July 29, 2011
My last blog was about Sabbath and I will be off on vacation soon. This is my last blog until mid-September – so today I want to address the topic of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church has invited Episcopal communities of all kinds to open their doors on September 10th through 11th to commemorate the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on our country that took place 10 years ago. We can do this through prayer, remembrance, service, creativity, interfaith-cooperation, education, community building and fellowship. Many of our churches are already planning to be part of the annual, diocesan-wide Backpack Blessing on Sunday, September 11, and I think the confluence of these two events is appropriate since it is through the children of today that our hopes for a future in which God’s world, a world of peace and good will, may well be achieved.
Ten years ago I was in New Haven, Connecticut on 9/11 but a few days later Bishop Paul Moore, the Retired Bishop of New York, invited me to walk down to Ground Zero and we knelt by the burning pile and I saved a fragment of wall board from the Twin Towers. Then Bishop Mark Sisk of New York invited me and the distinguished Episcopal Church historian, Mary Donovan, to write a book about the spiritual significance of 9/11. It was published by Church Publishing Company in 2003 and is entitled Will the Dust Praise You? It is the record of the choice made to act for others by individuals of an immense variety in terms of race, gender, and sexual orientation, and creed that gives meaning to the title of this book Will the Dust Praise You?
Dust is the most pervasive image of 9/11. Everyone we interviewed about the day talked about the dust – the white pallor everywhere, the depth of the dust around the feet as one fled across the familiar city scape.
Dust was the meaning of disaster, for the Twin Towers, the proud embodiment of all that modern civilization had to offer, were literally turned to dust. But for Christians, “Will the Dust Praise You” – a phrase taken from the Bible, means that faith in the resurrection of Jesus allows the people of God to take a heroic stand even when all seems lost. God gives us the choice to look down into the pit of despair or up into the heavens with praise. Our book records the choices that men and women of faith made ten years ago to praise God with their actions on behalf of those who grieve, are weary, and tremble.
Where we choose to stand at Ground Zero will allow our grieving to be transformed either into idealism or cynicism. Today we stand outside the walls of St. Paul’s Episcopal Chapel in Lower Manhattan – the center of 9/11 relief effort – to watch ten years later the glass splendor of the Liberty Tower spiraling 1,776 feet into the heavens. The dust of death is transformed by human hands into new life. As people of faith, this points us with hope to the future.
And so I encourage all of you to think creatively what your parish might do to commemorate this 9/11 with such hope and renewal. It is in moments such as this that our communities often turn to the church for solace and hope. But let us be ready to provide more than just solace and hope, let us also be prepared to provide loving and open communities into which all feel welcome.
We will be having a Western New York 9/11 commemoration at St. Paul’s, Lewiston on Sunday September 11th at 10:00 a.m. I invite our parishes to invite local elected officials, police and first responders to our commemoration services. Why not put out flags and other memorials to the 2,819 who died that day at the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and on the plane in Pennsylvania. Our parishes might also hand out small packets of dust to remind us of that day.
Speaking quite personally, I learned for 9/11 that the living goodness of God has been working in us, despite all of our failures and weaknesses, preparing us in ways that we have not imagined for the work that is thrust upon us.