I have heard this word more often in the last two days than I usually would in two months. In every case it is being used to describe the town of Joplin, Missouri, just over an hour west of here. Lots of big numbers: EF5 - 200 mph - 6 mile path - 750 injured - 8,000 buildings - 123 lives.
The pictures posted online reveal a chaotic landscape of jagged rubble. Cars tossed haphazardly, trees stripped of branches, skeletal silhouettes that used to be buildings, mounds of trash that were once people’s homes. Utter devastation.
The outpouring of help has been so enormous that people are now being told to actually stay away from Joplin at this time. Too many of us well-intentioned but untrained volunteers would get in the way of the people who really need to be there right now.
But the first impulse for many is to help, somehow, some way. There are people who need … who are hurting … people who have been devastated. We want to help them, now! We want to make the hurt go away, meet the need, un-devastate the devastation.
It seems there is a powerful human need to fill voids. We are inclined toward creation, and so when we see devastation our inherent reaction is to create, construct, and build. That’s what’s happening now, on a widespread scale. We are feeling a collective urge to un-devastate the lives of our neighbors in Joplin, to create again what has been un-made, to fill the void the tornado left behind.
It is in this impulse that I believe we witness most fully the power of God at work. The image of God becomes incarnate in this creative urge, in people working together to build community, extending ourselves into the lives of one another and truly loving our neighbors as ourselves.
A week before the tornado, a baby was born in Springfield. He spent the first week of his life in the NICU because his mom has diabetes, he was born a month early, and his blood sugar was all out of whack. Also during that week it was decided (by people he doesn’t know in an office somewhere else) that he was not going to be able to come home with his mom and dad. And since his half-sister happens to be our foster daughter already, we said that he could come home with us for a while. So he can be with his sister, you know.
Because there is this powerful impulse in us that tends to want to fill voids, to make the hurt go away, to un-devastate devastation. And it doesn’t matter if it is a town of 50,000 or one newborn baby in the NICU, at the heart of it devastation always looks like a chaotic landscape of jagged rubble.
We talked about it together. We always do. Our son said, “How would you feel if you were just born and you weren’t with anyone in your family?” And with that, there was no more conversation. So he can be with his sister. And with a family who will take good care of him, feed him well, help him grow, and extend our lives into his so that we might truly love him with all that it means to love another person.
And maybe that will fill at least a part of the void into which he was born, make a little bit of the hurt go away, and at least begin to un-devastate the devastation.