The Japanese earthquake and tsunami continue to pull at our collective heartstrings. Yesterday the Prime Minister David Cameron addressed the issue in the House of Commons, and expressed the heartfelt compassion of the British people to our suffering fellow men and women. Rolling coverage continues on the news as fatality statistics mount and concerns about the nuclear facilities continue to grow.
Over the weekend and all of yesterday (Monday), #prayforjapan has been trending on Twitter here in the UK. Some of the Tweets might have been from people who are openly religious, but the majority of those that I reviewed seemed to come from everyday folks wanting to express their heartfelt concern.
This is perhaps further evidence – as pinpointed in last Thursday’s blog on the religious question in the UK 2011 Census – of a silent majority of the population who do believe in a higher power but are not attracted to organised religion.
I have experienced for myself that there are thinkers out there that consider the offering of prayer after a tragic event to be a travesty, and feel it is the opposite of compassion, because if God couldn’t stop an earthquake and a tsunami then why would you pray to Him to help afterwards?
There are not too many others ways, though, to express our compassion once a cheque has been written to donate to a charity group going out to the disaster region to help. And it does seem clear from this Twitter trending, that praying for Japan is one way that resonates with people of different stripes as to how they can compassionately say to Japan “we care” in a manner they genuinely believe makes a difference.
One Japanese man, now a Cambridge graduate living in the UK – who has translated on Facebook what he describes as heart-warming Twitter messages of what moved and touched Japanese people during what he calls “these very trying times” – has written: “Please continue to pray for the people in Japan.”
Here is one of his translated stories – in Japanese: “聞いた話でびっくりしたのが、とっさに「入口の確保」と揺れてるにも関わらず、あの状況で歩いて入口を開けた人が居たのが凄いと思った。正直、シャンデリアも証明も何時落ちるか分からないのに、凄く勇敢な人が居た事に感動した。
And here is the same story in English, which captures the dignity of the Japanese people, which I observed and appreciated when I visited Tokyo last year: “We’ve all been trained to immediately open the doors and establish an escape route when there is an earthquake. In the middle of the quake while the building was shaking crazily and things were falling everywhere, a man made his way to the entrance and held it open. Honestly, the chandelier could have crashed down any minute … that was a brave man!”
While the #prayforjapan outpouring of compassion is heartfelt and valuable, it suggests a question – as to whether there is a need to think more about prayer when there is no dire tragedy prompting it? If 30 million British people feel a kinship with a higher power but not with the groups that organise around the worship and service of that higher power, then perhaps in calmer times Twitter – and Facebook – could be places to more openly explore the question of the power of prayer to both comfort the human heart and to bring healing to the human experience.
In the meantime, though, our hearts – and prayers! – go out to the people of Japan, and to everyone around the world trying to make sense of that which is so clearly senseless and tragic.
Below are some examples of the weekend’s #prayforjapan Tweets.