I have already said or written many words on what Sept. 11 means to me; over the years, I’ve written columns, made speeches and just plain talked it over with friends, family and even strangers. Still, I didn’t want to let today pass without making mention of it somehow.
Normally, I check my email before I head out in the morning, but today I got a late start and had to be at church early to help parents register their kids for Sunday school. So, I didn’t get this until after I got home, but it seems appropriate.
Under One Sky
Isaiah 43: 18-19
“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.”
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.