On March 11, thousands of people died in a 9.0 earthquake followed by a cataclysmic tsunami that enveloped a large part of Japan’s eastern coastline.

During the next several weeks, the people of Japan will turn to their religion or philosophy to interpret this disaster.

I’ve always appreciated the viewpoint of a Zen monk named Sengai, who represented one of the three main schools of Zen Buddhism. Translated in “Zen Flesh, Zen bones: A Collection of Zen & Pre-Zen Writings,” by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki, the story goes as follows:

“A rich man asked Sengai to write something for the continued prosperity of his family so that it might be treasured from generation to generation.

“Sengai obtained a large sheet of paper and wrote: ‘Father dies, son dies, grandson dies.’

“The rich man became angry. ‘I asked you to write something for the happiness of my family! Why do you make such a joke as this?’

” ‘No joke is intended,’ explained Sengai. ‘If before you yourself die your son should die, this would grieve you greatly. If your grandson should pass away before your son, both of you would be brokenhearted. If your family, generation after generation, passes away in the order I have named, it will be the natural course of life. I call this real prosperity.’ ”

On the day before the earthquake, I got a chance to experience the prosperity described in the Zen story when the grandmother to my children, my 75-year-old mother-in-law, died from a catastrophic stroke.
Darla Ann Nuckolls was a woman of great strength and inspiration. Maybe that’s why I always kidded my wife that if I ever had a notion to leave her, I would run to her mother’s house.

Our family is mourning our loss, but we feel prosperous, as we have not had anyone die out of the order described by the Zen monk. We grieve, but as Christian Scripture suggests, “not as those who have no hope.”

In Japan, thousands of people are grieving those who have died out of order. Grandsons died before great-grandfathers, and children died before their mothers. It’s as if some kind of malevolent force drained prosperity from the Japanese coast in one giant rinse cycle.

As I watched the earthquake news — in between planning my mother-in-law’s funeral — I wondered, “How can we help so many people?”

The answer is easy.

To paraphrase an old saying, “This is where the rubber of faith and philosophy hit the road.”
Fortunately, the Internet and technology make it quite easy to help. I invite you to place your faith alongside your works today and make a donation.

Each of the following groups has set up fundraising sites specifically for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami. Many of the organizations have ways to simply text a donation.

American Red Cross: Text the word REDCROSS to 90999 and a $10 donation will automatically be charged to your phone bill, or donations can be made at redcross.org.

GlobalGiving: This group works with International Medical Corps, Save the Children and other organizations. Text JAPAN to 50555 to give $10, or got to the GlobalGiving’s Web site at globalgiving.org.

Salvation Army: Text JAPAN or QUAKE to 80888 to make a $10 donation. Donations can also be made at salvationarmy.org or by calling 1-800-SAL-ARMY.

Save the Children: To make a donation, call 1-800-728-3843 or text JAPAN to 20222 to donate $10 or go to savethechildren.org.