At St. Paul’s Chapel in the shadow of Ground Zero, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said at the 7:30 am service:
We gather here today in peace, yearning and hoping that peace may come in this land and across the world. We gather to remember those who died violently and senselessly ten years ago today. We gather to reflect on lives lost, families devastated, and hopes dashed. And still we gather in hope for hearts that will grow and learn and change, so that no nation will study war any more.
I saw a pickup truck a couple of weeks ago with a waving American flag painted on its rear window. As I walked through the parking lot, I realized there was something written on the tailgate – the word ISLAM stood out first. Finally I saw the whole sorry slogan, “everything I need to know about Islam I learned on September 11th.” How will we change hearts that seem closed to learning more about peace?
Are we willing to recognize and then proclaim that as children of Abraham, Christians, Jews, and Muslims share that vision of a healed world that Micah paints for us? God’s world is meant to be a holy realm where nations forge tools of peace out of former weapons, where people no longer threaten or wage violence, where leaders learn peace instead of war – where all the world’s people “shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.” Take that piece of Micah home and put it on your mirror where you can see it every morning. See if the world around you begins to change.
The Hebrew word for that vision is shalom. Shalom, salaam, and Islam all share the same root. The children of Abraham share a religious understanding that peace is only possible when our hearts are aligned with God’s intention for peace. That is the word that God has spoken.
When Jesus says “love your enemies and pray for your persecutors,” he’s challenging his listeners to turn and change their hearts. He’s speaking directly to people who are being victimized by capricious power-mongers addicted to violent methods of control. His own eventual public execution was only one example of the terrorizing used to keep people in line. Yet the ability to align one’s heart with peace eventually changes reality. Jesus’ ability to say, “your will be done” and “forgive them, for they know not what they do” changed the heart of reality.
How do we love our enemies and pray for those who do us evil? A friend tells the story of a man imprisoned and tortured by the Japanese during the Second World War. Years later, someone asked him how he forgave his torturer. The man said, “I imagined him as a babe in his mother’s arms.” Changed and healed hearts seek not vengeance but greater life, even for victimizers and dealers of terror.
Pray for those who perpetrated the violence of September 11th. Picture their mothers holding them as babes, filled with hope for their future. Pray for those who have sought vengeance for the terror of September 11th or earlier terrors, and pray for all the torturers and terrorists among us. Imagine them sitting in a vineyard, feasting in the late afternoon sun, laughing and making music with former foes, in a land where no one is afraid any more. Pray for families and friends of those who died ten years ago, and envision them as living memorials, bringing greater life and healing in this world, building peace among strangers.
Can we recognize the hopes that all parents have for their children? Are we willing to look for the reflection of those infants on the faces of our enemies? Can we recognize the common desire of all the world’s faithful peoples for peace in their own day? Will we claim the same human yearning in our own hearts? Those are all choices we can make – they are not accidents. When we can love our enemies enough to see a different possibility, our own hearts have indeed begun to heal – and God’s kingdom is coming.
Amen. So be it. May our hearts be turned toward our enemies. Shalom, salaam, may your peaceful kingdom come, O Lord, in our hearts and in this world. Inshallah. God does will it, for this is the only road to peace.
The following is the text of the Presiding Bishop’s sermon at the 11 a.m. service held at the Cathedral Church of St John The Divine:
What’s it like to be attacked? And what governs our response? How do we heal and find our way forward?
I wasn’t here ten years ago, but I do have a sense of how confusing and crazy-making a sudden physical attack can be. I was out for my morning run once when a guy who had been sitting on a bench a couple of seconds earlier ran across my path and grabbed me. I was startled and upset, but I couldn’t figure out what he was after. Was he trying to throw me over the rail into the river, or throw me down on the ground? He never said a word. I did – I yelled and I kept on yelling, all of a sudden I discovered that I had him in a headlock, and then I remembered that applying my foot in a sensitive place might encourage him to let go. I applied my foot once, pretty gently, without any result. We kept struggling and I tried again. Then he did let go, and we both ran off.
It was pretty clear to me that he was mentally ill. Maybe I had intruded on his space, or perhaps he thought I was somebody else. Clearly I was a significant threat. But after I got a few feet farther, my biggest worry was about him and his evident illness. What must it be like to live with such terror?
How do we get beyond the small and large threats in life? In recent days much of our conversation in this city and much of the media reporting have been filled with stories of how people have responded to the violence here ten years ago. Many of those stories have been filled with hope, as people have made some sense out of their experience of September 11th, and found the strength to reinvest in life.
Those planes literally came out of the blue – the blue of a beautiful morning sky. They brought death to thousands, terror to many more, loss and devastation to a city and a nation. That violence was the result of rage at the society around us, and it was calculated to inflict enormous damage. The results have been both tragic and hopeful. It’s not entirely clear just what the perpetrators wanted – they got immediate death and destruction, yet this nation and the world responded with an enormous outpouring of care and concern. It was quickly followed by many calls for retribution and vengeance. Yet even in the midst of that knee-jerk urge toward retaliation and violence, others sought understanding, reached out to the people who would be most vulnerable, and urged a peaceful and healing response.
What has our decade of grieving wrought? Have we found a new meaning in life? Have we found some reasonable measure of healing? Have we made sense of that violence? Have we found a way to forgive those who instigated the death and terror?
That last one is the hardest question, and there is more than a little irony that the readings we’ve heard this morning weren’t chosen specifically for today – they’re scheduled every three years on the Sunday closest to this one. We will continue to hear their calls to forgiveness.
Joseph says to his brothers, who tried to kill him and then sold him into slavery, “well, you meant to do evil, but God turned it to good. I forgave you a long time ago, and I will help you in your hour of need.”
The psalmist responds, “God is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness.”
Paul’s words to the people in Rome are haunting in our context, “who are you to pass judgment on the servants of another? God will judge them. God will hold them accountable.”
And Peter asks Jesus how many times he’s supposed to forgive people who offend him. Jesus responds by saying, if you’re counting you haven’t gone far enough. And then he tells of a man’s refusal to forgive a tiny debt, even though he has himself experienced enormous forgiveness, and how that only leads to his own destruction.
What do we do with all of that? I don’t believe that any of us would be here this morning if we didn’t ultimately believe that forgiveness is possible, and that we are all in search of healing. How do we let go of the desire for vengeance and let God deal with the work of judgment? How might we, like Joseph, even if we’ve been terrorized, come to the aid of brothers and sisters in time of need?
Maybe the most important part is where we locate ourselves in the story. As long as this act of violence is all about me and the hurt and damage I’ve suffered, it’s really hard to let go of a desire for payback. As I reflected on my morning wrestling match, I realized that in the heat of the moment I had no desire to hurt the guy. I didn’t want to kick him too hard, I just wanted him to let go. We can decide how to respond.
Where and how do we locate the attacker in the story? Were the hijackers personally after each human being who died? Did they intend to hurt and destroy this person’s family or that first responder? If we see that violence as an attack on western society, was it really only about the United States? Or was this lashing out, premeditated though it was, a response to changes in the world that have extinguished hopes or privilege in other communities? Those intrusive airport searches we live with are the same kind of unsought social change. Our current economic situation shares some of the same roots and character.
Forgiveness begins in discovering some element of common humanity with your attacker, even if it is simply a search for understanding – whether it’s rational or irrational. But forgiveness doesn’t end there. The very act of violence that first connects perpetrator and victim binds them together. Joseph was his father’s favorite, and his brothers took it out on him by trying to destroy him. That didn’t break the bonds between them, it actually bound them more closely together – the brothers’ secret vengeance produced a kind of chain gang. At the same time, their act destroyed a good part of the healthy bond they had with their father. Joseph’s forgiveness set them free in a way that they could not accomplish themselves.
What do we choose? What kind of bonds have we taken on in the last ten years in this city, or as Americans responding to attempts to terrorize us? Are we choosing prison chains or bonds of understanding? Healing emerges from seeking to repair some of the damage from the violence and the quest for retribution. Health is growing in interfaith dialogue, in spite of the vitriol poured on Abdel Rauf and Daisy Khan. Some may have meant it for evil, but God is working good nevertheless.
We have to tell the stories, including the ugly ones. Real change began in the civil rights movement when the gratuitous violence perpetrated on non-violent marchers began to appear on television. America began to be appalled and embarrassed. This nation began to recognize that human beings were treating other human beings in inhuman ways. We began to see how we are bound together.
We can choose how we are bound – by chains of hate, fear, and terror, or through the life-giving possibilities of love, forgiveness, and solidarity. We are a nation built on tenets of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. There’s nothing in that declaration about hate and fear, except its end and absence. Like Joseph and his brothers, the central figures in this story are descendants of Abraham. We all proclaim a god of love, forgiveness, and peace. Jews, Christians, and Muslims share God’s vision for a healed world where all live together in peace, shalom, salaam. That is the meaning of life and the goal of existence. Our own lives and decisions change as that dream begins to center and shape our lives.
What will you choose in your next experience of affront or attack? How will you share in the world’s healing this year, and ten years from today? What kind of bond do you choose?