Under One Sky: Reflections on Remembering 9/11

As I watched the prelude to SBS’s coverage of the 9/11 10-Year Anniversary on Dateline last night, I was awestrcuk by the seemingly-unending ripples in the pond that this single act of terrorism had begun.

From Iraq and Afghanistan to the streets of Middletown, New Jersey, the stories showed not only the diverse effects of this act, but also the people affected and how they continue to deal with their loss–physical, family, emotional, religious or national.

On the program, Australia’s Prime Minister at the time declared he had “no regrets” about committing his nation’s resources to the war on terror, yet one who worked closely with the U.S. Vice President and Secretary of State in the days after 9/11 admitted that America could have listened more instead of reacting so quickly. In Iraq, 10 years on, the famous square where Saddam Hussein‘s statue was pulled off it’s marble base stands derelict while thousands of people still live alongside rubble with no water or electricity and little if any health care. Meanwhile, the generosity of the folk in Middletown, New Jersey, towards the Muslim community shows us that a peaceful understanding is still the best way forward in times of crisis.

Today in my inbox I found a refreshing story of one congregation’s creativity in remembering those affected by this tragedy, and also those who are taking steps to heal divisions caused by loss, fear, and misunderstanding.

* * * * * *

“Did you not know? Have you not heard? I am doing a new thing. I am making a way when there was no way. I am making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

On this tenth anniversary of the invasion of American sky by attacking and suicidal airplanes, my congregation is putting up prayer flags. There will be hundreds of them across our grand interior sanctuary, each hand-calligraphed by artist Carla Shapiro on pillowcases. In the year after the attack, she wrote out 2,500 obituaries of those who died in the World Trade Towers on prayer flags. She then hung the flags over the Esopus Creek in upstate New York, where the printing weathered into what can only be called an ancient script. Now the words are blurred, like the words on an old tombstone. The language looks Arabic or Aramaic in script, but words can no longer be read. Shapiro was trying to tell us something. She was visiting the 9 – 11 grave. She was mourning. She was remembering. Ten years later what she remembered is that memories fade. Images blur. Time moves on.

After last year’s downtown anti-mosque campaign, courtesy of the hate people and their signs, “Jesus hates Muslims” and “No Mosque on Sacred Space,” the fading and the blurring is welcome. We will learn again that no one religion can own Jerusalem or ground zero or Jesus or God. We will know sacred space in a blurred obituary, a prayer flag, a neighborhood, anywhere and everywhere but in an expensive fight for it. Sacred space will be known by the wars it does not create instead of for being their instigator.

Across the street from Judson Memorial Church, on the South End of Washington Square Park, a seven-story Spiritual Life Center is opening at New York University. Jews, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and more will cohabit a space. Students will learn a new way of campus ministry. We joke about whether such ecumenicity is too close or too far from ground zero. Framed between this new building and our own rises a new smaller tower at the World Trade Center. From the arch at Washington Square Park North, you see all three buildings, as though they were always there, as though we hadn’t lived through a decade of emptiness in the sky or immature religion on the ground, and Americans, Afghanis and Iraqis uselessly dead in wars no one really understands. The artists and architects have given us what we couldn’t find ourselves. They have shown us a new sky and a new scape. From these we will also draw a new spirit, a mature religion, and a revenge-free way of living under one sky.

God of earth and air and sky and water, God whom no one faith can capture, draw near and let this next decade be one of remembering how much we love each other. Help us beyond high-priced, useless revenge into free and abundant relationship. Amen.

Reflection by Donna Schaper, from StillSpeaking

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Related to the 9/11 commemoration could also be the election campaign ongoing in the U.S. and the way the candidates often capitalise on fear and anger to gain popularity. Bruce Reyes-Chow writes in The Huffington Post (Read it here) about the applause at the Texas state execution statistics at a recent Republican party debate.

In conclusion he writes:

Regardless of where you may stand on the issue of the death penalty, politics and faith, if you call yourself a Christian and this bothered you, let this be a reminder that we must keep telling a different story and we must live a different life. It would certainly be easier to give in to deep yearnings for revenge, to applaud at the death of our enemies and to think that our faith justifies both, but it does not. In the face of evil we must not respond with revenge, judgment and more evil, but with hospitality, goodness and love. This way of life is not easy for anyone, nor is it a politically prudent stance to take, but I believe at the core of my soul, this way of life is a faithful one and one we must all try to live.

Yes, there is a better way.


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