Love Makes Sense
by Maria Ede-Weaving
(Written in response to the Earthquakes in Japan in 2011)
The scenes of Japan’s recent earthquake and tsunami have been shocking and distressing. It is hard to take in that level of devastation and death, even more so when we are one step removed and witnessing such appalling tragedy through a lens.
For those of us who feel drawn to spiritual exploration, it can be difficult to find a comfortable place for this level of suffering, whilst continuing to believe in the benevolence of deity/life. I have wrestled with this issue over the last year or so, my spiritual beliefs rather shaken by it.
Paganism drew me because it allowed a more complex (perhaps to human eyes even ambiguous) view of the Divine. If you embrace the idea that the Divine resides within creation, pretty soon you have to acknowledge the fact that a solely all loving and benevolent Divine is a tricky concept. Nature is magical, beautiful and miraculous; it provides and sustains but it is also darkly violent, destructive, and even cruel. It is easy to embrace a loving God who protects from all harm, and yet, if we live long enough, to varying degrees we will all find out that pain, loss and tragedy are as much a part of the deal, regardless of how we choose to portray our deities.
I have come to realise that although I might feel drawn to the deities that personify creativity, love, abundance and peace (who wouldn’t), the gods of shadow and painful transformation cannot be avoided or ignored by any of us. We don’t necessarily have to set up shrines to them but it seems psychologically healthy to honour their presence in life.
When I witness the horror in Japan, my thoughts are drawn to the Hindu Goddess Kali. Her iconography is challenging: she looks terrifyingly fierce and merciless, wearing her necklace of human skulls and her skirt of severed human hands. It is not a comforting image of the Divine but it has a psychic truth about it that is hard to ignore. Our heads and hands are those parts of us that we use to shape our world; our hands used to actualise our thoughts, to build our visions, and enable our plans. These parts of us allow us to feel that we are in control of our destiny; with our intelligence and our skills of materialisation, we move through the world and time with the notion that we are steering our own ship.
When Kali – the energies of dissolution and destruction – arrives in our lives, either through natural disasters or more personal and individual loss and tragedy, it soon becomes apparent that our notions of being in control crumble. The image of a Goddess who wears severed human hands and heads speaks brilliantly of how impotent we can we feel in the midst of such immense crisis. We are stripped to our core and from this place of powerlessness we are confronted with our most vulnerable and broken selves. It can be a living hell but nature is nothing if not balanced. Hindu thought tells us that destruction, creation and preservation balance themselves in favour of the continuation of life; that life couldn’t possible thrive on preservation alone.
It is not a totally comforting thought to the human mind but when we stand back far enough we see a different take coming into view. The earthquake, from this view, is merely the earth stretching herself, that she might stay healthy and fully functioning for the continuation of life on this planet. It can be so difficult to accept this when the result is such a massive loss of human potential. We can feel incredibly small and insignificant and a loving Divine presence can feel rather absent.
Buddhists advise us to first accept that suffering is a central part of life and from that standpoint, transcend this suffering through compassionate detachment. Paganism encourages us to engage with both the joy and the pain with as much connection as possible, viewing both as valuable life experiences. Both of these approaches have value I think.
I am still trying to work out my own spiritual approach to suffering – it is a work in progress. I have written before about how Hindu devotees of Kali believe that when you have the courage to stare into her terrifying face you will then see a face of immense compassion; that all fear of death and suffering vanishes. Perhaps when we are forced to dig into our own brokenness and vulnerability, we too find a deeper compassion and understanding of life.
I am always deeply touched by how humans risk their own well-being to save others in distress; every natural disaster has story after story of people’s courage in rescuing and caring for others. Kali may confront us with our worst fears; she may almost break us but she also draws from us the deepest empathy and shows us that in the darkest moments there is always love.
There is a path of sorrow; there is a path of joy – we each have one foot on both all our lives and when reason struggles to bridge the gap, love makes sense of both.