One day after observance of the 15th anniversary of 9/11, think with me about the meaning of 9/12. The date invites us to consider how we move forward in the wake of things beyond our understanding, to live lives tempered with uncertainty, mystery, loss, sorrow, fear. That’s the challenge of 9/12. My own recollections of Manhattan in the days after 9/11 remind me of that challenge, and remind me specifically of how much we didn’t know.
I remember watching TV at the midtown church where I served. As we saw towers fall, Rabbi Lenny Schoolman, who served on our staff, said that the world would never be the same. Right then, I didn’t really know what he meant.
Several staff members didn’t know where their spouses were all day, didn’t hear from them until late at night. We tiptoed around their not-knowing, because we didn’t know what to say. We didn’t know that it would be fine.
Several days later, a woman called the church to arrange a funeral. She didn’t know what to do because she hadn’t heard from her husband. I told her that we at the church had no precedent for this either. Small comfort, in retrospect.
A man came to my office, the only American employed by a Japanese firm of 15 people. Twelve had died. He survived, and answered the call to represent the families who did not speak English. I was told it was their custom that you could not have a funeral if you did not have a body. We didn’t really know what to do.
We worked around the corner from a fire station which lost nine firemen. Not knowing what to do for them, after Sunday evening service, we had a candlelight vigil to the firehouse. We thanked them. We prayed with them. We gave them home baked cookies.
We did a service for a wealthy businessman. Out of respect to his unchurched family, honoring his agnosticism, the liturgy was shaped to remember someone who was not a person of faith. When we were criticized by “good church folk” for not being religious enough, I didn’t know how to respond.
We did a funeral for two homeless men who had worked in the towers collecting recycling. They were part of a ministry that gave homeless people employment. But we didn’t know how to reach any of their family members. We barely knew their names.
Corporations asked us to provide interfaith services for groups of employees. We had never been asked by a corporation to do any kind of religious service. That was uncharted territory.
We did a service for a policeman whose two young children sat in the front row and looked at me as if I would have an answer because I wore a clerical collar.
Now more than ever, we may not know how to move forward in the face of challenges. They can be private, personal. They can affect all of us. Our tradition, our Prayer Book knows that, so in the Burial Office we read the prayer printed below. We face the challenge of a September 12 world, in which we are called to faithfulness in the wake of all kinds of tragedy, in the wake of dangerously broken relationships. When we can’t understand, we withstand. When we can’t explain, we proclaim. Liturgy, sacrament, tradition, scripture, community sustain in inexplicable, mysterious ways. I’m grateful that is true.
When the Pope says that there is no such thing as a stationary Christian, part of what he may mean is that in all circumstances we are called to move forward, with love in the heart, trusting in the one from whose love we can never be separated. We may not know what the future holds, but we know the one who holds the future.
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