Breakable



I was in my office a week ago when the venetian blinds began to sway and the desk I was leaning on began to move in time with my heartbeat. By the time I walked through the door to say to Debbie, my PA, "Hey, we've just had an earthquake", David the accountant was fielding a phone call from his relatives in Christchurch, 350 km away and telling us that it was bigger than September and that the Cathedral had fallen over. So for the last week, news has been constant. An app on my iPhone tells me whenever there is an aftershock greater than 4 on the Richter scale and another one delivers the news from Stuff.co.nz. Against the habits of a lifetime, our TV is now turned on when we get up and stays on during dinner.

I see the images of the city where I went to school and university. I look at the grey stone buildings where I first met Clemency and took her out for coffee a lifetime - well, three lifetimes, actually - ago. I see the familiar streets and the cathedral tower beside which I waited for the bus to take me home from that first date and near which I first heard the call to ordination and beneath which I was ordained. Ruined. All ruined and broken and smashed to bits. I look at the people, many of whom I recognise and see their shock and know that some of them may still be lying beneath the familiar stones. One of the first of the dead to have his name released was Don Cowie, who mentored me when I was a new Christian in the New Life Centre. Last Tuesday lunchtime, at his home in Redcliffs, he went outside to pick strawberries and the quake struck and the cliff fell.

I don't find myself asking "why?" for that's a silly question. There is no great theological answer to that; well, there is, but it's subtle and deep and I can hardly see it myself, so I won't try to unravel it here. The simple truth is, Christchurch was made by earthquakes. Two unimaginably big slabs of rock, the Pacific and the Indo-Australian  tectonic plates are floating on the top of a vast ball of boiling iron. They move as the currents shove them about: in our perspective they move slowly, but they move with determined and unstoppable force in a great, slow, pirouetting dance that has gone on for tens of millions of years and will go on for tens of millions more. At the place where they meet they push and grind together and force up a crumpled edge which we now call the southern alps. Rain and sun break up the alps and wash them down to the sea where the little bits of used mountain form the flat bit where we built Christchurch, in geological time, a few heartbeats ago. The plates continue to push, move, stick and move again, as they did a week ago,  in their perpetual grinding, stumbling dance. And into this ever changing, never fixed movement we humans are born and we live as islands of consciousness in fragile, temporary, breakable bodies.

Over the last couple of years I have had my own impermanence and fragility sheeted home to me, but last Tuesday we, all of us, shared a reminder that we are not here forever and that the stuff we assemble around us to give us the illusion of permanence is as temporary and as fragile as we are. As I look at the images, I must confess that this time, it's not the scriptures or the great poets that have been running through my head, but a song by Ingrid Michaelson.

Have you ever thought about what protects our hearts?
Just a cage of rib bones and other various parts
So it's fairly simple to cut right through the mess,
And to stop the muscle that makes us confess

And we are so fragile,
And our cracking bones make noise,
And we are just,
Breakable, breakable, breakable girls and boys

And you fasten my seat belt because it is the law
In your two ton death trap I finally saw
A piece of love in your face that bathed me in regret
Then you drove me to places I'll never forget

And we are so fragile,
And our cracking bones make noise,
And we are just,
Breakable, breakable, breakable girls and boys

And we are so fragile,
And our cracking bones make noise,
And we are just,
Breakable, breakable, breakable girls-
Breakable, breakable, breakable girls-
Breakable, breakable, breakable girls and boys

There is something else. Something Ingrid Michaelson may not know or believe and I will talk about it later, but I want to just signal it here. Our fragility and impermanence isn't the end of the story. There is an immense mind whose designs resulted in the great globe of molten iron and the plates floating on it and the thin veneer of civilisation clustered in small, temporary camps on the plates. And that mind knows our impermanence and the pain of it. And that mind has shared in our impermanence and the pain of it and shares in it still.

Comments

Leanne said…
The thing that made concrete the lack of theological reasoning behind the Christchurch earthquake for me was the death of those little babies.

There are no bad people being punished here. This isn't God hating Christchurch, or some sort of result of some supposed sin. It just *happened* because we live in a country that is still alive and moving and changing, and sometimes that creates death and destruction in amidst all the beauty.

But I just wish with all my heart it hadn't happened here and now. My heart goes out to the people of Christchurch, and there is no comfort anyone can find for them that can heal what they're going through, except the slow comfort of time.
Brian R said…
In the week before, I was driving my Aussie family around the beauty of my new country, the Southern lakes, Haast Pass, Milford Sound and we were on Stewart Island at the time. As you say, all this beauty is the result of massive forces still at work. Sadly last Tuesday reminded us of this.
Also such an event brings out the best in people, who stop their normal busy self-centered lives to care for strangers.
VenDr said…
Yes Brian. When the chips are down you see what people are made of. There have been a few dramatic exceptions but generally people have shown themselves to be brave, generous, optimistic, resourceful and decent. That's us kiwis and the many from all manner of nations who have pitched in to help us - firstly and most numerically of course the Aussies but also Americans Japanese Taiwanese Brits Israelis and many others. It's moving and humbling
VenDr said…
...and Leanne... was that you playing the piano in the cathedral today? A young woman was playing after the 2 mins silence in the octagon. Looked a bit like you from behind but I wasn't sure and it seemed rude to go take a closer look. Whoever it was the music was lovely and completely fitted the mood
Leanne said…
Hi Vendr - No, it wasn't me - you wouldn't want to hear my piano playing skills - or lack of them. I wonder who it was - now you have me curious!
annie said…
I liked this post very much, particularly the honest appraisal of our human condition, without the easy answers often offered. In his book Five Smooth Stones, particuarly the Chapter on Lamentations/The Pastoral Work of Pain Sharing, Eugene Peterson argues that the biblical revelation neither explains nor eliminates suffering. "There is no progress from more to less suffering from Egyptian bondage to wilderness wandering, to kingless anarchy, to Assyrian siege, to Babylonian captivity, to Roman crucifixion, to Neronian/Domitian holocaust. The suffering is there, and where the sufferer is, God is. "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows." Isa. 53:4.He argues that ministry to the sufferer must establish the signficance of what is suffered, but not concede its ultimacy. I pray that this giving of significan will make the suffering accessible to the grace that operates. I pray all those who suffer will be particularly vulnerable to His grace.
VenDr said…
thanks Annie. Eugene Peterson's quartet of books on pastoral care have been favorites of mine for a long time. So much so that I keep giving them away and having to buy new copies. At the moment they are all on my shelves except for 5SSFPW which I have lent to goodness knows who, goodness knows where, goodness knows when. I have managed to find a copy this afternoon though, because, prompted by your comment I want to reread his words on Lamentations
annie said…
He is a wonderful writer, and guide. When is your book coming out? :) I love your posts.
VenDr said…
Ahhhhh..... My book........ I have a project underway which I am fond of and which the whole bishop thing has shelved, probably permanetly and which if it ever sees the light of day no one will probably want to read. A rambling sort of science fictionish sort of spiritual novel for young adults about ..... Well never mind. As for the other stuff, a book of my collected wisdom on ministry or spirituality, it would bore the snot out of me so why would I expect it to be otherwise for anyone else?
N. said…
"Sufficient unto the day is the blog thereof..." We are all thankful you still find time to write occasionally.
We share your great sadness at the loss of loved people and places in Christchurch.
Anonymous said…
Breakable? But how can you say that - you are well cared for. Unlike those crushed in an unsafe cathedral. Maybe someone will write a song "Open for Business" about why the cathedral was reopened after the first quake.
VenDr said…
I can understand your bafflement. The brief answer is that it was reopened because those who know about such things told the Cathedral authorities it was safe. Over the past few years the Cathedral had spent several million dollars on earthquake strengthening. I was there when some of the work was nearing completion and then later, after the September quake was expressly forbidden from going up the tower as the checks had not been carried out yet. Every precaution was taken.

We thought it was safe, as we thought the Press Building and the CTV building and the Grand Chancellor and..... were safe. Obviously it was not safe enough and apart from the relatives of those still in the Cathedral I doubt that anyone in the city is as shattered by that as is the Dean and his staff. The challenge will be to make the new Cathedral, whatever it might look like, as safe as say, the art gallery.
Anonymous said…
I don't mean to doubt your word, I don't believe that you would knowingly lie. . . . but I don't believe it! Anyone looking at the Cathedral after the first quake would know it was unsafe. Yes, some people may have said it was "safe" but the pressure to do so must of been enormous - and so that means much less. I don't think you can compare the cathedral with the other buildings that unexpectedly collapsed.
Anonymous said…
And what a miracle to discover that no-one apparently died in the cathedral itself, after such fears. A small blessing amongst all the grief.
annie said…
Well, sir, consider the riches and wisdom which E. Peterson's many wonderful books have given to us. Your posts suggest you have a keen ear for listening with your heart, and to share your words as you do is less an issue of your own potential boredom in your writing than the benefit it brings to others who find in it evidence of Grace. I suspect M. Peterson feels similarly about his own writing, his love of words and language notwithstanding, yet they are pure Gift.
VenDr said…
Yes. I know. Jack is at his new school and has learned the strange properties of Weathervane Drive, has found the Vincent Black Lightning in his neighbour's shed but has not yet figured out how to get into the enormous tree house in the back garden. Of course he has not even the slightest inkling yet of what lies beneath his feet, and in fact beneath the whole town. He has other, more immediate things to worry about, like the class full of bullies in which he has found himself. I'll help him and his sister directly, and at the same time, think perhaps of how I can crystalise some of the God stuff into a form which people may want to read. Tomorrow.