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Reflections and a Hymn for the Anniversary of September 11, 2001

Anniversaries are important for us. Often they are times for celebration. Sometimes they are times for thoughtful recommitment. But for many of us, they are also times when the memory of some trauma consciously or unconsciously moves us in ways we do not understand.

As I was reflecting on the anniversary of the events of September 11, 2001, I found myself drawn to the opening lines of William Wordsworth's poem,"Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey" (1798) : "Five years have past, five summers, with the length/Of five long winters!"

The poem is an extended reflection on how Wordsworth's experience of viewing the meadows and cliffs of the Wye River Valley near Tintern Abbey in Wales five years earlier had stayed with him and changed him for the good, made him more reflective, and hd even drawn him deeper into fellowship with God and all humanity. And it's a song of hope, too, that his younger sister, who accompanies him on a tour of the region now five years later, will be similarly blessed over time by the same sights and sounds.

As I was thinking about Wordsworth's poem and about anniversaries, especially the anniversary of 9-11, I saw a striking difference in the personal experience of Wordsworth and the national experience of the United States. It is not simply that Wordsworth remembered beauty, and we remember tragedy. The greater difference is that Wordsworth had left the Wye Valley years ago and had no physical or visual reminders of that experience except what his imagination and memory could reconstruct and reflect on. We, however, seem not to have "left" the events of that terrible day. We are still bombarded by images of the planes flying into the towers or the Pentagon. A major motion picture has revived the stories of Flight 93. We cannot go to airports or many public venues without encountering highly enhanced security. Our government is still engaged in military action in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of this nation's "War on Terror," while new terrorist violence seems to be breaking out with increasing frequency both in those places and around the world. We have not given ourselves the time apart to reflect, to grieve, or to heal. Our wounds are still open, and the losses keep climbing. The years that have passed may provide us few, if any, signs of redemption.

We might blame the media for continuing the barrage. Or we might blame our government for its policies. Or we might blame the terrorists — those who bombed us then and those who seem to rise innumerable to take their place in Baghdad, Afghanistan, Spain, London, Mumbai, and around the globe. But no amount of blaming will deliver us, no assignment of guilt, no exactment of justice will heal the psyche of our land. Healing comes as we act in love toward those who harmed us, forgive our enemies, and reach out in love toward those who hurt the most — whoever they are, wherever they are. Healing comes as our souls, which need not be destroyed by outward pains, choose love again — not fear, not pain, not hate.

This is the persistent word of Jesus:

"God is love" (1 John 4:16).
"In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John: 4:10).
"No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:14).
"I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).
"Be merciful, just as your Father in heaven is merciful" (Luke 6:36).

We will remember the events of 9-11 again this year. We will mark our remembrance in different ways. But may we in this year's remembrance resolve to find ways to be able simply to remember and not be constantly bombarded. May this year's remembrance be for us a beginning of true healing, if such healing has not already begun. May this year's remembrance call us closer to Christ, in whom alone is our hope.

Hymn: "Our Hope, If We Will Find It, Is in Christ"

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