"Peace in the Valley"
-Outside the Desert Retreat House-
Yesterday as I watched the dedication of the 9/11 Memorial Museum at "Ground Zero" in New York City, I was flooded with an avalanche of vivid memories.
Most people can tell you exactly where they were when those planes flew into the twin towers killing all those people on that fateful day in September 2001. The church I was serving at the time was in mid-state New York, and so several of my parishioners did business in New York City. Some would regularly go to the World Trade Center.
I was in a meeting in my office on that September day. My secretary knocked at the door and told us that that we needed to end the meeting and come watch the news being reported on the TV. I still remember sitting in horror as the drama of that morning unfolded - planes deliberately flown into the towers, people jumping to their deaths in panic. I had personally been in those mighty towers many times. It was so excruciatingly painful to watch them collapse into a heap, crushing everything and everyone within them and around them.
Then came the news of other planes of mass destruction crashing into a field in Pennsylvania, still another flown into the Pentagon. Would the White House be next?
Our church was located somewhat near a major Air Force Base, and so as we watched these horrible events taking place on the TV screen, we could hear fighter jets roaring overhead - deployed into battle. We also learned that the President had been taken to an underground bunker.
It really felt like we were at war. And, very honestly, I was afraid. I was very afraid.
Like many communities in America, on the evening of September 11, we all gathered for a prayer vigil in our church. Word about the vigil had spread mostly through word of mouth and a through a few radio announcements, but I wasn't sure if anyone would even show up for this obviously spontaneous and unplanned event. But when I went into the church, the place was packed, standing room only - not only members of the church, but also people from throughout the entire neighboring community. We needed to be together with one another on that night.
In the middle of the prayer service, I realized something. There was still much to fear. We were all profoundly sad over the devastation and loss of that day, still very unsure of what 9/11 might mean. A war seemed like a real possibility. But, in the midst of all the horror, chaos and danger, I also realized that I was no longer troubled and I had a sense that most of the people in that room that evening also left with untroubled hearts.
We were with one another. We had one another. In the midst of our gathering there was a sense of an abiding power of love connecting us all, a Holy Presence weeping with us, comforting and consoling us, a Power of Light that would not ever abandon us even in the darkest days.
Nelson Mandela once wrote:
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear
but the triumph over it.
At a prayer vigil on the evening of September 11, 2001, I also learned that same lesson about fear, courage and triumph.
Before he left this earth, Jesus gave some parting words to his fearful disciples. He told them:
Do not let your hearts be troubled!
He didn't say, "Never be afraid!" He didn't say, "I am going away but don't worry. I'll take care of everything for you from now on." No, his parting words were, "Do not let your hearts be troubled," a powerful message not just for Christians or believers but for every human being.
In the midst of all the inevitable chaos that comes our way, we have one another, we take "refuge" in one another, and the power of love will never let us go.
So we can live with courage, triumphing over fear.
We can live our lives with untroubled hearts.