For a few weeks, people have come together in unity. They came together in Texas after Hurricane Harvey left its mark. They came together as Florida prepared for Hurricane Irma. They watched together in horror as wildfires raged in Montana, they came together to support people after an earthquake devastated the West Coast of Mexico, and a few came together to vote this past Tuesday in Charlotte in the primary elections. On Monday evening, as our storm began, a group of church members came together to pray. The plan was for the prayer gathering to be a remembrance for 9-11. We did some of that. And we prayed for much more than that.
We remembered loved ones who are having a difficult time. We remembered friends and family who had weathered the storms in Florida and Texas–some of whom hadn’t checked back in yet since Irma. And we remembered that terrible day when, it seemed, American innocence was irretrievably lost.
A few readings shared in that service came from a special edition of the Image Journal for Arts and Religion that was published soon after 9-11-2001. I share a few of them with you here:
–for my students
Here is the path, I’d like to say, darker than it was, maybe,
but here we are. Turn left at the light. What light is left.
I am thinking about two-year-old Romulus Augustus,
last Emperor Of Rome, how one morning before the Vandals
broke through the wall and slashed his throat, his guardian
stood on his portico, squinted at the sun and said, So that was Rome,
which had been slowly falling for a hundred years
like the encroaching of a stain through fabric,
like the invasion of ginkgo forests across Eastern Europe.
Maybe it’s only human that the John Deere of history
has to drag catastrophe into our library with an an 18-gauge chain
before even the quickest of us finally stands up
and notices. Well look, what have we got here?
It is the divide I’m talking about, the crack you finally notice
in the champagne glass, though truthfully, what strikes you first
is that you won’t be finishing the champagne you love.
We have come to that moment now. The towers have fallen.
We know there are those who mean us
no good. Anthrax is spreading. The power-mad
are secreted like candied fruit through the whole loaf–
at the skating rink, at the post office,
and in Supercuts, the chartreuse-haired tyrant wilding his scissors.
I want us to get out of this together, the way a family
might cross a meadow in late afternoon light,
the skinny eight-year-old cartwheeling, the father pushing the grandmother’s
wheelchair, the young married couple holding hands.
Listen to me. We are here together on the path.
What light is left, I am trying to drag into this poem.
Help me. Help me shine it into every corner.
–Jeanne Murray Walker
Here we are, crowded on a window ledge.
Your photographs might make it possible
For loved ones to identify our slacks
And shirts, even our gestures, holding on.
For now, scared and anonymous, we’re here.
And some of us are plunging headfirst now
Into a now that here will have no end.
And some of us are waiting for the end
Which, if it comes, will have to come by air
Already disappearing in a cloud.
We’ve stepped out of our shoes. We’re holding hands.
We can’t see past this moment, through the smoke.
But you, lords of the future, you will see
And come to save us with our names and faces.
(The quote from 1 Thessalonians 4:17 reads: “Then we who are alive, who are left will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.”)
And, last but not least, a portion of an essay written by Makoto Fujimura (an extraordinary painter who was living and working in SOHO as the towers fell). His son CJ came home from school that day covered in ash from the towers. That Sunday following 9-11, CJ had been planning to take his first communion in their church . . .
“This is Christ’s body, bread of heaven,” I said to C. J. If God can turn ordinary bread into a sacrament, God can turn anything into a sacrament. There is power of resurrection in this piece of bread going into the hands of a child. These hands, covered in asbestos dust last Tuesday, would be redeemed. God would take the very dust of death and turn int into life, twisted metal into a memorial of hope, and even the broken city of New York into the City of God.
Andras Visky, a Romanian playwright and scholar who was once imprisoned for his faith, told me that “without Communion, there will be no community. Without Communion there will be no communication at all.” Every time we break the Lord’s bread and drink the wind, we affirm the foundation of Christ, shaken but not moved, broken but not destroyed. He is the strong tower we run to, and find true refuge in, even as our own towers collapse all around us.”
Let us continue to come together–sometimes to remember, always to be community, and intentionally shine light into the darkest corners of our world. Art at its best does that. And church, at its best, lives for that. –Jolin Wilks McElroy