In the September 2001 issue of my Arise reflection / letter, that hit my readers’ mailboxes five days before 9/11. It was simply titled “Uncertainty. I wrote:
“. . You never know. You never know what tomorrow will bring. Or for that matter, what the next moment will bring. The stability that you and I have acquired could be cut from under us at any moment. We could suddenly be fired from our job. We could have a heart attack as my priest/buddy Phil did at age 46 and, of a sudden, be gone.”
“Sudden events,” Arise continues, “such as a car accident, a natural disaster, or the threat of terrorism can confront us with stress on every level. Kids who grow up in the West Bank of Jerusalem never know when a kickball game will turn deadly. How can people cope with that level of senseless uncertainty? Can Palestinian or Israeli children have any kind of normalcy? Will they be gun-shy all their lives?” These words came from last month’s Arise newsletter on “Uncertainty.”
I wrote the following one month later (October 2001), entitled “Vulnerable.”
I began, “How eerie they seem now in light of the terror that has gripped us all.”
It was quite controversial then. It angered some of my readers. And it may anger you now. But here’s my perspective for what it’s worth.
I am speaking of BEING VULNERABLE. Suddenly, our whole nation has become vulnerable with a gaping wound that will not be easy to heal, will not be easy to close. We have become vulnerable to violence and terror.
But we can do something valuable and important. We can grieve well for the tremendous loss that has happened to us. We can grieve with dignity and honor. This can be our finest hour. As we grieve well, so God will speak to our heart. We must be with and lift up those who have borne the weight of this tragedy, the suffering of the family members trying to find out some word about their loved ones. The courageous suffering of rescue workers so dedicated to their task. The suffering of all of us who have united our hearts in solidarity with those who experience terrible grief and loss.
To me, America’s vulnerability to violence is not surprising. We have known as a nation that we have harbored violence in our nation’s soul. Many of us have a fascination with violence. We play violent video games and watch violent movies. We’re not satisfied unless these show utter destruction and devastation.
Being vulnerable, being wounded, can bring immense suffering. Indeed, perhaps for the first time, we can feel the suffering of so many peoples throughout the world who face the threat of violence every day. Perhaps in our own need for compassion in this event our compassion can be deepened for those who have no relief from violence and who despair of ever living a normal life.
I am afraid that we may not be protected again from violence without until we face the violence within. Perhaps that is true for our nation as it was true for me. Twenty years ago I was devastated in my soul; my life had collapsed in rubble. I had to realize that the healing of my soul was of utmost importance if the whole of my life was to be healed.
So we can tend to our nation’s soul. Being vulnerable can be a good thing; it can lead us to the One who can fortify us, who can be our rock, our refuge, our stronghold. We can reflect on our sinfulness as a nation. As the world’s only Superpower we sometimes think we are invincible. No wonder, then, that some would hate us because some of us sometimes use power to our own ends.
We must be willing to be humble. To realize our vulnerability, our wounds, can unite us with the rest of suffering humanity. If we do that, that will be an immensely good thing.
Jesus “emptied himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men.” (Phil. 2:6-11) Jesus showed us that humility was a good thing for the human race.
Humility, then, is the key to healing the wounds of September 11, 2001. Not humiliation. Humility.
Life has been scrambled for us in America. We have entered the refiner’s fire. We have the opportunity to be cleansed and purified and strengthened so that we can find our security in God.
This is a time to think, a time to reflect on where we are as a nation and where we want to go.
Consumerism consumes the soul of America. We worship the almighty dollar. The World Trade Center symbolizes all this. We celebrate Christ’s birth each year by buying and spending more than last year. Our economic growth is based on the premise that we will consume more and more and our GNP will forever increase. This is an illusion.
The rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer. The gap is widening — 20% of the world’s people consume 86% of the world’s goods. (Center for Concern)
We must seek spiritual values first. We have the opportunity today to see that God is inviting us to rely on God first, on Wall Street second.
We must not escalate the hate that has been spewed upon us. There is no doubt that there are some who hate America. We do have enemies. And we are angry. And we must stop the violence. Stop it, not escalate it.
Again, I say, if we are to stop violence without we have to face the violence within. The official liturgical book, the Sacramentary, has us pray this prayer in the face of war:
Lord, remember Christ your Son who is peace itself
and who has washed away our hatred with his blood.
Because you love all people, look with mercy on us.
Banish the violence and evil within us
and by this offering restore tranquility and peace.
The liturgy is saying what I have been saying: if you want to banish violence without, ask God to banish violence within.
We have to be very careful that we do not escalate the hate. (Again, remember I wrote this in October 2001.)
We must not pre-judge all Arabs or all Muslims because of the evil intent of some individuals and a few gurus of terror and inhumanity. We will follow the rule of law carefully (Did we???) and we will find and punish the ones who did this, the ones who supported this, and the ones who have harbored such hate. We are a law-abiding country. And we must be careful to abide by the law in the search of those who have the blood of Americans upon their souls.
And so may I revert to some words from last month’s newsletter, which turned out to be prophetic:
“No human being can know for certain what the next moment will bring. Uncertainty is just part of life. No matter what the next moment will bring, we can be assured, if we have some faith and hope, that the presence of God in our life will give us the strength and the courage to hang on and hang in. God will give us the grace and the resources to deal with any life situation, no matter how difficult.”
We can ease the burden of those who suffer by the power of our prayer today. Jesus knows the immensity of suffering the world can feel. Through him, we can be hopeful. There can be new life, a purer, more spiritual life for our nation; we can experience renewal and resurrection. But first we must tend to our wounds and confess our sins — each of us and all of us.
And now, nine years later, I ask: Did we do that?