Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thirteen and Three Years Ago

Thirteen years ago I was a teacher. We were in the middle of a fire drill when I heard about the first airplane crashing in the World Trade Centers. My first thought was, "Isn't it ironic that we are practicing a fire drill as others are doing this for real?"

It took a few moments more for the gravity of what had happened to sink in. And then it did. I was teaching elementary Spanish at the time. The school made the decision not to tell the lower school children (it was a K-12 school) because it was best left to parents to decide what and how much to say. This meant that we teachers couldn't talk around the lower school children. During our breaks we went to the upper school where the TVs were on. We watched with no words to express the horror, the grief, the disbelief. Then we went back to our students and tried to act like everything was OK.

Three years ago I was a traveler. I was in Calcutta, visiting the museum and grave of Mother Teresa. I read that on September 10, 1946 she heard the voice of Christ calling her to begin the Missionaries of Charity.
"That was almost exactly 65 years ago." I looked at my watch to check the date.  I saw that it was September 11, the tenth anniversary of the events that changed so much in our country and in our world.

Immediately I was immensely grateful to be in Calcutta, in the presence of a great soul who dedicated her life to loving others, and in particular, the poorest of the poor, the least of the least. I happened to be in the chapel next to her grave as a mass was starting. It was in Spanish and I stayed.  I knew the songs from my years of attending mass in Spanish. I was home.

I was 11 1/2  times zones away from my former life, I was by myself, and yet in that place at that time, I felt embraced. This was not a new feeling. I had felt the arms of friends and family around me many times already, though I had only been away a few weeks. I knew, in a way that I too often forget, that I was loved. Loved by God. 

Loved by God via my friends and family, via the Indian Sisters of Charity who received me at the airport when I arrived in India, via the new Couchsurfing friends who opened their homes to me, via kind strangers who guided me when I was lost. Gregory Boyle writes in Tattoos on the Heart:

Perhaps we should all marinate in the intimacy of God. Genesis, I suppose, got it right- "In the beginning, God." Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, also spoke about the task of marinating in the "God who is always greater."

He writes, "Take care always to keep before your eyes, first God." The secret, of course, of the ministry of Jesus, was that God was at the center of it. Jesus chose to marinate in the God who is always greater than our tiny conception, the God who "loves without measure and without regret." To anchor yourself in this, to keep always before your eyes this God is to choose to be intoxicated, marinated in the fullness of God. 

9/11 is a day when we easily could choose to focus on the hatred and evil that exists in our world.

I choose instead to focus on love and good, on the fact that even, maybe especially, in times of great pain and suffering, we are marinating in the fullness of God. God's greatness always surpasses the evil in our world. We simply must choose to see it. On 9/11 and in the days following it, we saw God's greatness, God working through people in so many ways: through the love and good of those who risked their lives, or lost their lives, to save others. The love and good of friends, families, strangers, who dropped what they were doing to go to New York to help with rescue, then recovery, then clean-up, work.  The love and good of people who couldn't leave their homes, but sent money, supplies, prayers...from all around the world. The love and good that pain and suffering, that human empathy, can bring out in us. The love and good that comes with keeping before our eyes, first God, and acting in a way that leads us closer to God and to each other.

Let us remember these things on 9/11. Let us anchor ourselves in God who loves us without measure and without regret. Let us keep always before our eyes this God and choose to be intoxicated, marinating in the fullness of God. 

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