The earthquake in central Italy earlier this week brought back some jarring memories of my own experience with an earthquake, but it also reminded me of helpful insights that provided comfort and healing.
One reason I hadn't wanted to move from New York to California some years ago was my fear of earthquakes. And soon after we'd moved, lying in bed asleep early one January morning, my husband and I found ourselves very near the epicenter of the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
It was an experience unimaginable and shocking; I thought we were going to die. Incredibly, though, in the midst of the rocking and shaking of our home, I remember knowing instantly at the very core of my being that life is spiritual, and that God is All. I was still afraid, but I felt safe. There was so much noise that it sounded as if a train were in the room, so my husband never heard me shout, "God is Love," which instinctively flew out of me, as I felt impelled to affirm what was real and permanent for myself and others.
I never thought I would experience first hand such a disaster, and I couldn't believe I would get over the mental turmoil it threw me into. In the early morning dark, climbing over fallen furniture and broken glass, we met neighbors outside. Those native to California assured me this quake was not typical. Thankfully, our cluster of homes seemed fairly stable, and beside a few bumps and bruises, folks were physically all right. We were all deeply grateful for our protection. But as we picked up the pieces of our lives, my anxiety grew. Sudden aftershocks were frightening and were a gripping reminder of the instability of the ground that before had seemed so solid.
Dealing with this aftermath of fear became a challenge for me. Many times, I called a Christian Science practitioner for prayer to help steady my thought and regain my trust in God. I found comfort in the 91st Psalm, which he asked me to read, affirming that everyone's secure dwelling is "in the secret place of the most High." He also reminded me of an incident in which a prophet learned that God doesn't send natural disasters. The Bible says, "The Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice" (I Kings 19:11, 12). I listened for that "still small voice" and affirmed that everyone was loved and cared for by God.
Another passage the practitioner shared with me was helpful because it pinpointed the truth I needed to know for myself and the other disaster victims: "Undisturbed amid the jarring testimony of the material senses, Science, still enthroned, is unfolding to mortals the immutable, harmonious, divine Principle, – is unfolding Life and the universe, ever present and eternal" (Mary Baker Eddy, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 306).
As we stood in lines for water and food, and the earth would tremble again, I tried to remain "undisturbed" and to claim for all of us the gentle protection of Divine Science, God's nurturing law. Surprisingly, I actually began to feel a sense of joy, witnessing brotherhood all around us. Love was more powerful than fear; people were finding the light of hope and safety. To me, what was happening was the comforting presence of the Christ, lifting us all up. Christ is the divine healing influence that empowers humanity's kindness and love to respond effectively to human needs.
The wonderful milestone of this experience was that it forced me to rise to the realization that life is spiritual and that God really is ever present. With this revelation, my prayers gained the inner strength of true faith. I saw that when any calamity strikes, we can reject fear and trust the Christ-presence to lead us.
We can also embrace everyone in prayer, as the Apostle Paul did by being "persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38, 39).
My own anxiety truly stopped when I recognized that any devastation produced by an earthquake could never dethrone the divine reality of our spiritual being and eternal safety. I'm certain this promise is true for the victims of the Italian earthquake and their families, and for all the people who are striving to help them. We are all forever safe, forever loved by God. He is our true refuge.