The Destroyer

I look out my window through a haze of choking smoke. Over 33 million acres have burned in Canada and we’re just halfway through the forest fire season. It’s not an unreasonable question to ask where (the hell) G*d is in all this mess.

There’s been a Destroyer lurking in every pantheon since the dawn of time. The Sumerian gods flooded the world to get rid of the noisy humans who were disturbing their sleep; the Hebrew YHWH brings death upon the unjust and unfaithful through flood, pestilence, and enemy armies; the Hindu Shiva destroys continuously, but with a focus on evil, illusions, and imperfections. Senseless destruction, justified destruction, destruction as necessary evil. Do I have to choose one? Do any of them really give me a window into the Divine?

When I watch those towering firestorms and consider the loss of human and more-than-human life and habitat, I’m struck by the senseless destruction. Senseless, meaning I can’t take it in. Senseless in that it overwhelms my senses, shatters my neatly organized understanding of day-to-day life. It breaks my heart and my head at the same time. If this is G*d’s good work, I’ll take a pass, thank you.

Destruction as punishment is easier to grasp but not particularly palatable, either. This is the eternal ledger book, the old argument that, “If bad things happen to you, you must deserve it.” It’s neat, it’s tidy, and it spells out a way to avoid pain (i.e., do the right thing). And sometimes it’s true—but not always. This understanding of destruction can easily become an endless road of self-hate and recrimination—neither of which change anything. If this is what G*d requires of us, I’ll take a pass. Again.

Then there’s the idea that destruction has a constructive purpose. In the Hindu perspective, this can mean that you’re really talking about transformation rather than destruction. You keep your eye on the something new that will arise from the devastation. The danger here is spiritual bypassing: You can just float right by all the horror and focus on the new. This is G*d-lite, as in don’t think, don’t feel, don’t be human. For the third time, I’ll pass.

Only when I bring all three understandings of destruction into relationship do I find a place that feels right. The tension between them holds fast a beautiful integrity. I can’t grasp it completely with words and ideas, only with my heart, but I’ll try.

The senselessness of destruction urges us to give voice to the voiceless: the owls and cedars and bears and bees destroyed in these fires, the displaced indigenous communities whose beloved land is changed beyond recognition, the nameless refugees burned in the wildfires of Greece. The wrongness of this devastation acknowledges the innocence of the victims and says, “No one deserved this.” This is where I say, with Jim Finley, “God saves us from nothing and stands with us in all things.” I feel invited to stand as the Christ stood, in witness and solidarity, doing my best to relieve suffering.

Destruction as punishment reminds me that much of what happens is not just fate. There are systems bigger than any of us in which we participate and from which many of us benefit. It’s these systems, and our choices, which have resulted in vast inequity, injustice, and disfigurement of the natural world and of human relationships. Evil is real. Our choices have real impact. “Justified” destruction reminds me that we each have responsibility for the impacts of our choices. This is humility, not humiliation. I shoulder the suffering that is mine. And G*d walks beside me in love.

Destruction as transformation reminds me that everything exists in the cauldron of creation and recreation. If, as I understand it, the Unmanifest Singularity tore itself apart for love and thus gave rise to the universe, then all things are a part of the Infinite Holy and are an expression of that love. So we are never separated, never abandoned, never lost; we are simply changed. The great gift of this understanding is trusting that I dwell forever in the joyous reality of Oneness, regardless of external circumstances.

When I hold all three of these meanings together—or more accurately, when I let myself dwell deeply in all of these without trying to resolve anything—then I’m not frozen by despair or fear or numbness. I respond with a deeply human, deeply humble, deeply grateful heart. I see the victims of the fires and I reach out; I see the impacts of human dominance and greed and am called to change; I see the cycle of life, and trust that beyond sorrow and fear lies a vast energetic beauty to which we all belong, from which we came, and into which we shall return.

7 thoughts on “The Destroyer”

  1. Thank you Therese! I find that I, amazingly, have been going on a very similar journey with very similar conclusions. That is heartening to me.
    But I could never have articulated it as well as you have. Bravo!

  2. I could give God a new name, but I’m not sure why I would want to.

    My personal suffering rises deeply within me lately and yet I turn to the meaning of the cross , not to go massively critical on myself, but to see what is truth not to be buried, and yet to be experienced as Christ on the cross, my own cross, Jesus’ mercy that lays underneath it all with love, compassion and healing… and then the desire to love Jesus arises in me and there is nothing of the Earth to give notice to. God is acting.

    I take this quote from Seven Sisters Apostolate, which I belong and am an Anchoress for 7 sisters to pray one Holy Hour a week for the Church.
    “A towering Old Testament prophet and priest whose life seemed to leave no struggle unlived is Elijah. He unwaveringly shared God’s messages and warnings despite often stirring intense and adverse reaction. His word burned like a torch. He was a man of steadfast prayer, attentive to the “whispering sound” in the midst of clamor, and whose prayer of faith raised a young boy back to life. His steadfast intercession for rain brought the promise in the appearance of a wisp of a cloud. In jubilation he ran ahead of Ahab’s horse-drawn chariot for several miles. St James reminds us here that Elijah had a nature like ours. What hope and thrill to imagine our own submission to the power of the Holy Spirit!”

    When I pray, fully aware of the cross for my own healing, the Lord takes me deep within until I spot His grace of mercy, love, and compassion… only then do I sense the Resurrection grace rise me up for healing, and generations going backward and forward… and then sweet desire.
    I need only to remember only two things… God’s name, and to pray

  3. Holding the tension of these three is utterly challenging. It throws off my script, the role I try to play in life to meet expectations I’ve set for myself and others. But being off balance opens me up, and real life happens between the lines of the script, in the gap. Being intentional about holding the tension seems lofty too. It is impossible without having the trust you mention, the ‘trust that beyond sorrow and fear lies a vast energetic beauty to which we all belong, from which we came, and into which we shall return’.
    Whatever trust I have gained is from grace, given during those very moments of destruction. Trust is the gem in the ashes, remaining after the rubble is cleared. Trust helps me stay open the next time destruction comes.

  4. Response to “The Destroyer”
    This writing “hits home” to me. While wrestling with how to deal with the destruction going on in the world, it does seem necessary to “dwell deeply in all….without trying to resolve anything”. This allows us to get close to the suffering, not run away from it, fully accept it and feel it. Then compassion arises with its accompanying question “How can I help?”
    The ability/skill to open our hearts and to clearly recognize the destruction, to let it in, and to come to a wise and helpful response requires us to be stable, open, and calm. Accessing and abiding in stability and openness and calm is where our practice of mindfulness, prayer, and the many manifestations of the spiritual life play their profound and necessary roles and are our ballasts. We are able to feel and act lovingly with a realization of our interconnectedness and the impermanence of all. And along with the destruction we are reminded of the forever “ten thousand joys, ten thousand sorrows” and reminded of wisdoms like the following poem (found on this website) that offer comfort and guidance and hope:

    Our fingers imbibe like roots
    so I place them on what is beautiful in this world.
    And I fold them in prayer, and they
    draw from the heavens
    — short poem by St. Francis of Assisi, as translated by Daniel Ladinsky

  5. “God saves us from nothing and stands with us in all things.” Yes! As I age, the truth of this statement becomes clearer. My very young hopes that virtue or effort could spare me from various types of “destruction” have long been shown to be naive. The idea that destruction is necessary for transformation holds true some of the time, except when it destroys the person in the process. And destruction as punishment-outside of natural consequences that apply to all of nature-are unworthy and inconsistent with the idea that Love is the force that spoke the Universe into being. And yet there is a glimpse of reality in all three; perhaps for me it is not so much holding them together in tension as it is admitting they all suggest a hint of reality, the totality of which is beyond me. In reading your current mission statement, the St. Francis poem, my heart rises and I feel hope. Thank you for that. Thank you for this beautiful, wise, exploratory, broad thinking that calls me deeper and wider. A Wide Spot indeed!

  6. Thank you, Therese!
    I have found these last 6+ weeks to be such an intense time of unease.
    But still I feel called as well to say “Yes!” to life, as Viktor Frankl has said “in spite of everything”.
    I shall continue to try to return to, to swim in, The Great Stream of Love (I think that’s my “word” for G*d…)

  7. You have my attention, Therese, i’ve been wrestling with the destructive side of God/nature for a long time. It scares me to feel that human suffering and destruction that needs to be met and guided may leave God and nature cold. It’s hard for my body to sit still enough long enough to experience Leah’s “word” for G*d, “The Great Stream of Love!” when i doubt God love and human nature. Maybe that’s why my favorite “word” for G*d is “Mutterseele.” (Mother Soul) Easy for me to imagine…while i often doubt God’s Love, She’s with the people and parts that feel Mutterseelen allein gelassen, von Gott und der Welt, loving them/us.

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