As I write this article I can hear the chainsaws, leaf blowers and tree trucks moving about outside my office at Oxford College. We lost some massive trees on our quad, campus and in the local community. No doubt many of you reading this column sustained some kind of loss in the wake of Irma earlier this week. And, as we are well aware, so many have lost loved ones, homes, businesses and more to Harvey in August and now Irma. What do we do in the wake of such devastation?
I’m the religious guy, so I’m supposed to tell you that I pray. And I do. I prayed before the storms, during them and I continue to pray now. But there’s more to it than that, isn’t there?
I also meditate. One of the meditations we did earlier in the semester with the students in the class I’m co-teaching was a guided meditation and in it my colleague led the students through moments of silence but also spoke gently about the suffering we face and also suffering in the world. The week she led the meditation was the week after Harvey struck Texas and Louisiana. She helped the students visualize the people who may have lost loved ones and property, and then encouraged them to send their positive thoughts and love to those people. That’s another response to what has happened in the wake of the storms.
These responses are necessary and help us start to develop empathy. They help us pay attention to our neighbors, even if we don’t know them personally. They remind us that we live in a connected and interdependent world despite what the market, the media, or even our leaders tell us. And they help us learn mindfulness that can and should also then lead to action.
Action naturally flows from these responses. The purpose of mindfulness meditation, reflection, and prayer is to focus our attention on something beyond ourselves. Often it’s the sacred or holy in our life. But it’s also our neighbor.
I urge you to consider acting in the wake of these storms or any other event that has produced suffering. These storms have hit our country and even our county, but all kinds of storms rage all over the world every day. It is our responsibility to be aware, empathetic, and to act.
So here’s my suggestion on action. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is a wonderful organization that has contacts all over the world and is dedicated to alleviating human suffering. Their work includes programs and projects in disaster response, health, sustainable agriculture, food security, relief supplies and more. They spend 100 percent of designated donations on the projects donors specify. That does not happen in a lot of organizations who also do good work, but it is the commitment of UMCOR.
At Oxford College we raised money in the wake of Harvey to buy supplies for flood buckets and then our students put the buckets together to be sent directly to the source of need, all through UMCOR. We will continue to do this for those affected by Irma as well. No doubt we’ll have student teams eventually travel to the devastated locations when it’s deemed safe and okay to do so. Many of you may be gearing up for this as well.
I hope you will pray, meditate, and/or reflect. But I hope it leads you to more mindful action so that we may be able to stand and be with others who may need us in a variety of ways. And I hope you’ll check out UMCOR at www.umcor.org as one way to start!
The Rev. Dr. Lyn Pace is the college chaplain at Oxford College of Emory University and lives in Oxford, Georgia with his partner, Ami, and their son, Sam.