The light shines in the darkness
Note: this reflection was originally published on September 11, 2016.
When the Church of the Holy Communion in Memphis invited me to be their rector, they asked if I could start work on September 10, 2001. I told them that was fine, but I had a meeting on September 11 in New York that had been on the books for some time. We decided I would meet the church staff on the 10th, lead the lower school chapel service at our Episcopal school for girls on the morning of September 11, and then fly to New York.
The chapel service was with little girls who were in kindergarten through 4th grade, and it was a joy. We sang songs together, prayed, and I told them a funny story that would help them remember how much God loved them and that God would never leave them. At the end of the service, I left the lower school chapel full of life and grinning from ear to ear, as giggling and bubbly little girls were hugging each other and waving goodbye to me with sheer delight. Of course, I never made it to the airport. While the chapel service was going on, all planes were being grounded. Our nation was in a state of shock and emergency.
Back in the church office, we decided to have a large banner made for the church lawn that fronted a major road. The banner simply read, "Open for prayer." And people came. Lots of people. Not just to ask God for help, but to collect themselves. They needed to step off the treadmill and remember what mattered most in their lives. Something was driving people to their knees.
That's what we do when a 9/11 happens, whether it's a national tragedy or a very personal one like a medical diagnosis, a marital problem, or the death of a loved one. When a 9/11 happens, we don't go to the country club or the golf course. We don't go shopping or see if we can raise a foursome to play tennis. We go to church.
At times like this, it's as if we become like the prodigal son. We come to ourselves, we remember our true life, and we know we need to go back home. And that is certainly what happened in 2001. A nation deeply divided by a bitterly contested presidential election came together in an extraordinary show of unity. It was as if we woke up and came to ourselves. We returned to prayer, and we recovered a sense of unity, kindness, and compassion. We realized then what we from time to time remember now, that it shouldn't take a tragedy to awaken this spirit in us.
There is certainly a solemnity about this anniversary, but there is also a bright and hopeful reminder of our potential - there is a light within us all that is simply waiting to be uncovered. Many of us have poignant memories of 9/11. One of mine is a gathering of 300 beaming little girls--singing, praying, hugging, and finally giggling with delight as they waved goodbye after chapel. Nine-eleven reminds me, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."