Holding 9/11's Emotions Up to the Light of God

By Brian McLaren 05-09-2008

All of us remember this day, where we were when we heard the news, our feelings, our fears. There has been a lot of controversy about how the memory of this day has been or is being used or misused for political purposes, but I always come back to one of my life mottoes: the best antidote to misuse is not disuse -- it is proper use.

In many ways we have run from the feelings of that day ... grief, grievance, unity, confusion, dislocation, vulnerability and solidarity. In many ways, we quickly transmuted those emotions into ones that we are more familiar with, ones we know how to "work with" -- anger, lust for revenge, blame, scapegoating, offended pride, even hate.

But maybe now, seven years later, we are able to return to the feelings of that day and in some way learn from them now what we may not have been able to learn from them back then.

Grief -- we lost so much that day. Loved ones. A sense of invulnerability. A sense of transcendence over the rest of the world for whom violence is so much a part of daily life. Ungrieved grief makes us sick, and so it is good, today, to grieve.

Grievance -- we knew instantly that the people who were suffering were not guilty of the violence they were experiencing, and this sense of having been wronged filled us all. Something healthy happens in our souls when we hold that feeling up to the light -- without letting it toxify into bitterness and revenge.

Unity -- we knew that we needed each other and needed to stand together. Now, in the midst of a bitterly fought election, can we recall that understanding of our standing together?

Confusion -- we realized that the world was more complex than we realized, that there were forces at work we weren't attending to, and of the pain in being pushed from the category of knowers to seekers. Not understanding is humbling, and again, it is good to hold ourselves in that humility without relieving ourselves of it by pretending we have everything figured out according to our various ideologies and slogans.

Vulnerability -- our confidence in our own power shaken, we faced that there were other powers that must be reckoned with. We felt that we are more like our neighbors around the world than we realized: that our lives can be interrupted by those with grievances, pain, confusion, and fear of their own ... that we are connected with those who have grievances against us, and we must share the world with them, and they with us.

Solidarity -- many said that the whole world was American that day, but it was also true that we in America felt solidarity with the rest of our war-torn, violence scarred world that day. I believe at some deep level, the Holy Spirit was warming each of our hearts with a longing for shalom/salaam/peace ... since we so acutely felt its absence.

If you just read over each of these emotions, and hold them up in your heart to the light of God, you will see the ways in which these emotions can open us towards the living God of love. Then, perhaps, consider the alternatives -- anger, lust for revenge, blame, scapegoating, even hate -- and think of the effect these feelings can have on your spiritual life, how they can be "sacralized" and baptized and camouflaged under religious language. Perhaps, if you see this dark process at work in you and us, that will move you to repentance and prayer.

If you have a few more minutes, listen to this podcast from my friend Fred Burnham, who was across the street from ground zero, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, when the towers fell. His story exemplifies how we can let the experience of 9/11 be a sanctifying one in our lives, individually and together. May it be so.

Brian McLarenBrian McLaren is a speaker and author, most recently of Everything Must Change and Finding Our Way Again. He serves as board chair for Sojourners.

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