Sunday, September 11, 2011

Inter-faith Beams of Light

I can't help but feel a disconnect from the events of 9/11, when I hear my friends talk about being grateful for not being called into work that day; how a meeting elsewhere saved their lives. I was a fourteen-year-old kid just a couple of weeks into high school in my Spanish I class when word got around to Mansfield, Ohio that there had been a terrible accident: a plane had collided with a building in New York City. How sad; how tragic! How could such a thing happen? It was another few hours before the truth trickled down: it hadn't been an accident. We stayed for the school day, the tv's all tuned to the news, absorbing something a world away, that we knew still impacted us all. It was another four years or more before I knew anyone who lost someone in the attacks, and another few years before I knew that I knew such a person. I didn't cry that day; I cried much later.

Now, ten years later, we still beam light into the sky, symbolizing the soul of those towers that could not be destroyed, and at my church the local firefighters came in their dress uniforms. The children sang a song, and we applauded their sacrifice (the firefighters; not the children...), but more than honoring memories of the fallen, more even than counting our blessings, we prayed for peace, and confronted Jesus' most difficult demand: forgiveness.

Do you believe in synchronicity? The significance of two things coinciding? I've heard it called a 'God-thing', serendipity, a sign or omen; my best friend Emily and I coined the term, 'bread crumb' for these moments: something dropped by our creator, leading us home. Ten years after the attacks, these were the readings read in every Catholic church across the nation, the world, on this day. I copy/pasted them because it's hard to link to a particular day's readings, versus 'today's' readings.

Wrath and anger are hateful things,
yet the sinner hugs them tight.
The vengeful will suffer the LORD's vengeance,
for he remembers their sins in detail.
Forgive your neighbor's injustice;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
Could anyone nourish anger against another
and expect healing from the LORD?
Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself,
can he seek pardon for his own sins?
If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath,
who will forgive his sins?
Remember your last days, set enmity aside;
remember death and decay, and cease from sin!
Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor;
remember the Most High's covenant, and overlook faults.

-Book of Sirach 27:30-28:7

Brothers and sisters:
None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself.
For if we live, we live for the Lord,
and if we die, we die for the Lord;
so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.
For this is why Christ died and came to life,
that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

-Book of Romans 14:709

Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
"Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive?
As many as seven times?"
Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants.
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said,
'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.'
Moved with compassion the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding,
'Pay back what you owe.'
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'
But he refused.
Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison
until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master
and reported the whole affair.
His master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?'
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart."

Gospel according to Matthew 18:21-35

The readings for the Catholic service run in a 3-year cycle. So every third year, on that week of the liturgical year, these exact same readings come up. How synchronistic that they pop on the 10th anniversary of 9/11: God's way of giving us some time to mourn our losses and heal our wounds before reminding us of the most difficult task before us. More difficult perhaps than running into a burning building: forgiving those who took so much from us.

No matter how many mistakes we make and people we hurt, the Universe wants only the best for us, and gives us only good things. This is as true, and perhaps as hard to believe, of those who lost loved ones, as it is true of those responsible for acts of cruelty no matter how great, small, or personally relevant. Didn't we all re-learn what's important that day? Didn't we all learn later just how strong we are? And didn't the conflicts we're still embroiled in abroad bring to a head a lot of questions about America's place in the world, and in what cases wars are worth sacrificing our dollars and our people to? I don't mean to sound cavalier. Those things may seem ridiculous when compared to losing a sibling, a spouse, a parent, even a friendly acquaintance, but they are valuable things nonetheless. I can't help but believe, in the same way that I believe my family loves me no matter what, that everything happens for a reason, and that no one dies before their mission is complete and it's their time to go Home, whatever that might mean to them. We might not be ready for them to go, but cultivating acceptance is the only way for us to recover from the loss and move forward.

I think in many ways contemplating the task ahead is the best, the most sensible, the most meaningful, way to memorialize this day: Commemorating our culture as one of life by living, and one of love by forgiving, being strong enough to hold onto those things instead of hate and anger in the face of senseless cruelty.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali offer, among other things, these guidelines for finding happiness and moving toward enlightenment. They're called "the four locks, and the four keys." They are:

1. Practice kindness toward those who are happy
2. Practice compassion toward those who are sorrowful
3. Practice joy in the face of virtue
4. Practice equanimity in the face of vice
(It's worth noting that the 4 keys are to be applied to the 4 locks whenever they are encountered, in strangers, those we know, and perhaps most of all, ourselves)

They're all four more difficult than they may first appear, but most relevant to this moment is the last one: not condoning vice or injustice, but rejecting righteous anger just as much. Anger hurts the angry first and foremost. Even though it can lead to positive outcomes, anger is not necessary to motivate one to right injustices. We can recognize injustice for what it is, and work to right it, working hard in the process not to hurt others along the way. That's a lot easier to do with a cool, level head than in a state of seething anger.

It's a lot to think about, but I think, in between remembering, today (and everyday) is a space for that. My condolences to us all for our loss, but more so, my hope, my joy, and my prayers.

Live Omily,

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know how deeply spiritual you are, Omily :)
    (maybe I missed a previous equally spiritual post?)

    I knew you were into Yoga but didn't know you blended Eastern teachings with Catholicism. I have to say, I envy your faith. I feel like I've lost mine.

    I guess I live my life rather atheistically. However, I still try to follow those "4 locks" with the people in my life. I do believe in positive and negative energy. Thanks for sharing.