It was something after three o’clock in the afternoon. The school bell rang and the doors disgorged a horde of children. My son’s friend’s mother wasn’t there; we waited together under the blue sky sun of early September. She arrived breathless, sweating out her excuses: “I couldn’t tear myself away from the t.v.” Then, “They’ve attacked New York.”
Bewildered, we looked together into the empty sky.
We redistributed the children, and went our separate ways. At home, I turned on the t.v. and recognized her dilemma; the images too horrible to miss, to turn away from, to turn off. Images, not only from New York but other, familiar places that we had never visited, never seen. Even as we hated what we saw, we watched over and over in an effort to absorb news that fell too heavily to be soaked up all at once, which ran off and lay in puddles around us, even three thousand miles away.
A couple of weeks later, I was at a writers’ retreat. My news-watching friend’s husband was also there. We wrestled with lectionary sections and wrangled them into presentations fit for youth audiences, for Sunday Schools, for all-age sermons. In the between times, at lunch, at dinner, in the evening, we talked about the news.
We talked about our fear. So far away, we were afraid, not so much of our enemies, as of ourselves.
We talked about our fear of revenge, of the frightening, seductive magnetism of vengeance, of the sleepless anger which ran like an unbroken surge of electric current through the corridors of power.
We were afraid of our own religion, of its embrace of apocalypse and its proven tendency to crusade.
We were afraid of our fear. We were afraid of becoming a people to be afraid of.
In the midst of terror, of despair, and of untold grief, the angels of the Lord tell us time and again, “Do not be afraid.”
They are words not of comfort only, but of commandment, calling us to be steadfast in love and commitment to the ways of the God who steadfastly loves.
I love the Lord, because he has heard the voice of my supplication, because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I called upon him.
The cords of death entangled me; the grip of the grave took hold of me; I came to grief and sorrow.
Then I called upon the Name of the Lord: “O Lord, I pray you, save my life.”
Gracious is the Lord and righteous; our God is full of compassion.
The Lord watches over the innocent; I was brought very low, and he helped me.
Turn again to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has treated you well.
For you have rescued my life from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling.
I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living.
I believed, even when I said, “I have been brought very low.” In my distress I said, “No one can be trusted.”
How shall I repay the Lord for all the good things he has done for me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the Name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his servants.
O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant and the child of your handmaid; you have freed me from my bonds.
I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call upon the Name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people,
In the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.
(From the Book of Common Prayer, 1979)