Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Haiti: Theology & Theophany

I couldn't write the blog for a few weeks.. I was silent in the wake of Haiti. I didn't have words for it; writing about anything else seemed beside the point. This past Sunday, we had a service of solidarity for the people of Haiti. We called the names of just a few of those missing and presumed dead. I piled up 100,000 sunflower seeds on a Vodou altar, which people could touch, take home, feed to the winter birds, or try & plant. And we listened to haitian music and several reflections, of which the following is one:

HAITI: Theology & Theophany

(Song, "For My People in Haiti," Wyclef Jean)

I love this song by Haiti’s most popular contemporary artist, Wyclef Jean. The line, Where is god when we need her? is the question, whether you believe in her, in him, or not. It’s another way of saying, where is Hope? In the song he closed the TV special with, he rapped, “Earthquake. Feel the earth shake. But the soul of the Haitian people it will never break.” Hence, he answers his own question.

Only privileged people, people like us, can afford to even consider a God who is a hands-on God. The vast majority of people of the world know that God is not a being, but a way of being. God is a mystery. Their faith in God is strong because they cannot hide, as we can, or could until September 11, 2001, from horror. Because they cannot hide, they know both suffering and joy.

David Blanchard, a former minister here at UUCL, is now my friend on Facebook. He shared with me yesterday these words from Pema Chodron: "How did I get so lucky to have my heart awakened to others and their suffering?" Indeed!

So today I propose that the only answer to Wyclef’s question is not, “There is no God, fool!” but something far, far, deeper.

In 1955, the year I was born, Paul Tillich wrote The Shaking of the Foundations. In this monumental work of postmodern theology, he begins by quoting the Prophet Jeremiah:

I look out on earth. . . lo, all is chaos; I look at heaven . . . its light is gone; I look out on the mountains . . . they are trembling; and all the hills are swaying! I look out . . . lo, no man is to be seen; all the birds have flown! I look out . . . lo, the sown land lies a desert; and the towns are all razed by the Lord's rage. For thus has the Lord said: The whole land shall be desolate. And for this shall the earth mourn and the heavens above be black. I have purposed it and will not repent. Neither will I turn back from it. At the noise of the horsemen and the archers the land is all in flight, men taking refuge within woods and caves, and climbing upon the rocks. Every city shall be abandoned, And not a man dwell therein. You ruined creature, what will you do! JEREMIAH 4:23-30.

And the Prophet Isaiah:

The foundations of the earth do shake. Earth breaks to pieces, earth is split in pieces, earth shakes to pieces, earth reels like a drunken man, earth rocks like a hammock; under the weight of its transgression earth falls down to rise no more!

Lift up your eyes to heaven and look upon the earth beneath: For the heavens shall vanish away like smoke.

And the earth shall grow old like a robe; the world itself shall crumble. But my righteousness shall be forever,

And my salvation knows no end. ISAIAH 24:18-20

Tillich makes it clear that the prophets of long ago could never have understood God as both omnipotent and omniscient. They were not sheltered, like the people of Haiti are not now and have not for a long time been sheltered, from the “shaking of the foundations.” They did not have the luxury of cynicism or aversion. He writes: We always carry the end with us in our bodies and our souls. And often whole nations and cultures succeed in forgetting the end. But ultimately they fail. Tillich writes that the perfect God of the idealist “is not God at all, and does not exist.”

Instead he turns to the atheist Nietzeche for a better metaphor: “God” is the perpetual Witness. From this God, he says, we cannot flee, for he/she is the Ground of our Being. The Eternal. Reassuringly, he adds, “let us not forget that life is also friendly.” There is a grace in life. Otherwise, we could not go on living. (ch6) With our eyes, we see this Grace in the outpouring of compassion, the will to sustain the gaze, even upon unimaginable suffering, and in the outstretched hands eager to help. Therein we find Purpose, Hope, and meaning.