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A Mild Earthquake Is Good For The Soul

It hit with a house-rocking "wham!"  We were jolted into full terrifying consciousness from a dead sleep.  "Earthquake!" we shouted needlessly to each other as the room swayed.  I jumped out of bed and pulled on my jeans.  Down the hall, Steve's light glowed, but he, appearing calm, was lying in bed.  "How come you're dressed?” he said.  "What are you doing?"  "I don't know," I replied.  "It seems like I should be doing something."  Reality is that most of the time when an earthquake hits, there is, fortunately, nothing to do but go back to sleep.

Earthquakes are more unsettling than tornadoes, floods, and fires, even though the damage in the latter is usually horrifying.  These other unwanted outrages allow us to retain some sense of control. Early warnings and alarms often announce their approach.  We are able to run, hide, and evade - or at least have the illusion that we can.

Earthquakes slam or creep in unannounced.  They just happen.  Suddenly.  There is no place to hide, no way to elude, nowhere to go.  Everything shakes and rolls.  Nothing stands firm and solid.  Terrified, you wonder, breathlessly, is there more coming?  Will it be a big one?  "THE BIG ONE?"  Earthquakes shake us to the core because they short-circuit our inner security system.   The naturally developed notion of being in charge of one's personal safety gets knocked off its foundation.  Helplessness defines the moment.  We are out of control.

Life is dangerous.  But God has ingeniously clothed us in a protective garb called repression and denial.  These protective garments enable us to enjoy life rather fully as they cover up how vulnerable and exposed we really are.  Taken beyond their intended purpose, God's gifts of repression and denial allow us to drive without seatbelts, take the batteries out of our smoke detectors, inhale cigarette smoke, ignore high cholesterol levels and elevated blood pressures.  “Bad things happen to others.”

The jolting and shaking of an earthquake, like burglary or rape, violently strips away our protective armor, the notion that we are safe and in control.  Earthquakes dis-illusion us.  They rob us of our illusion of invulnerability.

Someone claims that the psychotic person is not out of touch with reality, but just the opposite.  The plight of the mentally ill, according to this view, is that their protective denial system has failed.  They are haunted by how dangerous life is, how frail and mortal they are.  The so-called healthy folks keep harsh realities buried, ignored, and repressed and thus are able to live as if they are immortal.  Denying danger most of us carry on as if invulnerable.

Recently in California, "temblors," as little shakers are called, and the constant threat and talk of the inevitable BIG ONE, have eroded our sense of security.  After the Northridge quake some older folks whose personal vulnerability had been aggravated by the loss of spouse, their health, or physical agility, were rumored to be sleeping fully dressed, with purse on lap, or on couches close to the doors of their houses.  Their security was shattered.

Natural disasters are not good.  We cannot simplistically say they are from God.  The damage, death and destruction they bring is too sad and too terrible for anything but lament and anguish.  It is distressing to see little children, older folks, or anyone, lose zest for life because of the ravages of an earthquake or because they are fearfully waiting, expecting, anticipating disaster.  For those paralyzed with apprehension we pray that God's implanted denial system may once again turn on so they can live again “as if” safe.

On the other hand, an eye-opening jolt of 5.5 on the Richter Scale can awaken those whose denial-systems work too well.  Cruising, idling, or drifting along, completely immune and detached, thinking that bad things happen only to other people, is like an illness itself.  Earthquakes, for most of us, work as an effective temporary cure for a false sense of security.  Sometimes we are so smug even our reach toward God is perfunctory instead of desperate.  An earthquake can change that.

When there is no place to hide, nothing to be done, and everything could shake apart or crash down on top of you in a few seconds, you quickly recognize your only True Security.  Few things focus the mind as well as a middle-sized earthquake.  A 5.5 instantaneously clarifies what really lasts, what cannot be broken or taken away.  Thank God.

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