Love and Grace among The Ruins: Reflections on 9/11

Most everyone remembers where they were when the news came on September 11th, 2001. At the five year mark many of us also remember that the sudden and horrible death of so many on that day was not the end of the matter. That day was a stone in the heart that sent tsunami waves of violence out from the place where the airplanes struck. Two massive military expeditions have been mounted in the “war” declared following 9/11, with huge numbers of deaths and massive destruction of cities, towns and villages. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have led in turn to further entanglements in the unfinished business of unending war and violence. Terrorist acts have worked their ruin in Spain and England, India and the Philippines, and on and on, and Terrorism has found a friend in War.

Yet there have been blessings in these five years.
The ruins are mostly public, and the horrific unfolding of what it means to be an empire in a state of perpetual war is overwhelming. The experienced blessings and grace are mostly private, but I share a few of these today in profound thanksgiving.

This day, September the 11th, has been an occasion in our family to remember the possibilities of love and grace in life as well as the destruction and violence. At nine o’clock in the morning on that day, just as the planes were flying into the twin towers our family was in the Wilmington chambers of the Chief Judge of Family Court adopting Emanuela, a young adult of wonder and delight, as our daughter. It was a gift to us all.

We first heard of the attacks while getting coffee to celebrate right after the court session. (I think ours was the only case heard that day.) We went on to the rest of our day stunned by what had happened in New York, Washington and the field in Pennsylvania, and also stunned by God’s grace to us in the love and joy of having a new daughter.

It turned out that I went from that wonderful adoption hearing to a meeting of Delaware clergy. Bishop Wayne Wright talked about the events that were unfolding and encouraged us to our pastoral work in the days and weeks to come. I mostly remember that he said, “fear not” remembering the voice that spoke to Mary, to Jesus and to various collections of people at one time or another. The Bishop’s words linked the events of the morning to an overriding faithful trust in God’s abiding grace. “Fear not,” was the right word at the right time. Bishop Wright spoke words that have remained with me.

In the ensuing years there have been many blessings and many ruins. There have been more than 2671 American military deaths and 19910 wounded in Iraq, and 337 American deaths in Afghanistan and some 900 wounded. There have been several hundreds of coalition military killed and wounded, something over 46,0000 Iraqi civilians killed, and a large but indeterminate number of Afghanis killed. Neither military expedition has ended in a conclusive way, and internal chaos has replaced the chaos of attack from outside. Hopes for any adequate addressing of domestic concerns in the United States has been put on hold. The human costs of war are compounded as the extraordinary costs for the wars have brought their own shock and awe.

While all this was going on, there have also been many moments of personal grace and love - among them a marriage in the family and the first grandchild and our life in Lewes, a small village by the Delaware Bay where it meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Here in Lewes a group of people have met every Sunday for the last two years in Silent Vigil remembering the human costs of war. It too has been a sign of grace and peace in the ruins. Sadly, this last Sunday, September 10th, the Vigil began its third year of witness, for the war goes on. People in this Vigil have all the normal fears of what is unfolding in the violence that continues, but the Vigil itself is a silent witness that we cannot be people of fear. The Vigil has helped tie the ruins to the small signs of hope in the little joys of life.

I was not there, but rather in San Jose, visiting our daughter who in the last five years earned two master of arts degrees and this last month became a permanent resident of the United States. She joins the rest of the family in a common heritage of immigration. Every one of my ancestors, and now our daughter, came to this land with hopes and fears. If fear alone had ruled the devastation and ruin of their years and our own of the past five would have driven us to a kind of madness and to a powerlessness that would have made even the celebration of the little blessings of life impossible.

But as it is, fear does not rule. The grace and blessing that comes in so many little ways and our witness to life beyond the edges of fear and violence make for a better remembrance of this anniversary.

It remains for us to celebrate the moments of grace and blessing with small shouts and little dances, and with ever greater voice to press for the waging of peace and the end of perpetual war.


  1. Dear Mark,
    How well I remember being with you that day, drinking coffee, celebrating your new daughter, Ema, and then hearing the awful news. Such a beautiful day, so full of promise, under that beautiful blue sky. What a miracle to have such a happy memory imbedded in that sad day.

  2. Thank you for reminding us of the grace behind the news of destruction. I preached on 9/11 last Sunday and I wonder if I didn't miss the grace. Your stories of family and friends are perfect. Thanks.

  3. Bill Carroll12/9/06 9:00 PM

    Our daughter was born on 9/11/98, making 9/11/01 her third birthday. I resonate deeply with Mark's comments. I also appreciate the bishop's comments. What a contrast with the abuse of fear for political gain. "Fear not," indeed.


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