By Celene Ayat Lizzio
As I write from the expansive woods of New Hampshire, hundreds of thousands in the Philippines are putting their lives back together from the pieces that remain.
If a compassionate heart paused to contemplate the devastation, it would be rent. Unknown and unthinkable numbers of fellow hearts have passed, their time on earth swallowed, leaving unspeakable pain. Yet, in a self-interested moment, the same heart holds itself aright, in the face of unthinkable human loss, with an indulgent gratitude for its own relative security, having been spared, perhaps by fate, from the mighty gusts of wrath.
But, is the earth justified in this wrath, however seemingly indiscriminate? For have not our human hearts, the same hearts that have the capacity for tremendous compassion, become unresponsive to the cries of the earth? Our base and unruly nature drives us to take our fill—and more—on every occasion that it can, and the earth, ever bountiful and majestic, continues to give until bare.
We act upon the earth and seek to master its beauties with our knowledge and tools. There are very few of us who are not guilty as charged. We use the earth to satisfy our appetite for pleasure, as if its existence were merely to fulfill our vain desires. We leave the pieces for others to clean and heal as if we are innocent of our actions, as if we were justified in those vain desires, as if attempting to satiate out unquenchable appetites was our true human purpose.
And when the winds and seas whirl and thrash on account of their wounds, and when the earth retches and shakes from its core, we are surprised. And it is called a natural disaster.
But the real disaster is that we, as a collectivity of beings like in kind, have forgotten our true nature. We have forgotten that our nature is not divorced from the earth, but that our natures are like garments for one another in a relationship of reciprocity.
In seeking to dominate the earth, we allow our desires for power and control to dominate us. We erode our essential humanity, and then, in a moment of trepidation, we pause to contemplate the vagaries of our existence. At times we mourn together our losses and try anew to pick up the pieces.
We must not forget our nature. Our nature pulses with the earth; our very substance is made from its sustenance. We must not be among those who commit excess. We must be a community in the middle by refusing to indulge at another’s expense and by persisting in our care for this planet that has been granted to us as our abode.
May we hurry to find this balance, may we find success, and may we extend our upmost care and support to those who are gathering up the pieces in this moment.
Celene Ayat Lizzio is pursuing a PhD in Arab and Islamic Civilizations in the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University. She has written over twenty articles, book chapters, and encyclopedia entries exploring Muslim family law, Muslim feminist theology and women’s religious leadership, among other topics. Ms. Lizzio is currently a lecturer on Islam, gender, and interfaith relations at Merrimack College, where she serves as a faculty advisor to the Center for the Study of Jewish Christian Muslim Relations. She holds a Masters of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School and a bachelor’s degree in Near Eastern Studies with highest honors from Princeton University.
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