15 March 2011


With sadness in our hearts, and with horrifying images of devastated Japan still in our minds, many of us began the First Sunday of Lent with a plaintive series of prayers called “The Great Litany.” Here at the Cathedral, we sang it in procession, walking completely around the Cathedral nave, twice, before entering the altar. From The Book of Common Prayer, page 149:

“From lightning and tempest; from earthquake, fire, and flood;
from plague, pestilence, and famine;
Good Lord, deliver us.

….From dying suddenly and unprepared;
Good Lord, deliver us.

The earthquake, then the tsunami, then the loss of power and water, then the nuclear radiation emergency have rolled across Japan just like one earthquake itself, with wave after wave of tremor and terror. As I write these words, and a few days later as you read them, still another emergency may have developed.

We keep the people of Japan in our prayers. We keep the people of the Middle East in our prayers. We keep in our prayers all those threatened by natural disaster and political disaster. Lent is a season for prayer. And Lent is a season for self-examination.

The news media, meanwhile, peddles both news and anxiety; and their tradition goes back a long way. It was George Bernard Shaw who said, “Newspapers are unable, seemingly, to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization” (see The Week magazine, March 11, 2011, page 23).

Obviously, news such as the earthquake in Japan is serious and anxiety provoking enough; it is certainly a collapse. Still, after a few days of reviewing the destruction, one headline on the television caught my eye. “Are We Prepared?” it asked. The newscasters had begun to turn their eye to the United States of America, and, especially to our earthquake preparedness and nuclear emergency preparedness. I knew, immediately, what they would conclude. “No,” they would say, “in many ways, we are not prepared.”

To which I respond, “Of course we are not fully prepared.” There is no way, in this complicated and mysterious world to be fully prepared for every possible disastrous scenario. When we believe we have fully protected ourselves from one sort of calamity, a completely different one will surprise us. Of course, I fully support all our material efforts at protection. I believe in the work of scientists and good politicians who truly seek the common good. It is good to think and to prepare.

But there are other ways of being prepared, than simply scrambling aimlessly to avoid physical death. I notice, for instance, the amazing sense of order and collective good in the Japanese people. I have heard little about looting and opportunistic violence there; on the contrary, people are caring for one another with amazing good will. Such behavior indicates that their spirits have, indeed, been prepared.

“Are we prepared?” True preparation involves much more than just spending on physical infrastructure and stocking food and water in our basements. True preparation involves knowing how to care for other people in the midst of tragedy, even in the most unexpected kinds of tragedy. True preparation involves knowing how to live with grace and honor even in the midst of death.

True preparation is a matter of our spirit, and the Church has been in the business of preparing our spirit for a long time. Our prayer, our coming together for nourishment and service, our spiritual disciplines, are all ways of preparing ourselves. Our Lenten self-examination is a way of preparing ourselves.

Sadly, we will all die. We admitted as much on Ash Wednesday, when the priest touched us and said, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” But “from dying suddenly and unprepared…..Good Lord, deliver us.”


  1. It is shocking, horrifying, and heartbreaking. It makes me wonder if something greater isn't taking place. If that is case we had better have our souls in order.

  2. I am a journalist, a member of the media, and an Episcopalian. We look to localize big stories like the one in Japan. We are not hoping to sensationalize the news; in many cases we want to do some good, to nudge those around us in some way. Taking a look at our own nuclear reactors is not a bad idea. Neither is being a kind of watchdog on the world with local government. Look at what the AJC uncovered with its series on falsified school test scores. Many of us got into this profession in order to make a positive difference in the world. We localize stories like this one not to "peddle" news or to spread anxiety but to bring the story home, to give it meaning directly to our lives and, as I said, to nudge people sometimes to take another look at the state of things locally. Many times, we also hope to try and allay anxiety. Look at coverage during the snowstorm this winter when 11Alive did much to help people with stranded at home with useful information and encouragement. I hope that one thing that comes out of this is that nuclear reactors in this country will be scrutinized even more carefully and any problems dealt with. In any case, the journalists in the congregation appreciate being respected just as much as the teachers, the engineers, the doctors...and the priests. I prayerfully hope everyone will remember that we, too, are sitting in the pews, putting money in the collection plate, receiving our ashes on Ash Wednesday, and reading these missives.

  3. Thanks, Joseph, for this comment, and for your ministry in the media. I agree with everything you say. At its best, the news media can remind me of the eyes of God; the news media sees things which we cannot see, or do not want to see.
    --Sam Candler

  4. "What makes a good newspaperman? The answer is easy. He knows everything. He is aware of what goes on in the world today, but his brain is the repository of the accumulated wisdom of the ages... He can go for nights without sleep... He hates lies and meanness and sham... When he dies, a lot of people are sorry, and some remember him for several days."—Stanley Walker, New York Herald-Trib, 1928