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franciscan - May 2005

The Society of Saint Francis, 2005

Minister's Letter

Sister Helen Julian CSF, Minister Provincial of the First Order Sisters, European Province, writes:

Who will easily forget Boxing Day 2004?  As many of us celebrated the birth of Christ with our families and friends, around the Indian Ocean a terrible tragedy unfolded.  As the hours and days passed, we saw apocalyptic scenes on our TV screens - communities wiped out as though by a massive bomb, buildings reduced to matchsticks.  And we heard and read heartrending stories of families torn apart and lives shattered, of the lottery of survival in the face of the overwhelming force of nature in the earthquake and tsunami.

The needs of these people and countries will continue for a long time.  We must continue to be generous in our giving and to press our governments to keep the promises made in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, promises of immediate aid and of longer term debt relief and development help.

But as Christians we will also wrestle with the question 'where was God in all of this?'  In the face of any loss, any tragedy, as human beings we will ask 'why?'  The apparently random nature of bereavement, of disability, of serious illness, of breakdown of relationship or loss of livelihood, can be one of the hardest things to bear.  We seek meaning, reasons and perhaps someone to blame.

In the wake of the tsunami, some religious leaders, both Christian and Muslim, were quick to find an answer.  It was the judgment of God, they said, a sign of his anger at an ungodly world.  To me this seems to be an answer which is harder to bear than the not knowing.  I would rather continue to ask 'why?' than believe that God is a God of wrath, who wipes out, in anger, vast numbers of the people he created.

I find a different answer in the writings of my namesake, Julian of Norwich, whose feast we celebrate early in May.  In her reflections on the revelations of divine love which she received, she came to see that there was no wrath in God.  Anger was contrary to his nature, which is 'goodness, life, truth, love and peace.'  This did not mean, she went on, that God was indifferent to sin but that he did not, indeed could not, respond with anger and the desire to punish or destroy but with mercy and forgiveness.  'His love and his wholeness cannot allow him to be angry' and so he looks upon us 'with pity, not with blame'.

There is a long tradition, especially within Judaism, of lament and complaint to God in the face of disaster.  That is something which we can enter into, with the psalmist and with Job, railing at God about the injustice of the world.  Sometimes it seems that God has deserted us, and we can bewail that too, and cry out to him.  But ultimately, we do it knowing that God is on our side.  God is not the enemy, not the cause of the injustice, the tragedy, the natural disaster, but lamenting it with us. 

We may not be able to answer 'Why?' but we can respond to 'Where was God in the tsunami?'  God was in and with the dying and injured, in and with those who risked their own lives to save others and, in and with, those continuing to give themselves and their resources to help. f


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