>Shaken, Not Stirred

>This morning those of my fellow Washingtonians who happened to be awake around 5:00 a.m. experienced the unusual – for this part of the world – phenomenon of an earthquake. The 3.6 magnitude quake had its epicenter in Gaithersburg, in suburban Washington, D.C. There have been no reports of damage. According to The Post, this was the largest earthquake recorded in the area since seismic monitoring of the greater Washington metropolitan region began in 1974.

My experience of this morning’s earthquake was doubly involuntary, for it was not only Mother Nature stretching herself, but my being fully conscious of it was brought about by a visit from the cat. About ten minutes or so before the quake, the cat began to cry outside of my bedroom door, causing me to wake up. Normally she is kept off the top floor of the house by use of a folding screen on the upper staircase, which had not been shut properly last evening. So being an obliging fellow, I let her in and she curled up very close, whimpering. A few minutes later, everything began to shake.

I had not been through such a very real experience of an earthquake before. Certainly I have been in areas where earthquakes happen, but not with any great frequency – unlike my parents, who have lived in earthquake zones in places like Guatemala and Chile. As a result of this, shall we say, geological naïveté, at first I did not recognize what was happening. My initial thought was that it was the garbage man, until I thought to myself, “But the garbage man doesn’t come this early.”

My next thought was that it was a low-flying plane. My readers who have not been to Washington or do not know its neighborhoods very well may not realize that we residents of Georgetown, despite the tony reputation of our village, happen to be on the flight path to Reagan National Airport. We get used to the noise after awhile, and normally don’t even notice it anymore. However, flights are not supposed to take off or land at very early hours, so it could not be that either.

I suppose I realized it was an earthquake when I became aware that not only were the windows shaking, but the bed itself was shaking also. Again, being a resident of Georgetown one normally associates unexplained bed shaking with demonic possession, but once I realized that the shaking was probably a mild earthquake, I actually became quite calm – indeed, after the quake finished, it became a moment for reflection. Fortunately I was not hurt in this quake, as sadly was not the case for people in places like Haiti, Chile, etc. Yet these events ought to give us pause when they occur, even when there is no loss of life or damage to report.

We are very, very small creatures. We think a great deal of ourselves, most of the time, and no doubt we have some cause to do so – at least in comparison to the other creatures with whom we share the planet, for we are made “a little lower than the angels,” Hebrews 2:7. However, it must be reiterated that we are creatures, nevertheless: creatures with immortal souls, yes, but we are the created, not the Creator.

For every scientific breakthrough that we achieve, we should remember that we did not create the laws of the universe which allow us to make that breakthrough. For every beautiful work of art that is created for public admiration, the artist as the creator of the work must be conscious that the idea of beauty does not come home from himself. Indeed, neither scientist nor artist could achieve their work without the gift of life which was given to each of them respectively, as individual created beings.

When human beings look upon their achievements without gratitude, they set themselves up as little false gods. This morning’s tremor was a mercifully gentle reminder to those of us in Washington – where there are many, many false gods dotting L’Enfant’s grid – that we are not, by any means, the do-all end-all of the universe. Our plans can crumble and fall to dust at any moment when tectonic plates shift, or when someone leaves the gas on, and the world remains out of our control. As far as I am concerned, this is a very, very good thing that I cannot aspire to control the world, for were I to be placed in charge of it I would do an absolutely terrible job.

Sistine Chapel Ceiling: God creating the Sun and Moon, by Michelangelo
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>Monday of Holy Week: Earthquake in Central Italy

>Last evening after lectoring for the 5:30 pm mass and wearing my voice out with the reading of the Passion Narrative of St. Mark, I had dinner at the rectory with our pastor, celebrant, and two acolytes from the mass. It was a beautiful night for dining al fresco and talking about the upcoming events for Holy Week. The 5:30 is popular among the under-40′s in the parish, of whom we have a rather large number, since they get to sleep in on Sunday morning and still attend a reverently celebrated mass at least partially in Latin; last evening’s was particularly full for Palm Sunday. It is always good to have a priest’s perspective on the preparations for Easter and how they deal with the enormous influx of “Easter lilies” – otherwise absent members of the congregation who only bloom at Eastertide in order to fulfill their Easter duty.

Upon arriving home I read of the terrible earthquake which hit central Italy, and which reports now indicate left at least 40 people dead and 50,000 people homeless. The Italian people have always had the misfortune of living in an earthquake zone. The most recent major quake, as many will recall, was in 1997 when the roof of the Basilica in Assisi collapsed, killing four people inside the church; another nine people died and and 40,000 were left homeless.

Please keep these most recent victims in your prayers and thoughts. We never know when our time in this life will be taken from us, as no one knows the day or hour. The hope that is provided us in the Resurrection of Our Lord at Easter will, God willing, provide some comfort to these poor people.