By Kathy Staudt
In an earlier post, over the weekend of 9/11, I reflected on that challenging assertion from the service of evening prayer: “Only in you, O God, can we live in safety.”
This statement – that our safety rests ultimately with God rather than with anything we can create, was for me the ongoing learning of the days after 9/11, and has continued to be a meditation for me. I find that it was already reflected in a poem I wrote in October of 2011, and which I share here for readers of the Café to recall how we felt then, how the Cathedral and the Cathedral close spoke to us of safety and un-safety — and how it feels to pray these “Only in thee can we live in safety.”
This came to me with great vividness on October 7, 2001, the day that the war in Afghanistan began. As a chorister parent who lives out of the city, I often hung around at the Cathedral between the morning and evening services, since my chorister had to make a day of it on Sundays when they sang. We were on the close when we began to hear the news that our airplanes were beginning the bombing of Afghanistan and I think at that time few people really knew how to feel. For me the process of walking around the cathedral and the close, in preparation for that day’s choral Evensong, brought home the whole theme of “dwelling in safety” which has seemed to me to be the spiritual word to our country ever since: what are we neglecting in our scrambling for assurance and safety and control? What endures? What are the lingering questions. I think the poem still captures where I am with this, though it takes on fresh irony in light of the recent damage to the Cathedral. I hope it will speak, in this 10th anniversary season, to readers of the Café:
Washington National Cathedral
October 7, 2001
In Afghanistan today,
Our airplanes are dropping
Bombs and food
Too soon to know
Where this news will lead.
I walk the path where on Sundays in Eastertide,
Amid ringing bells,
Treble voices echo from open casement windows.
Today it is colder
Quiet along this path
Through autumn darkened oaks
In the shadow of gray stone.
The tourists near me pause.
Silently we look up
As low-flying helicopters
Roar from the sky.
In the bishop’s garden
Birds in the holly bushes call aloud
Responding to a high flying F-16
Visible above us, through placid autumn sky:
In the woods, leaves begin
Their yearly spiral to the ground
Responding to the first real wind of autumn.
Sunlight dapples on old beech trees
Their thick roots digging deep,
Grasping the soil.
Their silver bark reflecting in its color
The gray stone skin of the cathedral façade,
Stretched over shapes eight hundred years old,
Enclosing a silent space that echoes
With clashing symbols:
House of Prayer for All
Way of Peace
Where at Evensong today
The choir will sing,
As for centuries
In scattered churches
Of this civilization
Choirs have sung at evening:
Only in Thee
Can we live in
(by Kathleen Henderson Staudt. Originally published in Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture (2003 Edwin Mellen Poetry Press)