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The Great Wave

By Catherine Arveseth

I have an entirely different post tapped out in Word, but after watching all the CNN footage of the 8.9-magnitude earthquake and the massive Tsunami that struck the coast of Japan, I don’t have eyes to look away. I don’t have the heart to write about anything else.

My husband and I crowded around the computer screen, children spilling off our laps, as we watched the great wave slide onto land and devour everything it touched. Tendrils of water raced forward, neck and neck, licking up homes, wrapping around buildings, and seeping over farms. Cars zipped down highways trying to outrun the advancing wall of water as it choked down debris, boats and trees. I do not know that kind of panic.

Nor do I know the upsetting discouragement of surviving a thunderous quake only to realize I cannot find any of my loved ones. All lines of communication are down. Reports say the death toll was over 200 Saturday morning, but that number is expected to climb sharply. Tens of thousands of Japanese people are displaced and it is simply crushing to watch. It is a devastation of gigantic proportion.

T.S. Eliot wrote, “Human kind cannot bear much reality.” I am starting to believe him. The video clips became hard to watch and eventually, I closed the browser window.

How does God watch it? How does He handle the sorrow? Enoch tells us he weeps.

“The God of heaven…wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?” (Moses 7:29).

Enoch also tells us the earth mourned and that “when Enoch heard the earth mourn, he wept” (Moses 7:49).

God and His prophets see the grand scope of eternity – they know this life is not everything . Yet they weep over it, and over God’s children.

Maya Angelou has said,

“While I know myself as a creation of God, I am also obligated to realize and remember that everyone else and everything else are also God’s creation.”

Such a connectedness allows us to see each other for who we really are – siblings with a common parentage – all of us alike on the inside.

By necessity, this understanding must change how we view the world and our place in it. It must make the world smaller, it’s people more important, and our relationships more symbiotic.

So I (like you) am praying for the people of Japan and watching the Church’s newsroom for updates on how we can assist with relief efforts. All of us are swept up in this great wave. All of humanity is entwined as the forces of nature change the course of the earth.

Again from Maya Angelou,

“Sisterhood and brotherhood are conditions people have to work at. It’s a serious matter. You compromise, you give, you take, you stand firm, and you’re relentless.”

We weren’t meant to live sovereign and unaware. We were meant to weep with each other, and for each other. It is a serious matter – this charge to love like God.

What is your reaction to recent world disasters and/or politics? Is it okay to live in our own little bubble because we can only bear so much reality? What responsibilities do we have to our brothers and sisters throughout the world? In what way has the world become a smaller place for you?

Fractal Wave Artwork: “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” by Japanese artist, Katsushika Hokusai (circa 1820). Mount Fuji in background.

About Catherine Arveseth

Catherine Arveseth is mother to five children, including two sets of twins. She is an exercise physiologist by profession, writer by passion, loves hiking with her family, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and the edge of an ocean. She and her husband, Doug, began their family in Virginia but now live in Salt Lake City, Utah. She blogs at wildnprecious.com.

24 thoughts on “The Great Wave”

  1. My heart aches for the people of Japan. Your reference to Enoch seeing God's weeping is apt since Enoch learns that the reason for God's weeping is because His children *don't* love each other.

    I think the "shaking of the tree" events like this tragedy in Japan give us opportunities to wake up and love one another. Since I've often complained about disliking my own ward I think I'll begin seeing it with new eyes.

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  2. Cristie – I almost used Donne's poem – for these two lines: "any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind."

    I am watching the news again this morning and it is absolutely wrenching. In the town of Minamisanriku alone, 9,500 people are unaccounted for. Whole areas have been buried with landslides. One reporter showed a backhoe working to free thirteen individuals, including children, who are buried alive. And rescue workers haven't even made it to the hardest-hit areas. The death toll is 900 and rising.

    I didn't cry yesterday, but this morning, as I watch the disheveled Japanese people walking through their leveled streets, I am undone.

    Roberta – thanks for this beautiful illumination: "the “shaking of the tree” events like this tragedy in Japan give us opportunities to wake up and love one another."

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  3. I've wonder the same thing…How does God watch this?

    I can not get the separation of parents and children out of my mind. How would that be not to know where you little child is? To feel they must be crying and hurting but you can't get to them? That would be the worst torture of all.

    I so agree with that quote, “Human kind cannot bear much reality.” My mind only allows me to go so far into this tragedy since it is so far away and all I can do is send money, and then I have to go back to my life.

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  4. I have the following quote hung by my front door:

    "God is knocking at the door;
    Let's see whose face He's wearing this time"

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  5. I suppose clarification might be in order for the above quote. I didn't cite it in reference to the earthquake/tsunami, but rather in reference to each person being God's literal son or daughter and therefore our brother or sister. We are to see Heavenly Father in each of his children. The pain and suffering of our Japanese brothers and sisters is ours also.

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  6. Beautiful thoughts. Thank you for sharing them. Like the commenters above me, I also love the TS Eliot quote. Such true words.

    I'm anxious to see how I can help the people in Japan. My husband and I visited Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan 5 years ago and absolutely loved the place. It's heart wrenching to think of all that is happening in that beautiful country.

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  7. It is truly heartbreaking to imagine all the pain and sorrow resulting from such an event. I, also, do not know how God can bear all the tragedy that is a daily and hourly and minutely part of having 6 billion children subject to illness, injury, abuse, neglect, and death. This is probably the biggest stumblingblock my husband has in understanding the nature of God. I do not have an answer except that I know that I am mortal and have very real limits of how much I can give and how many people I can serve in any given moment. I remind myself that I have only have THIS moment to live in, and while my sphere of influence is quite small, what matters the very most is how I treat the person right in front of my face…in my ward, in my home, in my neighborhood. Yes, yes, we ultimately have stewardship for brothers and sisters everywhere. Yes, we can donate time and money to serve those living in another city or another country. But, I feel very strongly that focusing on the right here and right now is what is most important. I hope I don't sound calloused….that's not my intent at all…I am out of time…kids clambering for my attention. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your good, loving heart here, Catherine.

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  8. Grandma Honey – I agree with you – the greatest torture of all – not being able to help a hurting child. Yet, parents face this pain often. And it seems to be spiritual hurt more than physical. Such a hard place to be.

    Sharon – I understood the application of your quote right away. It's an excellent addition to the discussion. Thank you.

    Laurel – I was wondering if anyone out there had ties to Japan through missionary service, family, or other kinds of visits. Thank you for sharing.

    Mom o' boys – You offer a sound perspective – similar to what Roberta said and I don't find it calloused at all. You remind us to work within our sphere of influence and for most of us, that sphere is small: "I feel very strongly that focusing on the right here and right now is what is most important." While our hearts are drawn out to the Japanese people, in reality, yes – there is little we can do. But if we can improve how we live and take care of those who are within our reach, we are doing our part. As for the nature of God, I too don't understand the mechanics of how He works and how he bears the tragedies of all His children, but I do know I know very little and His ways are so much bigger. I find a lot of comfort in this verse. "Therefore, let your hearts be comforted concerning Zion; for all flesh is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God." – DC 101:16

    All – I appreciate the macro and micro examination here. I love your practical applications – and your compassion.

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  9. mom o boys: this may be a simplistic response to your husband's challenge of understanding the nature of God – but celestial math is always multiplication, not division. God's love, attention, pain and sorrow over each of us is not divided amongst us. Rather its multiplied just as our love is multiplied with the addition of each child.

    I love, love, love Segullah for what it is adding to my understanding. A deep and heart felt thankyou to each of you that are feeding my spirit and increasing my "ah-hah!" moments.

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  10. What a beautiful post. It is heart wrenching to see actual footage, our modern world makes it impossible to ignore pain and suffering in my opinion. I have been praying for the entire nation of Japan and specifically for the saints there. I know there is not much I can do individually, but think of an entire world praying for the Japanese right now. One prayer at a time,one small act a time and our world is a different place.

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  11. My brother and his girlfriend live in Tokyo and my family has been so worried about them. Now with the explosions at the nuclear power plant I feel even more worried.

    Having a brother there experiencing the fear and hardship has made this even more real for me but that also makes me think that anytime any of these tragedies occur it is always happening to my brothers and sisters.

    Yes, in reality there isn't much I can do beyond sending money to help in these circumstances but I think it is important to still know about and learn about the trials that our brothers and sisters face around the world.

    I think we do a disservice to our fellow beings and to ourselves when we dishonor others exeperiences by turning a blind eye to their struggles.

    Just hearing and knowing other people's stories helps to solidify our bond as members of the human family.

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  12. Thank you for putting into words what we are all experiencing. My son is currently serving a mission in Japan, and while I'm not worried about his physical safety, I know he must be weeping over the massive destruction and loss of life all around him.

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  13. Hello from Japan, I've been writing some of my experiences on my blog if you're interested. I live on Misawa Air Force Base four hours north of Sendai. The base here has accounted for everyone and we're all safe…though possibly not exactly "sound".

    Thanks for your concern and prayers from the states. It's been a horrible ordeal to live through.

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  14. Sharon – I think all of us can benefit from your math equation. I embrace that idea of multiplication vs. division. A spiritual light bulb. Thank you.

    Jen – "One prayer at a time,one small act a time and our world is a different place." Yes.

    heathermommy – Yes, the compromise of the nuclear power plant is yet another complication. Prayers for your brother, his family, and their Japanese friends. I loved your statement: "Just hearing and knowing other people’s stories helps to solidify our bond as members of the human family." I expect that bond will grow stronger as individual, personal stories rise out of the rubble.

    sundug – It was definitely a relief to hear all the missionaries were accounted for. Thank you for chiming in. I'm sure your son will have some powerful experiences over the coming weeks. God always finds a way to create something beautiful and miraculous even amidst destruction. I am thinking of Isaiah 61:3 "To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness."

    Emily W. – Wow. Thank you so much for connecting here. I read your posts. Your prayer for your children during the quake was most moving, as was the thought of you gathering with your local Saints on the Sabbath. So glad to hear you are well. I appreciate your mention of needs for blankets and coats. I will try to find some information tomorrow about where and how people in the states can help. All of the prayers today in our church meetings mentioned the people of Japan. We are mindful of you.

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  15. The T.S. Eliot quote describes my feelings so well. I think I've watched all that I can bear and turn off the TV, only to return later and watch more. Truly heartbreaking. I was really done in by footage this morning of survivors offering to share what little food they had with American journalists. My mind cannot comprehend such graciousness and charity.

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  16. I watched helplessly as a coyote carried off my squawking hen the other day. Later that day, I watched "The Last Lions" and can't get that image of the mama lioness walking away from her spine-crushed cub, clearly grieving but with no other choice. That night, I watched the footage of the tsunami eating up Japan. I cried all day.

    The hard trick is to not let sorrow crush us, even when it's personal (my poor chicken, my Japanese daughter-in-law, my suffering child) but to keep doing one small good thing after another, trusting that the love and humanity this kind of thing can draw from us will in the end, save us all.

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  17. I think context is everything with that particular verse from Moses regarding Enoch and the tears of God.

    God is crying in that section because His children were sinning so wickedly all across the earth. They had become wicked beyond His ability to save. We need to understand God's sorrow before we project it on a situation.

    Personally, I think God has an amazing amount of confidence in the Japanese people to deal with this devastation. My heart and prayers go out to them, and I know He intends fully to help them through these times. He will show His hand and His mercy through these events.

    Personally, I don't take comfort in the image of a weeping God in this situation. Japan and its people need help, not tears. They need their lives rebuilt, their solidarity kindled, and miracles extended to them. In situations where everything goes wrong, some people ask where God is. I've seen my share of suffering, and in times of suffering, God is the one who keeps the earth spinning, and pushing things forward to a hopeful end. He's the one who is busy putting new life into place where old life was swept away.

    When we do not see Him, it is usually because He is before our face, preparing blessings for us we never knew we could receive. Japan is no exception. Knowing that God will save His children, why should we weep? The only cause we have to weep is if we neglect to help in whatever way we can.

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  18. I live in a earthquake sensitive country but since we only have major ones every 300 years we don't really think about it often as the Japanease do, since they have them everyday, normally in small versions.
    So we are not as prepared as they are.
    The last big earthquake was in 1755 and the tsunami devastated the entire capital and shore villages like myone.
    When I saw the images I thought about how something like that would affect us. Most of our cities and population live by the sea and as a poor country we would be permanently on the "need aid" shelf.
    My own apt is 50m from the shore and I saw myself calculating the height of my floor. The second wave would hit us.
    These events will in time be more common and in different forms. What can we all do? Prepare our hearts and minds, emotions and rational thoughts, to a different world, to different assumptions, and specially, help others prepare.
    Meanwhile I am trying to look for people near me, around me, that are going through personal earthquakes. The more I do the more I find myself able to do.

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  19. About this: "How does God watch it? How does He handle the sorrow?," I don't know how He does watch all of this. I don't think many of us have an insight of what goes on in Heaven.
    However, He sent His Son to us, to save us and suffer for us, and He had to turn His back on the Son, for a reason. Are we better? We can stand to suffer a little or a lot, we go through the refiner's fire and at the end we realize that we came out a bit better and stronger. Maybe I sound uncaring and maybe I'll get some backlash for writing this, but I'm not trying to offend anyone. I too feel very sad when I watch what's going on, and I'm glad for opportunities to donate (fast offerings) or serve (RS activities). And I do pray for all of them that have been misplaced. I also pray that our hearts will stand the pains and frustrations of this life.

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  20. Lisa – what images. A coyote taking your hen, the lioness and her cub, and Japan – all in the same day? I would cry too. Thank you for sharing and for this reminder: "keep doing one small good thing after another."

    Paradox – agreed. Context is important and you are right. In Enoch's account from Moses 7, God is weeping because of the wickedness of his people. But I used the quote to show that God, in all His glory, magnificence and knowledge, understands humanity. He weeps – not just over disobedience, but because He wants to "bear our burdens." We know of His tenderness from other places in scripture. In John 11, when the Lord went with Mary and Martha to see Lazarus who had died and he "wept" with them. In 3 Nephi, before (and after) Christ gathers all the children to him to be blessed, it says "he wept" because his joy was full. His counsel to us is to mourn with those that mourn. That said, I agree – sitting around weeping over a tragedy doesn't do much to help the situation – but my post wasn't necessarily about how we can help (I'm still waiting to hear what we can do). It was about the compassion I feel for our brothers and sisters in Japan and the connection all people of the earth share. When there is way to help, I'm sure most of us will step up to give and offer assistance how and where we can. My thoughts simply came on the heels of watching all the loss the very day it happened. What I appreciated most from your comment were these words: "God is the one who keeps the earth spinning, and pushing things forward to a hopeful end. He’s the one who is busy putting new life into place where old life was swept away." I couldn't agree more.

    Alex – preparedness is an entire spin-off of its own. I've found myself assessing our home and family as well. Thanks for your insights.

    Patricia – I suspect (and this comes from Elder Holland's talk in General Conference two years ago) that the Father had to remove Himself during Christ's suffering because Christ had to feel what men and women feel when they are utterly alone – void of the Spirit. Otherwise, I believe He would have stayed to weep with His Son. I don't think your thoughts sound uncaring. We are definitely not better than God. And I too, pray for myself and others – that we can withstand the pains of life. Thanks for your comment.

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  21. want to help – thanks so much for the link.

    Today I phoned LDS Philanthropies to see if they have created a fund for relief efforts in Japan. I was informed that the Presiding Bishopric is currently assessing needs in Japan and deciding how best to provide assistance. Generally, donations to LDS Charities are not earmarked for specific projects but are distributed where the need is greatest. They encouraged individuals to donate to the general Humanitarian Aid Fund. Link below.

    https://secure3.convio.net/ldsp/site/Donation2?1280.donation=form1&mboxSession=1300313118820-733054&df_id=1280

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