Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Word of Grace

by Kent E. Hanson

Dear Friends,
The noise leading up to the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks puts me in mind of Solomon's caution in Ecclesiastes 5:2: "Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool's voice with many words."

The tragedy and evil of that day is undeniable, though some have done their best to do that. The politicians, philosophers, theologians, journalists, evangelists and pundits of every persuasion who have tried to explain it to us have done little more than graffiti our memories.

My Word of Grace for Your Monday, September 10, 2001, was the third in a four-part series devoted to what it means to know that you are unconditionally, irrevocably loved by God. Tuesday morning, September 11, I was dressed and ready to leave for work when Patricia came in the door and told me that she'd heard on the radio that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. We turned on the TV and watched in stunned silence as reports came in about the attack on the Pentagon and the crash of United Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.

Later on that morning, at the Medical Center, the Department Heads gathered for prayer and a security briefing. We were told that more attacks were expected. Large centers and gathering places needed to go on alert. As the Level One Trauma Center for our region, we needed to activate our plans for mass casualty emergencies. The son of one woman present was working in the World Trade Center when the planes crashed into it. He'd made it out and called his mom. We cheered at the news. It was a brief respite of gratitude before the cloud of confused anxiety closed in again around us.

That night, I went in and looked at my sleeping fourteen-year-old Andrew and prayed with tears. "Lord, why has this violence come to us? What does it mean for my son? Protect him, please. Be merciful to all the orphans, widows, and childless parents from this day. Deliver us from evil. Be very near because I know nothing but you."

The next week I interrupted the series on the love of God for us and wrote, what is in my estimation, one of the worst messages that I have written in the 13 years I have been sending out the Word of Grace for Your Monday. I lacked perspective and without that my words carried no authenticity. "Let your words be few," said wise Solomon. "No one should read about suffering when they are suffering," says Patricia.

It is my mission with these messages to say something true, real and positive about God each week. I studiously try to avoid political commentary in doing so.

Christ transcends politics and human affairs. He does not reorder our priorities, improve our aesthetics, or burnish our virtues, although all of those things will happen if we worship him with unreserved hearts. No, Christ is our Savior and we'd best think about why we need one and, if we have a Savior, how then do we live with each other? Those questions are my spiritual reaction to 9/11 ten years after.

Of all the things that I have read or heard about that terrible day, none have touched me as much as a simple essay, "Leap," by the wonderful Christian writer, Brian Doyle, first published in Portland Magazine, the official publication of the University of Portland.

Doyle has the honesty not to try to make sense out of the incomprehensible. Instead, he sifts through the horror to find where love comes shining through. I hope that happens for you as you read "Leap."


Brian Doyle, God is Love: Essays from Portland Magazine (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 2003), pp 16-17.

A couple leaped from the south tower, hand in hand. They reached for each other and their hands met and they jumped.

Many people jumped. Perhaps hundreds. No one knows. They struck the pavement with such force that there was a pink mist in the air.

The mayor reported the mist.

A kindergarten boy who saw people falling in flames told his teacher that the birds were on fire. She ran with him on her shoulders out of the ashes.

Jennifer Brickhouse of New Jersey and Stuart DeHann of New York City saw this from far below.

I try to whisper prayers for the sudden dead, and the harrowed families of the dead, and the screaming souls of the murderers, but I keep coming back to his hand and her hand nestled in each other with such extraordinary ordinary succinct ancient naked stunning perfect simple ferocious love.

It is the most powerful prayer I can imagine, the most eloquent, the most graceful. It is everything that we are capable of against horror and loss and death. It is what makes me believe that we are not craven fools and charlatans to believe in God, to believe that human beings have greatness and holiness within them like seeds that open only under great fires, to believe that some unimaginable essence of who we are persists past the dissolution of what we were, to believe against such evil evidence hourly that love is why we are here.

He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, wrote John the Apostle. (1 Jn 2:10)

No one knows who they were: husband and wife, lovers, dear friends, colleagues, strangers thrown together at the window there at the lip of hell. Maybe they didn't even reach for each other consciously, maybe it was instinctive, a reflex, as they both decided at the same time to take two running steps and jump out the shattered window, but they did reach for each other, and they held on tight, and leaped, and fell endlessly into the smoking canyon, at two hundred miles an hour, falling so far and so fast that they would have blacked out before they hit the pavement near Liberty Street so hard that there was a pink mist in the air.

I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face, John also wrote. (3 Jn 14)

Jennifer Brickhouse saw them holding hands, and Stuart DeHann saw them holding hands, and I hold onto that.

"O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him" Ps 34:8

Under the mercy of Christ,



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