September 11, 2014
-At the Desert Retreat House-
Most Americans, in fact most people throughout the world, likely remember exactly where they were on the morning of September 11, 2001 as those airplanes flew into the Word Trade Center. I think we all remember that day so well because, as those twin towers collapsed into a pile of rubble, the world was drastically changed. The towers falling to the earth set off a tidal wave of fear and terror that to this very day continues to buffet us in its wake.
When I got up this morning I called to mind my own experiences on that fateful day in September, 13 years ago. At the time we were living in Upstate New York. I had been to the World Trade Center many times and I knew many people who worked in that building. I sat in front of a TV set and watched in horror as those so-familiar mighty towers came crashing to the ground, and along with many people throughout this world, I wondered if we had come to the brink of the abyss.
I was filled with a sense of horrifying terror and almost debilitating fear, wondering if this was the beginning a new World War. I was also filled with a profound sense of deep sorrow at the sight of such cruel death and unnecessary carnage.
That evening we had decided to gather as many people as we could from our church, so we put the word out that we would hold a vigil service. I had no way of knowing if anyone would even come to the service because we had obviously not announced it in advance; and yet by the time the vigil was about to begin the church was overflowing with people, members of the congregation, neighbors from the community whom I had never see before - all of us huddling together, sobbing, holding one another's hands in mutual solidarity.
It was one of the most intimate experiences of community that I have ever had before. In the immediate wake of 9/11 we gathered together to tell each other how much we need one another as we walk in this wilderness of life. And in our gathering, an abiding Presence was among us, and we knew that even in the face of utter loss, we were not abandoned.
But in the days to come, everything seemed to change. A sense of healing peace and solidarity gave way to bitter retribution. The world seemed to get swept up in a wave of vengeance and revenge - a war against terror, more bombs and more attacks, distrust of anyone who looked foreign or spoke with an accent or wore a veil. We were afraid to walk our own streets, afraid to go to a mall for fear it would be bombed, afraid to get on an airplane.
Now 13 years later we are still caught up in the wake of 9/11, still buffeted by the waves of that fateful day in September. Journalists are beheaded by fanatic ISIS terrorists, airstrikes are launched in response and plans for new wars are now announced - plans that will last for many years to come.
On this anniversary day I take my mind to that evening of September 11, 2001, sitting in a church with my fellow human beings as we told each other how much we needed one another. I call to mind the strength and the power of solidarity we all felt that night - the sure and certain hope that we are not alone nor abandoned. This is the memory I celebrate on this anniversary day.
The words of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. become my "credo" for today:
But even in the midst of chaos, I refuse to believe that humankind is so
tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war.
I refuse to believe that the daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.
I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.
Yes, I still believe that we shall overcome!