The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Volcanoes and Modern Man

Isn't it interesting that a single volcano in a rather out-of-the-way place like Iceland can cause so much disruption to modern society? For several days now, air transportation in Western Europe has been brought to a virtual standstill, all because of the eruption of this one volcano. But that's not all. Ten of thousands of travelers are stranded, unable either to return home or to find suitable, affordable accommodations while they wait for conditions to improve. Some of these people will soon run out of required medications and will have difficulty obtaining them in a foreign country. Businesses that rely on air shipment for their manufactured goods or raw materials are concerned because they have no logistical "Plan B" to address this sort of situation. And travel plans, whether for business or pleasure, are being shelved because vulcanologists and meteorologists are unable even to estimate when the eruption will end and things will return to normal. The volcanic ash that has caused so much concern because of its potentially catastrophic effects on turbine engines is also beginning to leave its high altitude home and come down to earth where it may cause a whole different set of problems. And this may just be the beginning of this volcano's impact.

We moderns seem to believe that our technology can overcome any obstacle or solve any problem, but then we get hit right between the eyes by the power of God's creation and come to realize how completely vulnerable we actually are. Even the President of the world's only "superpower", the United States, had to cancel his plans to attend the late Polish President's funeral in Krakow. Some superpower we are...our president grounded by this one hole in the ground.

I wouldn't be surprised if God timed these events for maximum impact. And speaking of timing, did you know that many volcanic eruptions go on for months, even years? In other words, this volcano with the unpronounceable name (my apologies to all you Icelanders out there) could continue erupting for quite some time. Click here to view a chart depicting percentages for different lengths of eruptions. Pretty interesting. Care to predict the outcome if it keeps erupting for a year or so?

There's a lesson or two in here somewhere. I suspect, for example, that the products of this one volcanic eruption will have more impact on the earth's weather and climate than several years' worth of man-made emissions. Indeed, we know this to be true of other eruptions in the past, some of which actually led to summerless years. The year, 1816, was one such year and resulted from the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. And the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 decreased the entire temperature of the planet for a year afterward because the clouds of ash it generated reflected the sun's light back into space. To my knowledge -- and Al Gore might correct me here -- we've never experienced a yearlong winter (or summer) attributable to fossil fuel emissions.

Another lesson is more theological. We need these events to help us experience humility in the presence of our God's greatness. The power of His creation, manifested through this one tiny and previously unknown opening under a glacier can overwhelm our modern society and all its pomps and works. And it truly is tiny, at least on a universal scale, as any astronomer would tell you. God does have a way of bringing His creatures to their knees, doesn't He?

And so, let's thank God for the good that can come from this event, and for the fact that to date there has been no loss of life as a result.

God is great!

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