Editorial : This Wounded City will Rise

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 56, Lent 2011

Christchurch is a city in mourning. Six weeks on from the 6.3 Richter earthquake that devastated a large part of our beautiful town, the wounds remain raw. More than 180 people have lost their lives. Some bodies may never be recovered. Thousands more have been injured, many severely. Nearly all residents present at 12.51pm on 22 February have been impacted through varying degrees of trauma, recurring fear or heightened anxiety.

There is widespread grief. Already we have had a large number of funerals. They have been sad, sad occasions. Many families have had to bury a loved one decimated by the falling debris, someone they could not hold or see again. That has been an added blow.

We grieve for the loss of our loved ones. We grieve for the 10 000 homes which may need to be razed. We grieve for the elimination of so many jobs (up to 9000) and for the loss of physical and emotional security which we shared before the quake. Things are no longer as certain, as stable, as predictable. And we grieve for the city itself, with its beautiful layout and fine buildings built up over 150 years of European settlement. It is truly shocking to see so much destruction.

There is much sadness, much confusion, much dislocation. Practically everyone is affected in some way. The future seems to be less certain. Who can say what the psychological and emotional impact will be over the next period? Already stress is being felt in even the most stable and sedate relationships.

But there are many uplifting stories. Tales of miracles and heroism abound. Miracles like the story of the young mother with three children who had stopped in a city parking building to tie up the shoe of her young son as the quake struck. She looked up to see her car, parked a few metres away and which she should have been in with her children, crushed by a giant concrete slab. Heroism, like the man who clung to the top of a dangerously tilted building and helped 15 others to safety before climbing down himself. There is an endless supply of both stories. Many will remain untold, unacknowledged. People simply were doing what they thought best at the time.

Uncertainty

These are times of great uncertainty. If the earthquakes in Christchurch, China, Haiti and Chile and the devastation caused by the 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan have done nothing else, they have caused us all to pause and ponder our place on this fragile planet. More than that, for most they have taken away a sense of security which we felt would last forever. If everything else was unstable about us, surely the earth upon which we stood was firm and steady.

All that has changed. The ground beneath our feet keeps moving. Technically, we always knew it did. That’s simple science. But we never used to feel it – and it never threatened our lives and livelihoods. The earth itself is proving to be unstable and not the secure foundation we thought it was. For many, that is quite scary.

It is hard to fathom. Movements have taken place more than 10-15 kilometres underground which have profoundly affected each of us. Others have been more shallow. Some have been pinpointed as having an epicentre a short few blocks away. One only has to see, as we have in Christchurch far too often, liquefaction happening under houses that had stood firm for generations to know that a profound change has taken place. The ugly dirty sand thrusts itself up under our homes and into lounges and bedrooms, along our streets, and creates mounds across parks and playgrounds, leaving them smelling and too often unuseable. The energy behind such thrusts is immense, almost unimaginable.

Hope

Many have asked, where was God when the quake struck? If we believe the post-resurrection stories from the Gospels, then the truth is that Christ was in the quake, crucified again by the pain and anguish of those who suffered, mortally wounded in those who died. Christ was also resilient in those who scrambled to safety, and alive and busy in those who reached out to their neighbours. There were thousands of these. God was with and in each one. God inspired and nourished the small makeshift communities of care which sprang up as neighbours came together to support one another, to boil the billy, to fetch water, to cook on the barbeque, to share resources, to comfort the distressed.

The two faces of Christ were evident everywhere – suffering with the injured, the grief-stricken, the bewildered, the fearful. And risen and active in a thousand situations, motivating people, encouraging others, rebuilding confidence and hope among the searchers, active among the volunteers, among the people.

Of course, we see Christ only through the eyes of faith. But that is the way it has always been. Christ is not a magical puppet who dances to our call. Christ is in the everyday nitty gritty of daily living and lives and operates on this somewhat shaky planet we call Mother Earth. Hope teaches us that Christ’s presence is real. This is a foundational cornerstone of our Christian faith. It is also a test to be faced.

Hope has flourished in so many ways since the quake as people recognize how much worse it could have been and asked themselves the question – if not hope, then what? As Desmond Tutu used to say in South Africa’s darkest hours of apartheid brutality, ‘I may not be optimistic but I am full of hope’. It is a useful distinction to remember in these difficult times.

Jim Consedine

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