It's September 11th today. I've been remembering today, as we all have, how we first heard the news and the events that followed immediately. I remember waking up to my roommate's radio alarm clock around 7:00 AM. Normally we woke to the country music station, but that day we were roused from sleep by the confusing and frantic reports. I didn't understand it, but we all stumbled down to the dining hall, heard classes were cancelled, and were all shuffled into the audtorium for a report. There were lots of kids in my school who were from New York.
I, on the other hand, had never been to New York until about two years ago. I had never seen the skyline so I didn't know how to look for something missing, and I couldn't picture the catastrophe of that scale. I've now been to New York several times, since it's practically in my backyard these days. I now understand the density of the population, the sheer mass of those buildings, and the way that skyline greets you like the impenetrable walls of a fortress when you approach the city by car, boat, or air.
I've been reflective about the way God wishes us to respond to things like this. I have no idea. President Obama read Psalm 46 at the memorial service today, which has had me puzzled all day. Here is the text:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. (Selah) 4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. 6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 7 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. (Selah) 8 Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. 10 "Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth." 11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. (Selah)
The psalmist talks about the way God is our refuge and strength in times of peril and trouble, which is, of course, true. So no matter what happens, we can take peace in his careful care of us. But what questions must this raise to those who lost people they loved? And then this curious line, "There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habtation of the Most High." What? And then it talks about how God will put an end to all wars, but to behold "what desolations he has brought on the earth." The psalm declares God's presence in these horrible moments, but to those who suffered through and because of this tragedy, the memory must cry loudly of his absence instead. Why this verse? Is this verse about revenge, or some eventual triumph over our enemies, or words of comfort that we can always find refuge in God's peace, or a nod to the end times when God will make all wars cease? All of the above? What message was President Obama trying to deliver with this psalm?
My mom pointed me to a YouTube video of one of my professors, Denys Turner, engaged in a conversation about the existence of God. It's a great video, if you want to watch it here. Near the end, he is addressing the mystery of love, and the way love, more than any other equation of reason, first brings us to the questions that are really impossible to address without considering the existence of God. But instead of writing about the great joys of love, he talks about the deepest pangs of love - the grief, sorrow, and loss it causes. He paraphrases Herbert McCabe and says, "If you don't love, you're scarcely alive; but if you do love, you'll almost certainly be killed." Of course, this is the story of Jesus Christ. He concludes that the entire conversation about God, both within belief and without, is a "revelation about the mystery of love."
In my book, at least on this day, that is the best conclusion we can draw about days like September 11th. The stories of herosim and sacrifice, the thousands of hearts that were broken on that day, it's part of an impossible mystery, but a mystery of the sorrows of love.