"You have to work hard to offend Christians. By nature, Christians are the most forgiving, understanding, and thoughtful group of people I've ever dealt with. They never assume the worst. They appreciate the importance of having different perspectives. They're slow to anger, quick to forgive, and almost never make rash judgments or act in anything less than a spirit of total love . . . No, wait--I'm thinking of Labrador retrievers!" David Learn, 1998

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thoughts in the night

5:20 AM
A toothache woke me some time ago. I lie awake thinking of those in Sendai, Tokyo, Fukushima, trying to get to sleep. Some have beds but are self-sealed in their houses to maintain some semblance of protection from radioactive contamination. Some no longer have beds and are exposed to whatever contamination, cold, discomfort there is outside. Lord, may every child in Japan tonight have someone safe to take them into shelter and care for them. 

 I remember reading Randy Alcorn's book Safely Home, about an entirely different group of people hungry, cold and alone--Chinese Christians imprisoned for their faith. I remember a pastor in his book saying, "Pray that our shreds of clothes will keep us warm. Pray that God will keep our empty stomachs content. God has done that for us many times before." Something like that. Lord, keep Sendai survivors warm, whatever the temperatures. For those who still await rice ball handouts, somehow keep them feeling full, with energy to do what they need to do.

I cannot let this fear in, this fear I grew up with. Seven years old, spending recesses sitting on the playground on the Army base near Hiroshima, picking dozens or 4-, 5-, and 6-leaf clovers and wondering if mutations from the bomb accounted for their abundance. Sailing with my family into the Bikini nuclear testing zone as a 14-year old, wondering whether we would be irradiated for our audacity and if we were, which of the five of us would wear the single gas mask we had brought with us. Sailing to Siberia in winter to protest Soviet nuclear testing, wondering whether the Russians would sink our yacht before we could get close enough to the site to be irradiated.
     If I let it, this fear would become all-consuming, immobilizing, as it did when I was a teenager. This insidious, unseen danger would take over my life, the terror of the unknown combined with the terror of having no place to hide. Lord,  protect the Japanese people from fear, from post-traumatic stress. May they look past their gods of wood and stone to a God who can use His power for good as well as evil. May they know, as my first husband Rick put it, that "ultimate reality is Personal" and may they--and we--give You their anxiety in exchange for Your peace. 

How sadly ironic that we Americans who dropped the bombs (although we did not know they would keep on killing for thousands of years, we were just doing what had to be done to stop the insanity of the Japanese military) may now be consumed by the same panic as the survivors of those bombs: is this headache, this vague nausea, this ache in my bones, this diarrhea--in myself, my child--the beginning of radiation sickness? Will it affect my unborn child? Will it get worse? Is it lethal? Lord, Your word says to "look not at the seen but at the unseen." But these dangers are also unseen. May we focus not on the unseen terrors but on Your unseen grace. May we not be so absorbed with ourselves that we cannot care for those close to us. May we 'switch to trust" as Rick had to keep telling himself as he was dying.

Even as I sit here typing, it is hard not to think of this screen lighting up the darkness of our bedroom as a source of radiation. When I spend 12-14 hours in front of it as I have been doing since the 10th I come away with my face feeling sunburned, lips tingling, tongue sore but these sensations don't last long. Is the ache in my jaw which woke me up a sign of over-exposure? Microwaves, X-rays, mammograms, cat scans--I suspect them all and try to avoid them all, although the kinds of radiation and the half-lives differ and are mysteries to me. Radiation is cumulative and less is best.  
     Growing up I learned from my father's research on the children of Hiroshima that radiation is bad. Long-term effects cause cancers, specifically leukemia and thyroid cancer. They stunt growth. They compromise immune systems. We learned later that the effects even reach into future generations through mutations in our DNA. One of the three crewmen from Hiroshima who sailed around the world with us before our voyages became political later fathered three daughters, all deaf. Was that related to his exposure to radiation? Who can tell?
     If, as evolution claims, we "descended" from sea slugs to the pinnacle of humanity through mutations, how come mutations uniformly produce changes that are deleterious to the organism, rendering it less--if not non--functional? Lord, keep me from judgmentalism and sarcasm.

When I moved back to the States I was confused to find that here, radiation is good. Here radiation does not cause cancer, it cures it. Radiation kills, yes, but here we harness and direct it to kill only what we want it to kill. So when it comes in a cloud, poisoning our air, the ground our food grows in, the grass our cows eat,  the water we drink and the water our fish swim in, how can we harness and direct that radiation to kill only what we command it to? Lord, we are all in this together. Let there be no us and them. Let us as a human family look out for our common interests. We are all fragile, finite, and mortal. We have all fallen short of your glory. Let us give each other slack. 

Lord, as my brother Ted wrote in his poem (below) pass a wand over Sendai, Tokyo, and Fukushima tonight and give the works of Your hands there peaceful rest.

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