The video images from Japan, all over the Web, are mesmerizing. The inexorable progress of a tsunami, sweeping aside everything in its path and advancing steadily inward, toward areas previously thought safe from the sea's destruction, is testimony to nature's raw power:
The video depicts the waves of destruction in real time. Civilization and its poor trappings are no defense against such an onslaught, which can wipe out everything built up over hundreds of years within mere minutes.
Such waves of destruction, however, occur on longer time scales, as well. For an extremely well-constructed graphic showing the many dynastic waves of destruction which have engulfed the Middle East over the last 5000 years, take a look at this map:
It takes only ninety seconds to recap the full span of events, and after watching it a few times, one begins to understand why peace in the Middle East is far from likely in our time. As you watch the colored waves of each dynasty advance, and then succumb to a later one, think of the turmoil and destruction which occurred -- largely through the clash of arms -- to the previous civilizations in their paths.
A similar graphic map at the same site traces the advances of the various religions throughout history. It is not as accurate (middle and southern Africa, for example, do not become wholly Christian in the twentieth century), but it is still useful in portraying how the fronts in the culture wars have advanced and retreated over the centuries:
Living on a planet whose very ability to carry life through its stages of evolution is due to its plate tectonics, we cannot escape the waves of destruction when they occur as part of the periodic shifts in the earth's mantle. But we are also tested by the shifting waves of culture, as divers religions, countries and empires go through their stages of advance and decline. Taking the larger perspective does not alleviate the immediate tragedies and suffering; that is the job of alms -- especially in this Lenten season, as we sacrifice in our own lives to be able to help others more. In thus celebrating our faith, and sharing our good fortune and bounty, we honor God's creation -- including the thin veneers on the surface, as well as the solid substance at our core.