Ten years ago…
Cherry Hill Seminary was a fledgling online presence, no less pained by the violence of September 11, 2011, than our sisters and brothers in the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, non-religious, and other religious communities across the country, around the world.
Ten years later, our faculty and students reflect on the meaning they draw from this decade of grieving, self-examination and, we hope, healing. No doubt, the aftermath of September 11 became part of the journey of some to Cherry Hill Seminary where they join with others in building reservoirs of wisdom.
At first, we intended to issue a statement on behalf of Cherry Hill Seminary, our hopes for a future in which our children may live without fear, without judgment, and in peace. But when we asked our Cherry Hill Seminary family for their thoughts, we were overwhelmed by the passion and eloquence. Therefore, we offer excerpts from several individuals who serve on our faculty.
These powerful comments reflect our national wounding as well as our journey towards wholeness as a society. Please keep in mind that this sharing is not an endorsement by Cherry Hill Seminary of any particular policies, movements or political views, but that each of our professors and students speaks freely from his or her conscience. May their words commemorate the great loss experienced on September 11. May their words shine light into the dark places exposed on that day.
May their words bring us closer to true peace.
My husband Chris and I were staying in downtown New York that day. I was doing a radio interview on the dark side of the human personality when the first tower was hit and the questions suddenly switched to commenting on terrorism but at first we didn’t know why . . . We went out into the street and were there when the second tower collapsed. We then spent the day walking the streets, talking to shocked people and wandering at night down the centre of a deserted traffic-less Fifth Avenue. It was like something from a Hollywood movie of the end of the world . . . What I felt about the whole thing was that it showed how fragile our society was in this interconnected world. It’s not just the effect of one act of terrorism but governments’ and people’s reactions to it – proliferation, replication, escalation . . . We can’t prevent isolated acts of terrorism, however draconian our security apparatus becomes; but we can control our reactions to it. It is a good time ten years on to reflect on the need for mindfulness and mature wisdom in dealing with those whose ambition is to provoke us into actions that destroy ourselves, our values and the societies we have built.
People of many faiths and no faiths died that clear September morning. And oddly, East Coast, West Coast, North and South seemed to melt together. We were, in a real sense, all New Yorkers. The world seemed to stand beside America. There was a powerful sense of unity that unfortunately was itself short lived. Those of us who consider ourselves part and parcel of Nature, the natural world, are horrified by any destruction of life. The worst way to respond to such destruction is to mete out further, greater destruction and death, human and non-human. We think not only of the unwise, senseless, costly and unwinnable wars our leaders have chosen to wage, and the ten years of suffering and loss of lives of Iraqis, Afghanis, Coalition and American women and men, but the unnatural disasters waged on the air, the ground and water, animals and birds; children and elderly people filled with fear. The awful decision of those 19 men who committed suicide while murdering thousands will never be forgotten. That terrible act was a “911” emergency call to the world, but primarily to the United States (“US”), to wake up to the explosive power of mixing ignorance, poverty and hopelessness with religious extremism. Perhaps instead of building new monuments to wealth and towers of “freedom” we could work with people around the world to build peace, brotherhood and sisterhood with living things in all lands, without fear, without terror, without national vibrato and further violence. Those fateful acts in the blue skies of that autumn day ten years ago threatened the planet itself, and we should never give in to the terrors, or the terrible fears that seek to destroy our freedom to think reasonably and act compassionately toward all.
My hope for the day of remembrance is that we recall our commitments to those who stepped up in service on that day- many of the firefighters, chaplains, human service people, police, volunteers… they are still fighting for benefits to help them live with the aftereffects of their selfless actions, and many died without care that should have been given without a second thought for the cost. I hope that we will remember that they were willing to sacrifice themselves for us, and we have largely let them- something that we, as a nation, should be ashamed of. On a day where we will pause to remember our collective tragedy, let us also remember the valor of those men and women who turned without a thought and walked into the fray, many of them for the last time, and those who did not run, but stopped to help those standing nearby- their coworkers, the people they met in a hallway or a staircase, the people wandering in the rubble and the streets. As we call them heroes, something so easily done these days, let us also turn our eyes to how we value what they do in an ongoing manner, and how we can add substance of support to what is otherwise simply so much lovely rhetoric. My hope is that we can begin to shift our understanding of what it means to help another human being, from something that is done for heroism to something that is simply an unquestioned part of who we are. We have many differences across our nation, but when we stand together to support one another, nothing could be a stronger force.
Paganism is the mother of all religions – whether some of her children wish to acknowledge her or not. As the oldest of religions, paganism has not been exempt from learning, growth and change – having in the past been associated with atrocity and cruelty no less than most religions that have emerged in her wake. But today, despite the great variety in practice and understanding of the divine that exists beneath the pagan banner, there is an underlying sentiment – conviction if you will – that cherishes the gift of life for everyone. Consequently, today’s paganism holds her head high in abhorrence and rejection of wanton slaying and/or massacre when situations are not conforming to our immediate wishes. Paganism, as the origin of the human propensity for the spiritual, offers a grounding belief in the best that all of earth’s children can produce – despite the different gods and goddesses that these children revere. If the horror of 911 and its aftermath bring more clearly to awareness and focus the worst of which humans are capable, pagan belief affirms the possibility of an opposite consisting of universal respect and mutual listening – an opposite for which we dedicate ourselves toward the necessary work of reviving and resurrecting the sacred phoenix from the ashes of futile ruin. Paganism welcomes one and all to the unfolding ascent of the human dream.
What stays with me is the unity we found once the devastation became known, that our depth of grief and pain brought us together in uncommon ways. We as a people were forever changed; and that change became embodied through us by the power of our collective soul to right toward healing. The day holds special significance for me because I’m from New York originally. These photos are from Brooklyn just a week later, taken at a park located right across the water from where the Twin Towers had stood. I remember.
We are wrestling with our angels as a people. And in some ways, we are not doing very well. And so, I think we are still facing the challenges and ordeals of this time of initiation. This year, I will be observing the remembrance of September 11th with prayers to both my ancestors and to Horus. I pray to my ancestors that my countrymen uphold the virtues of liberty, openness, and unity in diversity that has characterized our best ambitions. I pray to Horus that we may recognize that we are being tested by our own angels, and recognize that spiritual warfare is with the self, and not with others. I also ask my ancestors and Horus, in his guise as a psychopomp, to help those who died that day and who may not have completed their own journey, to help them that they make their passage safely, that they achieve happiness their chosen eternity, and and that they complete the Great Work.
The day holds memory of terror. We make memory of sacred space that is our life, today.
The day holds memory of loss. We make memory of what we still have, today.
The day holds memory of fear. We make memory of newborn trust, born in what we do, today.
The day holds memory of rage. We make memory of deep, centered peace in this moment, today.
The day holds memory of abiding grief. We take steps to heal and create abiding wisdom, today.