Gifts in Strange and Terrifying Packages – A Meditation on a Saying from Job

072314I spent today high in the Cascades of Washington State.  I was near Mt. Baker, one of the volcanic peaks in the range along the “ring of fire” that comes up the coast along the Pacific plate. Despite the nearness of the volcanic cone, snow and glaciers were what we most noticed today, July 25th.

As I stood on the snowy heights looking at these sleepy but still inwardly fiery volcanic heights, it occurred to me that some of God’s gifts come in strange and terrifying packages. And I was reminded of this earlier in the week when I read the following lines from the book of Job (in the Office of Readings):

The earth, though out of it comes forth bread, is in fiery upheaval underneath (Job 28:2).

We live just above a fiery cauldron, separated from it by a thin membrane of earthly crust rife with cracks through which fire routinely flares from volcanoes through fissures. It is a crust that is always shifting and even shaking violently during earthquakes.

And yet were it not for this violent cauldron beneath us it seems unlikely that we would have life here at all. Volcanoes and other tectonic activity keep our soil rich and recycled. In this fiery cauldron are brewed some of our most useful minerals and most beautiful gems. Whole island chains and land masses are formed by eruptions, and geothermal energy is a resource we have just begun to tap. These beautiful heights on which I stood today were thrust upward by the same upheavals. Many scientists also think that volcanoes had a profound influence on the formation of an atmosphere in the early Earth period, and that the molten core of the earth has an important influence on the Van Allen radiation belts, which keep the harmful radiation of the sun’s rays away from the earth’s surface.

Yes, Job had it right: some of God’s gifts come in strange packages. The earth’s capacity to bring forth bread is directly connected to the fact that it is on fire beneath. And yet what a strange and terrifying package this gift comes in! For volcanoes and other seismic activity have claimed an enormous number of lives and vast amounts of property.

Water, too, such a rich source of life and blessing, can turn in a moment and destroy life in huge numbers. Floods and tsunamis can sweep away large areas in a startlingly short period of time.

And yet who could ever deny that without water life would be impossible? Ah, water—nothing more life-giving, nothing more deadly! Some of God’s gifts come in strange and terrifying packages.

I have often wondered why so many cities throughout the world are built on or near floodplains and/or along the “ring of fire,” with its volcanoes and fault lines. But of course the answer is plain enough: it is in these very areas that some of the richest soil and greatest resources are to be found.

God and nature’s most life-giving gifts are but 3° separated from disaster and instant death. We live on the edge of an abyss because that is where life is found.

Such a thin line, really. Mors et vita duello, conflixere mirando! (Death and life compete in a stupendous conflict!) To live is to cheat death.

All the basic elements and forces—earth, air, water, and fire—can be so deadly and yet at the same time so life-giving. Somehow all are part of the great cycle of living and dying that God intends.

Only God is existence itself; the rest of us are contingent beings and part of a cycle. Only in union with Christ, who said, “I am the life,” will we ever cheat death. As Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “Christ gave the earth the only serious wound it ever received, the wound of an empty tomb.” And with Christ—and only with Christ—will we one day give the earth that same wound.

For the time being, we live above the cauldron, upon a thin crust. Beneath us burns a tremendous fire. But somehow, mysteriously, it is the source of our bread:

The earth, though out of it comes forth bread, is in fiery upheaval underneath (Job 28:2).

Yes, some of God’s greatest gifts come in strange and terrifying packages.

3 Replies to “Gifts in Strange and Terrifying Packages – A Meditation on a Saying from Job”

  1. Good morning, Monsignor;
    Welcome to Washington State. Your daily posts always help me start the day off right. I appreciate your illumination of the way Nature affects our lives, and can teach us. Natural events, which we call “disasters”, most often leading to some sort of cleansing, followed by vigorous re-growth.
    Thank you for taking the time to share your daily message.
    Paul M

  2. Your photo at the top of the story reminds me of the melting polar icecaps beneath the gas clouds covering Uranus.

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