Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Feeling Shaken

This past Saturday our family utilized our gift membership and went to the Science Center downtown. Roaming its four interactive floors is always an exciting adventure for the sweet girl. This time around there were some new exhibits on the first floor so some of our old favorites had been moved. We found one, the Earthquake Café, now housed on the top level. Of course we had to sit down and let ourselves get all shook up.

The Earthquake Café is a booth made to look like a table in a diner. You get into the booth and choose, from the “menu” on the wall, which earthquake simulation you want to feel. There are a few to choose from, varying in their intensity. We let the sweet girl pick, and she chose a 7.1 variety (simulating the California earthquake from the late 1980s – remember the one that took place during the World Series)? You push the button and sit there, grinning uncertainly at each other, as the ground beneath your table begins to shift. The booth works on a levered system and gets jerked back and forth in a very realistic fashion. (I know that now, having actually experienced a small earthquake in our area a couple of months ago.)

Sitting in the Earthquake Café, I found myself realizing anew just how shaken my life has felt in recent months. Sometimes the shaking that has gone on has felt small and subtle, the way an earthquake sometimes can feel at the very beginning, or when you’re not near the epicenter. I still recall the day we did feel the ground shake here, for real, and how disorienting it was to feel that shift – but also how quickly it was all over. By the time we’d asked ourselves the questions “what’s happening?” and “what is that?” and even “did a truck just hit the building?” the motion had pretty much stopped. It was only in retrospect that we realized what we’d felt.

Life can be like that sometimes. While some “shaking” comes quickly and violently, and other shaking is more subtle and hard to define, it often seems like the ripple effect lasts a long time. People who live near the epicenter of a quake experience multiple aftershocks. Even those who don’t often find themselves so “moved” (literally and in other ways) that they need to talk about the earth-shaking experience they lived through for days to come.

Most of us, thankfully, don’t live through actual, physical earthquakes all that often (though our family prays often for those who do). But all of us live through some sort of figurative shaking in our lives. This shaking may be caused by sudden traumatic events we never expected, or by long unsettling “shaking” that seems to go on and on, with multiple small aftershocks, uprooting our sense of who we thought we were and even our sense of how steady we are. All of those things can cause mental, physical, emotional, even spiritual stress, and that can take its toll. I’ve been going through some of this sort of “shaking” in recent months and it’s exhausting. I’ve discovered that if I let it, if I focus on the things that seem to shake me most, it can make me feel alone and afraid.

As followers of Christ, however, we know that in times of shaking we can cling to something that is steady, far steadier than our usual stable (but sometimes surprisingly unstable) earth. Or rather we can cling to Someone. When our lives feel full of seismic activity, we have a person we can run to who is truly our shelter and refuge. The shaking may not always stop right away, but when you are held in the strong arms of Jesus, you’ll find that you won’t worry so much about whether you manage to stay on your feet. Because you know He will.

You’ll find the word “shaken” in the Scriptures. Sometimes it’s translated “moved.” (I still need to ask my Hebrew scholar husband to help me find the original word thus translated.)

The Psalmists love the image: “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” (Ps. 16:8) And in one of the most powerful Psalms that speaks of God as our refuge, we hear this: “He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.” (Ps. 62:2) I like the way the ESV renders that last one “not greatly shaken.” It seems to help my heart to know that the psalmist, perhaps, like me, admits to feeling some real shaking…though he knows (as I know deep down) that I am never ultimately shaken when I am sheltering in God.

And the writer of Hebrews reminds us (powerfully, in the context of speaking of the final shaking): “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe…” (Heb. 12:28).

A kingdom that cannot be shaken. In the midst of unsteady days, I’ve been trying to let the reality of that wash over me. We have been loved into a kingdom that cannot be shaken, by a King whose faithfulness is always steadfast, more solid than the most solid rock we’ve ever known. It’s the writer of Hebrews who also reminds us (at the beginning of the same chapter that ends with the declaration of the unshakable kingdom) to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author (or founder) and perfecter of our faith.” We are to fix our eyes on, to look intently and faithfully at Jesus who "endured the cross.” He endured real shaking, real pain, in order that we might know the deep, solid steadiness of his mercy and grace.

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