Japan space ideas

God? from cheryl lawrie on Vimeo.

I had a call yesterday from Hannah who wanted to throw around some ideas for a service she’s doing around the Japanese earthquake.

It used to be that my first reaction to a disaster like this would be to create a space to acknowledge it, but I’ve been watching some personal apocalyptic events unfold over the last couple of months, and Japan has just felt like too much to even look at. But maybe that’s the point of creating spaces in times like this – to give us the courage to look at them and know them for what they are.

I didn’t write down notes from the conversation with Hannah – she’s going to send them to me when she creates the service – so the thoughts below are a combination of what I remember of the ideas we came up with, and some stuff I’ve thought about since.  The point of a service at a time like this isn’t to be clever, so none of the ideas were spectacularly original. Perhaps they’re comforting in their familiarity.

Some of the tactile ideas:

– using newspaper stories of the disaster and inviting people to highlight the words in the stories that make their prayer.
– having a long path of gravel [that goes around a whole room], that represents different things at different points. At one space, each piece of gravel represents someone’s story… inviting people to put tealights among the gravel in honour of those whose will not be remembered. At another point invite people to take a piece of gravel and hold it tight so the edges cut into their skin to acknowledge the hardness of the world. At another point, praying for those whose dreams and lives are in the rubble. At another point, creating a cairn as a marking point: what is it we know now that we didn’t know before?
– Having bowls of water with salt to make our / God’s tears, for the things that have no words
– Writing or drawing our fears for our own human-ness and mortality onto black fabric with black pen; writing a prayer you don’t have faith to believe or pray yourself onto a white post-it note, and leaving it for someone else to take and pray for you.

One thought: I wouldn’t use images of the disaster, at least as a central focus. I think we know what the disaster looks like, and images at this point run the risk of being manipulative and creating fear and drama that has nowhere good to go. The only place i’d potentially use them would be in a space where before and after pictures of towns were laid out [the ABC has such a good series of images on this], and a third blank piece of paper was given for people to write prayers for the future of those places [that’s a twee idea! i’d want to develop that more… and find another way to do this apart from writing on paper! – but you’ll get the idea]

If I were doing this with a Christian group, i’d use the story of Elijah and the cave [earthquake, wind and fire – and adapt it to include a tsunami and a potential nuclear disaster]. We used that story after the bushfires here a couple of years ago, finishing the story [which was written on big cards on the floor] in front of the video posted above, with the lines ‘Is this where we are to find you, God, and how will we know you are here?

I’ve been thinking about what the purpose of such a space would be.

– to pray or ‘send’ love to those living this disaster

– to remember those who will not be remembered [not least because most of us fear not being remembered and known ourselves]

– it seems to me [or perhaps it’s just that i’ve been thinking about this for the last two years, so I’m overlaying it onto everything] that we need to learn to be the helpless observers. It’s a bloody hard thing to do. I know we can send money [and we have to!], and for some there will be a more active role, but this is not something we can fix. I think i’d want a space that let’s me say how hard it is to be able to do nothing.

– to acknowledge that we are scared, and that we can’t deny our fear.

– to create a moment where love and compassion are put alongside fear, grief and despair

That’s enough… I’ll put up what Hannah does when she does it.


  1. Ali

    thanks Cheryl, I’ve been struggling with this – so many things layered one on the other, how do you create space to acknowledge one thing without silencing something else. I’m running worship on sunday and a lot of the lent resources suggest using water in the midst of rocks/rubble. I was trying to figure out a way of acknowledging that water isn’t always life giving. The salt is a really good way to do that.

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