Dealing with (Spiritual) Earthquakes and “Mass Wasting”

Phyllis Beveridge Nissila

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27, NIV)

On Earthquakes

The following headline from yesterday, August 20th, 2019, in Zero Hedge, caught my eye: “This Isn’t Normal: Kansas & Oklahoma Hit By 65 Earthquakes In Last 7 Days.” Well, the title says it all. 

Regarding Kansas in particular, the article’s author, Tyler Durden, writes, “I understand that we should expect to see earthquakes in diverse places, but if someone told me that the U.S. was just hit by a significant quake one of the last places that I would check would be Kansas.  The state of Kansas is certainly known for a lot of things, but earthquakes are not one of them, and that is why what we just witnessed is so startling.”

In contrast, where I live in the Pacific Northwest, part of what is known as the “ring of fire” earthquake region, we are always more or less aware of this kind of subterranean activity. According to Durden, who tracks such geologic events, “Earthquakes are not uncommon in the area, which sees frequent seismic activity as tectonic plates meet and shift and crumble under one another.” In this zone, Durden’s greatest concern is California’s pending “big one.”

But we at least live with a “heads-up” regarding what may soon rock and roll beneath us (and all the little preludes beforehand as well as the after shocks), and many people are prepared, if just somewhat. A lovely trip to our picturesque coastal towns reveal “Tsunami Escape Route” signs here and there. Building codes are written with an engineer’s eye to surviving quakes, and from time to time local news features remind us what may well rumble beneath and how to prepare.

What Rumbles Beneath

Spiritually speaking, we also need to be aware of “what rumbles beneath,” so to speak, as in fissures, cracks, breaks, and shakes in our spiritual foundation, “events” that, like earthquakes in Kansas and Oregon can occur both unexpectedly as well as predictably, dramatically as well as subtly.

What I refer to, specifically, are temptations both big (e.g., adultery) as well as small, or more predictable, such as bad habits or thought patterns.

However, there is another reality in both geology and “spiritual-ology,” so to speak, that needs tending: a phenomenon called, of all things, “mass wasting,” that reminds us that whether it’s a big, sudden event or a small, slow-motion one, shifting and sliding is constantly taking place in the unseen regions whether we are aware of it or not, and danger may well lie ahead.

“Mass Wasting”?

Geologic definition:

Mass wasting, also known as slope movement or mass movement, is the geomorphic process by which soilsandregolith, and rock move downslope typically as a solid, continuous or discontinuous mass, largely under the force of gravity, frequently with characteristics of a flow as in debris flows and mudflows.[1] Types of mass wasting include creep, slides, flows, topples, and falls, each with its own characteristic features, and taking place over timescales from seconds to hundreds of years. Mass wasting occurs on both terrestrial and submarine slopes, and has been observed on EarthMarsVenus, and Jupiter’s moon Io. (Source)

Mass wasting can occur in big, dramatic landslides and volcanic movements, but it’s the smaller, slower–insidious and perpetual–flows and slides which contribute to the greater purpose of this post in reference to analogous temptations that can “sneak up on a believer,” so to speak, like those bad habits and thought patterns, if he or she hasn’t been paying attention and just sort of ebbing and flowing, creeping and slipping, back and forth, from his/her walk with God.

It doesn’t take much to spot the big, sometimes explosive, events on terra firma as well as in terra spirit, as it were. It may be days, months, even years, however, before we notice the “smaller” events on both visible and invisible terrains, before we trip over some lesser “debris flow” or fracture that impedes our path forward. And that is perhaps the worst kind of geologic and/or spiritual upheaval.

A Lesson on the Playground

I am reminded of a certain playground scene in my old neighborhood.

I used to live in a neighborhood cul-de-sac off of the highway leading up to the foothills of the Cascade mountain range, atop a sandy (sedimentary) foundation, a former riverbed re-routed by a dam twenty miles east, where subdivisions were carved out–and smoothed over–making way for houses, schools, and stores. Of course, land developers can only excavate and engineer so deep.

Meanwhile, miles below the earth’s crust atop which they plowed and leveled and built–hoping that none of the land would shift or shimmy–the magma, as usual, continued–and continues–to boil and bubble, cooling slowly upward into shards and chunks and boulders and hills, often, in small bits and pieces that eventually poke or push up here and there.

So I was walking in the schoolyard one day and I tripped over a small curve of a tree root that, I swear, wasn’t there the last time I walked that very–and newly paved–path! I was used to working my walk amid the usual bulges and cracks that already existed, amid the little patches of asphalt here and there that had nudged and heaved. But this little piece of root caught me off guard and I nearly fell down putting me in danger of cracking or breaking something! Fortunately, I caught myself in time.

Of course, what a perfect metaphor, I thought, for how the continuous “mass wasting of temptation” can harm the pilgrim’s progress on this constantly moving and shifting spiritual coil. What a perfect comparison with how it is on uneven and constantly changing moral, philosophical, and religious ground (shifting sand, you might say) in the world, where we can as easily trip, stumble, and fall if we are not watching our step.

And where we have to take extra care to stay on the path due to the constant subtle and insidious forms of temptation that comprise perhaps the worst and most common of the lot, aka the small stuff, and due to which we need to remain firmly embedded on the only spiritual rock, Jesus Christ, Who is our solid ground–and grounding.

Know what I mean?

My little experience on the playground was a very good reminder.

And of course there is plenty of help.

Two Ways to Prepare–and Maintain

  1. For a little extra help getting back or staying on track, I offer this encouragement to engage, or re-engage, in personal “revival”   employing yet another, apt metaphor (I love metaphor).
  2. And whatever the spiritual event, big and dramatic or slow and subtle, temptation or trial, here is another reminder by way of a Dottie Rambo tune, “I Go to the Rock,” composed and sung in old-style Southern Gospel. Enjoy and be edified, strengthened, and encouraged.


Image of earthquake damage from Wikimedia commons

Image of the “ring of fire” from Wikimedia commons

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