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Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Prayer for Japan

by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson

Tyler Wigg-Stevenson (@TylerWS) is the founding director of the Two Futures Project (@2FP) — connect to 2FP via their website ( or Facebook page (

It is too soon for meaning-making with the ongoing crisis in Japan. There will be time later to determine its ramifications for the world economy, for the future of the much-vaunted “nuclear renaissance.” But now is not that time. The living are still finding their dead, or seeking and not finding. And workers brave an unimaginably hostile environment as they fight to keep nuclear reactors cool, battling the twin threats of explosion and radioactivity. Several have been hospitalized with radiation poisoning; we don’t yet know how many more will fall in the containment effort.

As every good pastor knows, tragedy’s immediate aftermath does not require sensible words and coherent explanations nearly so much as it requires simple presence, compassion and attention. For those whose hearts are rent by the unfolding revelations of loss in Japan, and torn further by our impotence to act, we have a conjoined responsibility.

First, we should respond when and as we are able with concrete gifts to alleviate suffering.GOOD Magazine has a great, constantly updating list on concrete ways that you can help.

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So it seems that one of the purposes of prayer, in such conditions, is its presence to individual lives. The New York Times reported on Syunsuke Doi, 22, who was at work when the tsunami hit his town; after a period of vain hope, he recovered from the morgue the bodies of his wife and childhood sweetheart, Sayaka, and their 2-year-old daughter and 6-month-old son, who were caught in their car while trying to escape. I had been reading the news with genuine concern and sorrow. But in reading of Syunsuke and his lost family, I leaned back in my airplane seat and had to fight to keep composure.

I write this while returning from a weekend at a reunion for my small, geographically disparate family. It was a rare opportunity to visit with my sisters and their husbands; to play with and be an uncle to their young sons, Selim and Joshua. And in watching their families’ daily routines, their mutual love and care, I can hardly take in the investment of care that goes into the raising of a single life — the stringing together of innumerable moments that comprise each person’s being brought into the world.

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In all that is to come, it seems to me that our task — in addition to caring for concrete needs of food, water and shelter — is to maintain, in prayer, the possibility of grief. Statistics homogenize individuals into a lump sum, hiding them behind stacks of zeros. Our job is to unearth, in prayer, the people who make up such mind-boggling numbers. They are all simply one plus one plus one. Only in this will we be able to maintain the central humanity of all tragedy, without which we are lost.

This blog post originally ran at Relevant Magazine

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