appropriate to consider how we might shape our Lenten reflections in the light of these disasters. To assist, the following reading was provided:
At a secluded countryside monastery, every monk — as a ritual each morning — goes in the early
dawn hours to the brothers’ cemetery. On arrival, each one grabs from the shed the rough wooden
handle of a shovel. Then walks over to sink that shovel a single time into his own predesignated

The first days it’s as though they’re not making a difference at all. A newly installed brother might
get only a loose, light shovelful of grass and topsoil. The wind blows dirt and leaves to cover the
first digs of mortality. But some weeks in, the faint form of a grave takes shape, a hole shaped for a
body, for the digger’s body. But still only inches deep.

Eventually, decades into their life and work, senior monks (sometimes with the help of a younger
brother) climb gingerly down a ladder into the grave and dump a shovelful of the dark, moist,
heavy dirt into a bucket, which is then hoisted up the ladder before the monk slowly, rung by rung,
emerges from the hole that he will one day descend into without coming back up.

One shovelful at a time, closer to death. One more shovelful alive.

More vocal and less physical (and less practical), at another monastery monks greet each other,
whenever they pass and it is not an hour of silence, with the phrase, “Memento mori.” Remember
you will die.

This instead of, “Hi. How are you?”

It serves the same purpose as the shovel. I’d find it less helpful as a ritual to reflect on life and
death. But it might be a more effective spiritual discipline for living: Can you imagine how hard it
would be on some days to not say “Memento mori” with secret satisfaction to a particularly
annoying colleague?

Each Ash Wednesday, if you go to a church that does this sort of thing, a version of memento mori
happens when you go to your knees and a cross of ashes is marked on your forehead as you hear
the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.”

The curse is on skin and bones, but so too comes the blessing.


Period of silent prayer.



We commenced closing the service with another eyewitness account – this time more hopeful.

THINGS here in Sendai have been rather surreal. But I am very blessed to have wonderful friends
who are helping me a lot. I am now staying at a friend’s home. We share supplies like water, food
and a kerosene heater. We sleep lined up in one room, eat by candlelight, share stories. It is warm,
friendly, and beautiful.

During the day we help each other clean up the mess in our homes. People sit in their cars, looking
at news on their navigation screens, or line up to get drinking water. If someone has water running
in their home, they put out a sign so people can come to fill up their buckets.

There has been no looting.

People keep saying, ”Oh, this is how it used to be in the old days when everyone helped one

Quakes come. Last night they struck every 15 minutes.

No one has washed for several days. We feel grubby, but there are so much more important
concerns than that for us now. I love this peeling away of non-essentials. Living fully on the level of
instinct, of intuition.

There are strange parallel universes happening. People lining up for water and food, and yet a few
people out walking their dogs.

And the Japanese themselves are so wonderful. I come back to my shack each day, now to send this
email, and I find food and water left in my entranceway. Old men go from door to door checking to
see if everyone is OK. I see no signs of fear.

Somehow, I can feel my heart opening very wide. My brother asked me if I felt so small because of
all that is happening. I don’t. Rather, I feel part of something happening that is much larger than

In evacuation centres there are puppet shows for children. ”It’s to ease their minds,” my friend
explained to me. ”That is very important.”

We comfort one another as best as we can. We still say, ”Gambarimashou” (We must keep up our
fighting spirit).

Included prayers of thankfulness for those involved in the disasters, but also thankfulness for the elements themselves, as we remind ourselves of their importance in our lives at a time when they are causing so much suffering

(Drawn from John Mark Reynolds)
This story matters, but not everything that matters requires a physical response from me. The notion in a wired world that every issue that crosses my screen requires a response is dangerously messianic and surely exhausting.

Jesus made the point that anyone I see is my neighbor, but technology has made that an impossible test. Television shows me too much. Too many people in too much need.

Instead, I must give, but give from my limited time and talents to those whose burden I am called to actually bear.

Now I will stop sitting and thinking and listening about what this means and act for others.


One Response to “Earth, Fire, Air & Water – Report (20 March)”
  1. Kel says:

    somehow missed this at the time of posting
    what a great collage of thoughts you shared, helpful for processing the overwhelming natural events that remind us of our own mortality and giving us something constructive to do with the result of our reflections

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