The writer Meister Eckhart wrote, “There is nothing in all creation so like God as stillness.” In contrast, a Hasidic Jewish teaching says, “God is an earthquake.” Which is it? Is God stillness or earthquake?
Perhaps it’s not a question of either-or. Perhaps it’s both. But since Christian spirituality seems to emphasize God’s coming as stillness or peace, I would like to say a few words about God’s coming as earthquake. To do this, I will focus on Mary the mother of Jesus.
Medieval paintings of the Annunciation usually convey peace and serenity. But we must never forget the turbulence of that “earth shaking” event. The truth is Mary wasn’t sedately sitting around Nazareth waiting for an angel to appear. No she, like us, was actively involved in fashioning her own life. Her plans included marrying Joseph. But God breaks into her life and makes an outrageous request: conceive and bear a child, the son of the Most High God.
Mary’s question, “How can this be since I do not know man?” hints at some of the disruptive consequences of saying yes to the request. But once Gabriel explains, Mary utters those magnificent words, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to your word.”
Mary’s life is anything but serene after that. Her pregnancy jeopardizes her relationship with Joseph, the man she loves. It puts her reputation and even her life in danger. She gives birth to her baby in a stable in another town. Shortly afterwards, Joseph, Mary, and the baby have to run for their lives into Egypt, a foreign country. Later, she sees her son’s popularity soar at first and then plummet dramatically. In the end, Mary watches helplessly as her son is unjustly tried, tortured, and executed as a common criminal.
At times we too may experience God as earthquake—perhaps in the form of illness, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, financial insecurity, or the seemingly irresolvable conflicts within our Church or family. Can we trust God even during times of major upheaval? Can we “hang on,” believing that God is with us and will sustain us during these times? That God will bring good even out of apparent disaster?
St. Julie Billiart, the Spiritual Mother of my congregation, used to say to her sisters, “In whatever way God comes, God is always welcome.” May we be ready to welcome God into our lives in whatever way God comes—even as earthquake.
Have I ever experienced God as earthquake? Did I “hang on”? If so, how?
Have I ever experienced good coming from apparent disaster?