Walking Our Faith: Beauty for ashes
Walking Our Faith
The 20th anniversary of 9/11 has me thinking about my time in New York City. I had worked on the 98th floor of 2 World Trade Center, but I left the city in 1994.
However, I was there for the garage bombing in 1993. They made us wait in our offices until the firemen reached our floor, and because it was the 98th floor, it was hours before it was our turn to walk down the stairs in a single-file line. I remember the darkness and the gallows humor, and afterward a small group from our office went to the nearest bar and had more than a few drinks.
On Sept. 11, 2001, I was in Baku, Azerbaijan, where I was teaching in an international school. I remember turning on CNN and watching the first plane hit the first of the twin towers.
My initial instinct was to count down from the top of the building to where I imagined the 98th floor would be, above where the plane had entered the building, and realizing that if I were there, there would be no way to escape a second time.
On each subsequent anniversary of 9/11 for the next decade, I watched the news coverage replay and felt the same sickening urge to once again count the floors down from the top and wonder what I would have done if I had been in my office that morning.
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Even as I compose this column, I feel the familiar pit in my stomach.
We understand that what happened on 9/11 was the result of evil men creating a horrific tragedy — not in the name of God but in a blasphemous desecration of God’s holy name.
But what of the innocent lives who were lost on that day? And what of the survivors who suffered trauma of firsthand experience of the loss of a loved one?
The Bible’s Book of Job is the most famous meditation on suffering perhaps ever produced. And while in the end Job has the privilege of speaking to God himself, he never receives an adequate answer for why he was allowed to suffer without explanation or causation.
“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements — surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?” — Job 38:1-7
Does God’s nonanswer demonstrate a lack of compassion or the limits of our vision of the moment versus God’s infinite historical sight?
In the Book of Isaiah, there is a verse that says God will give us beauty for ashes. It is a promise that is perhaps more satisfactory than the philosophical meditations we find in the Book of Job.
“To comfort all who mourn, to console the mourners in Zion — to give them a crown of beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and a garment of praise for a spirit of despair. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. They will rebuild the ancient ruins; they will restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations.” — Isaiah 61:2-4
It is not an explanation of our suffering but a promise of hope. That as we rise from the depths of pain we might find meaning or beauty or empathy that will either provide a salve for the wounds we have received or provide us with the wisdom and compassion to share with others when they suffer.
On Wednesday, I watched a documentary of a small group of 9/11 survivors. The first interviews were taken shortly after their experience, and the second interview was done these 20 years later.
They were asked to share what has changed for them. While the deep wounds of 9/11 remained, each person spoke about small and large ways in which the experience had provided hope and purpose in their lives. The expression of their grief inspired the choreography of one man and the desire to embrace a Muslim teacher for his children by another. Whether in small gestures or large, each individual chose to create beauty from ashes.
Is their response perhaps a glimpse into the wisdom of God’s answer to Job? That in the moment of our suffering mere words are not an adequate balm for loss and pain? But the long view, that while the loss might never be regained, something new and precious might be found?
Darlene Muschette will celebrate 40 years as an ordained pastor Sunday, Sept. 12, at Lord of the Mountains Church, 56 U.S. Highway 6, Dillon. Following 9 a.m. worship, there will be a short vocal recital as a fundraiser for Doctors to the World. Doc PJ will speak during the service. Light refreshments will be served outside.
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson’s column “Walking Our Faith” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Anderson is the author of 10 novels and nonfiction books on faith. She has lived in Breckenridge since 2016. Contact her at email@example.com.
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