E-mail Conversations Winter 2002

September 11

Sue and I have had many calls today so I thought I’d send an e-mail and let you know we are safe. How horrific a day it has been! Sue was about to leave for school — her next class was a trip to the World Trade Center at 10 a.m.! I’ve heard about most of the students. Only one has not called in yet. The college is six blocks from the World Trade Center — there have been many emergency vehicles rushing past the school. We don’t yet know how bad the damage to the area is. Our son Jonathan left for college two minutes before the plane hitting the second tower. He found himself stranded downtown. At noon he was attending a prayer service with the students, then organizing a blood drive. He said he’d probably spend the night on the floor of a church and get back to us when he could but as phones are down we do not know when that will be. One of his friend’s mother was on the plane that hit at 8:48. We are fine but worried about friends, students, and also about Jonathan’s best friend, Tony, a fireman. Keep him and Jonathan in your prayers, please.

Dana Talley

PS Tony is safe. He was on the 31st floor two minutes before it collapsed and somehow the commander had an inkling that they should go. All 20 of them flew down the stairs and made it with a few seconds to spare. The whole company was spared. Tony has worked all night at ground zero. It seems 350 firefighters were lost.

Yesterday’s events are only beginning to sink in. I was teaching at Baruch College’s new building in view of the towers. Rescue efforts continue but hospitals have only a dribble of patients to treat, mostly injured rescue workers. Many people are going from one hospital to another hoping to find a loved one who never came home.

We celebrated the Liturgy this morning at St. Gregory’s and the words have never rung more true or beautiful. We also prayed for all involved. The love and forgiveness of God knows no boundaries and that is hard to remember when justice and vengeance even loom up so powerfully.

Fr. Michael Plekon

I saw smoke from the attack even as I heard the first radio news bulletin. I and most of my family live on the west bank of the Hudson within just a few miles of the World Trade Center, and we are somewhat numb. It will take a while to process all this even as we keep plodding ahead to put ourselves and the city back together.

As real as all this is for me, I have to say that I’m disappointed in many of the calls for prayer. Too many are in the category of “God, help us crush our enemies.”

Virtually no one has reminded us that Christ requires us to love our enemies and forgive them. Call them to account, certainly; all of us need to repent, and that can’t happen if we — if people let us — continue in our sinful delusions.

Let’s all fervently entreat Christ our Lord to grant us some small measure of His own compassion for our enemies, for — like His own enemies — they didn’t know what they were doing. As we strive to be disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have to choose to love our enemies and we have to learn to forgive them, just as we ask our heavenly Father to forgive them and us.

Monk James Silver

Struck silent

Tonight the granddaughter of my neighbor across the hall, a young Russian woman who always checks on her grandparents, told me a friend of hers had been in the coffee shop in the ground level of the Trade Center getting a cup of coffee with her boss when the first plane and then the second hit. When the buildings began to collapse, they ran. She was not physically injured but has since been in a psychiatric ward unable to speak a word. Her name is Tatiana. Please pray for her.

Alice Carter

Revelations

Watching the fiery destruction of the World Trade Center on TV and seeing Manhattan enveloped in smoke, my mind cannot dispel the vision and lament in Revelation 18:9-19.

Fr. Patrick Reardon

Repentance

I’ve been listening to the radio and TV all day. What strikes me is that no one has used the word “repentance” to describe what our response should be. The molieben’s language is very penitential. Worldly wisdom comes closest when the Public Radio people say we need to learn a lesson from this and change our nation’s policies. This is tantamount to repentance. But all the network and political and security people talk about finding the culprit. American crimes eventuated this horror, by upsetting so many people so profoundly, by perpetuating genocidal policies in the Mideast and elsewhere. As Fr. Stephan Meholick said, “Any system which cannot criticize itself is seriously ill.”

John Beal

Christ or vengeance

The pangs of grieving I am experiencing, I know, are not even one-hundredth of the overwhelming sorrow others closer to this horror are being brought low by. Nonetheless, I had to make a decision — Christ and His Love, or hate and vengeance. May the Lord have mercy to help us all choose Him from this moment and forever.

So Yung Wilson

Response in Holland

Today is a national day of mourning. I walked downtown to see the extent of the support. I saw Dutch flags flying at half-mast from many homes. We just had a three-minute period of silence. The town was absolutely silent.

For Americans abroad it is difficult because we aren’t right on the scene, our neighbors don’t feel the grief we feel. They’re not having trouble sleeping at night, or having trouble even working, even breathing, as we are. So this kind of support is so important to us.

A friend just called me who is now a Dutch citizen but came here several years ago from Belgrade. She was deeply sympathetic. She said it was like this for her when Belgrade was bombed. She told me she called her family in Belgrade and expected them to comfort her.

Nancy Forest

At the foot of the Cross

A friend of mine sent this brief account of her priest’s response not only to the New York and Washington attacks, but also to his congregation’s e-mail sound and fury afterwards.

“[Our priest] came out very strongly the Sunday after the tragedy admonishing us, reminding us that St. Silouan says the test of one’s character is in how he loves or does not love his enemies. He really preached the peace of Christ. But then he added a bit of humor by saying that if he ever heard of anyone else in the church sending hateful e-mail again, they had better not ask him to bless their house, because he would sprinkle so much holy water on their computer, it would never work again! Then, just before Holy Communion, he ordered the deacons to put the large cross in the front of the aisle, and said we had better not dare partake of the body and blood of our Lord if we held anything against our brother and did not leave it there at the foot of the cross.”

John Oliver III

Fear

There is definitely more fear, especially among children. My daughter has been very much affected by it as this is the most horrible thing to happen in her lifetime. For days it was covered nonstop on TV. She told me she could not help watching even though it was disturbing.

The most frightening thing to me is the backlash against “foreigners.” There was a Coptic Christian man in southern California shot and killed at his store. Muslim women are afraid to go out in public in their veils. In fact, they are being warned not to go out dressed traditionally.

Cindy Machado

Meeting Muslims

I wanted to tell you about a friend’s simple act of compassion. My friend and her daughter live on the Gulf Coast in a conservative Florida community. They wanted to do something amid this tragedy and realized that many Muslim women would be subject to harassment and fear because of their visibility. She and her daughter drove to the mosque in their area and left a note volunteering to buy groceries for the Muslim women and their families if they felt afraid to be seen in public. The response has been overwhelmingly grateful and sympathetic.

While I sit stunned by the enormity of the situation my friend and her daughter are performing a simple kindness that has done more to bring about peace than anything I know.

Nilus Stryker

This Saturday there was an announcement about an open house Sunday at the Islamic Information Center in Minneapolis. I shared that with Renee and Carol and both were keen to go! The turnout was very good. We sat in a large room — not the mosque, but a plain room up a flight of stairs — large windows on one side, carpeted, with tape on the floor indicating the direction of Mecca. We had to take our shoes off at the stair landing (what a pile of shoes was there!). There were chairs along the edges of the room, but most of us sat on the floor and listened to several speakers talk fairly informally and then take questions.

Juliann Tarsney

Visiting a mosque is exceptionally important. The next big step would be to offer hospitality to visitors from the mosque to the parish to which she belongs (maybe not to a service but to a study group session); that would be a real point of transformation for participants on both sides! This virtually never happens because of the suspicion among both the Muslims and the Christians! To help prepare for dialogue, there are several books by sympathetic but objective Christians that I can recommend: Fred Denny’s Introduction to Islam; Marston Speight’s God Is One: the Way of Islam; and John Esposito’s Islam: the Straight Path.

Fr. Theodore Pulcini

St. Francis’ example

One of the well-attested stories in the life of St. Francis of Assisi is his meeting in 1219 with Christianity’s chief opponent, Sultan Malik-al-Kamil, ruler of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria during the Fifth and Sixth Crusades.

It was the time of the Fifth Crusade, shortly after a Crusader victory at the port city of Damietta on the Nile Delta. Francis, who opposed all killing no matter what the cause, sought the blessing of the Cardinal who was chaplain to the Crusader forces to go and preach the Gospel to the sultan. The cardinal told him that the Moslems understood only weapons and that the one useful thing a Christian could do was to kill them. At last the cardinal stood aside, certain that Francis and Illuminato, the brother with him, were being led to die as martyrs. The two left singing the psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd . . .”

Soldiers of the sultan’s army captured the pair, beat them, and then brought them before Malik-al-Kamil, who asked if they wished to become Moslems. Francis replied that they came to seek his conversion; if they failed in their effort, then let them be beheaded. According to legend, Francis offered to enter a furnace to demonstrate the truth of Christ’s Gospel; whether or not he made such a proposal, going unarmed into the enemy’s stronghold was analogous to leaping into a fire.

For a month Francis and the sultan met daily. Though neither converted the other, the sultan had such warmth for his guests that not only did he spare their lives but gave them a passport allowing them to visit holy places under Muslim control and presented Francis with a beautifully carved ivory horn which is now among the relics of the saint kept in the Basilica of Assisi. It is recorded that Francis and Malik-al-Kamil “parted as brothers.”

What a different history we would look back upon if Muslims had encountered Christians who did not slaughter their enemies.

When the Crusaders took Jerusalem in 1099 during the First Crusade, no inhabitant of the city was spared — men, women and children were hacked to pieces until, the chronicle says, the Crusaders’ horses waded in blood. While Christians in the first three centuries would have taken a nonviolent example for granted, by the 13th century Francis was truly a voice crying in the wilderness.

Jim Forest

Not wholly good

Last night I spoke to my daughter who lives in Brooklyn. She is a 25 year-old graduate student and writer just beginning to have her work published.

She told me that a couple of nights ago she was walking home from the subway when someone yelled at her and threw a can of soda at her head. Luckily the can only grazed her, but she was dazed and frightened. She shielded her head and ran from her attacker. The streets were crowded, she said, but no one came to her aid. My daughter is African-American. I am black and her mother white. Her ancestry includes Africans, Native Americans, Germans, Irish, and French. She is light-skinned, dark-haired, and dark-eyed. She could and has been identified as Hispanic, Indian, and now, apparently, Arab.

Our political leaders, both national and local, are condemning this hate-filled reaction to the World Trade Center tragedy and claim that it is un-American. I applaud their condemnations, but I wonder if it is in fact un-American. Two years ago, one of my three sons was stopped by police officers in midtown Manhattan for driving a van with a broken taillight. After he showed them the vehicle’s registration, they accused him of stealing the van. My son, then twenty, explained that he worked for a frame shop and that he was delivering frames and art works to several of New York’s art museums. He attempted to show them his log of deliveries. But they were having none of it and yanked him out of the van, slammed him up against the door, and took him in on suspicion of theft. At the station, he called his boss, who, in turn, called the police station. My son recalled that the police told her she had to come down to the station, and after she hung up referred to her as a “stupid bitch.” After six hours in detention he was finally cleared and freed.

Compared to the murder of a Sikh in Dallas, or the almost fatal beating of a Muslim woman pulled from her car in Los Angeles, or the shooting of Ahmadou Diallo in New York, these were minor incidents. And yet my son remains outraged at the arrogance and injustice of the police and my daughter is frightened by the violent attack on her person and upset by the failure of any of the onlookers to come to her assistance. Moreover, reports of incidents of harassment and violence against “Middle Easterners” mount daily.

I watch as we wave flags, and celebrate the heroism of the rescue workers, and sing America the Beautiful. Rightfully so, we have experienced a terrible tragedy and our people have come together to help each other in ways that are moving and beautiful. And yet this is not the full reality. We have to acknowledge that there is a face of America that is not beautiful, but is horribly ugly in its hatred, its self-righteousness, its bigotry, its racism, and its xenophobia. This too is a face of America, a face that has been exposed to some of its citizens for a very long time: to African-Americans in the form of slavery and segregation, to Roman Catholics and Jews in the form of prejudice and anti-Semitism, to Native Americans in the form of conquest and displacement, to Chinese Americans in the form of exclusive immigration laws, to Japanese Americans in the form of “relocation” camps, and the list goes on.

In other words America and Americans are not wholly good (nor as the terrorists would have it — totally evil.) Our past and our present are a mixture of good and evil, of idealism and corruption, of hope and cynicism, of generosity and selfish greed.

It is important to face this face of the ugly America, and not to dismiss our misdeeds as simply aberrations from an ineluctably heroic story. We need no rhetoric of a Crusade (especially if we remember their actual barbarity). We need now, of all times, to be sobered and humbled, by recognition of the real world in which everyone doesn’t love us, in which we are not invulnerable, in which we ourselves have done bad things to others and to our own. We need no rhetoric about ridding the world of evil, especially if we remain blind to the evil within our own society and within our own hearts.

Those who are responsible for this awful deed should be “brought to justice.” But I wish that our leaders would place that task within the context of the perennial moral struggle to bring about a more just world.

We need to act not out of revenge, but in concert with other nations, the U.N., and international movements to change the situations that breed helplessness, anger, and hatred and so support terrorism. If we want peace, let us work for justice — at home and abroad.

Albert J. Raboteau

Professor of Religion, Princeton

member of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship advisory board

Silence

I’ve thought a great deal since September 11 about the theme of silence, which in turn has made me dig in the New Testament for references to silence and, in the process, to look at the Greek terms that are used.

There is the Greek word hesychia and hesychos, meaning a quiet condition in general, a condition of silence or being at peace, being still; this is the root of our word hesychast. There’s also the Greek word phimoo — meaning put to silence, hold one’s peace, to be muzzled, be speechless, be still. And there’s siopao — involuntary silence.

The word silence, in the sense of hesychia, is in a verse from Luke — “One Sabbath when he went to dine at the house of a ruler who belonged to the Pharisees, they were watching him. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’ But they were silent. Then he took him and healed him, and let him go.” This is silence in the sense of either not knowing an answer or not daring to speak.

There is silence in the sense of phimoo (being muzzled): “But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they came together.” (Mt 22: 34)

There is silence in the sense of siopao (involuntary stillness) in the verse: “The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent; but they cried out the more, “Lord, have mercy on us…” (Mt 20:31)

Since September 11 we are all to some extent in a state of silence, perhaps some mix of all three terms: incapable of saying anything (because no words seem worthy of the event), struck dumb, muzzled…

Jim Forest

Ears to hear

“The Kingdom of God is within you.” It begins in the kingdom of the heart, continues into the small church which is the home, and expresses itself yet more fully when, together with the “great cloud of witnesses” around the throne of God, we “come together as the Church.” To the end that we offer ourselves to the Lord in worship, we rationally and spiritually offer our various ministries, and we organize sound and silence into a service of praise, petition, and thanksgiving, in which spirit we may break bread together.

Organized sound and silence — that is music. Music is impossible without silence, both surrounding it and richly indwelling it. Imagine, if you will, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony without the wonderful pauses between the opening phrases! There is silence charged with anticipation.

“Let all the earth keep silence before Him” as we acknowledge that the Lord is “in His holy temple” — our heart — that we might see Him in our home, our church, and our world.

That we might have “ears to hear” the words of Christ, the Wisdom of God, let us hear the call to interior silence, to a silence born of humility and awe.

The liturgy frequently calls the heart to attention, in words such as these:

Let us who sing the Thrice-Holy Hymn to the Undivided Trinity now lay aside all earthly cares…

Wisdom! Let us be attentive…

Let all mortal flesh keep silence and with fear and trembling stand, pondering nothing earthly-minded. For the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords, comes…

As silence provides breathing space in music, so it does in worship.

When President Kennedy died, I was an impressionable teenager. As our classroom paused to receive the announcement over the radio, the broadcaster asked us to stand for a minute of silence. It was one of the most dramatic and meaningful minutes I have ever shared. It gave us time to let the sad message sink in, and to mutely turn our bewildered hearts toward God — together but individually. We students felt very close to one another in that moment.

I wonder if the widespread restlessness which is evident in many churches today (seen in blank and absent faces among the congregation, as well as the entrances and exits at ill-chosen times during the service) might be calmed by planned moments of expectant and joyful silence. Do we not again and again need to recall who we are, and in Whose presence we stand?

So, too, the restlessness and tension of daily life can be soothed by deliberate and uninterrupted silences. No telephone, no radio or television: I will wait on the Lord for a few moments, acknowledge His presence and allow Him to speak, if He will, or to fill me with His warm, perfect peace. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed in Thee, because he trusteth in Thee” “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” “This is my beloved Son: Listen to Him.”

When in the presence of greatness, we involuntarily become silent. Let us, from time to time, invite God to be with us, and then be reverently silent at His approach.

Sue Talley