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Bishop Howard’s reflections on 9/11

Folks at St. Patrick’s are certainly familiar with Bishop John Howard of the Diocese of Florida. Bishop Howard led his diocese to contribute almost $500,000 in the rebuilding of St. Patrick’s following Katrina (and our youth space is named the “Florida Room” in honor of their help), and has visited us on a couple of occasions and remains in contact with us.

What you may not know is Bishop Howard was Vicar of Trinity Episcopal Church on Wall Street in New York City (very near the Twin Towers) when 9/11 took place. Below are his reflections on that time and what has transpired since. He says it far better than I can, and I believe you will see some echos of our own Katrina experience in the words of grief and hope he shares. Thank you Bishop for all you do for us and for the people of God in Florida and elsewhere!

Bishop Howard Reflects on 9/11 

      I lived and worked in lower Manhattan from late 1996 until the fall of 2003.

One of the first things I learned when I moved there was how to get my bearings no matter where I was in the city.  Whether crawling out of a cab on a crowded street corner or coming up out of a subway station, I learned quickly that I should look up and scan the horizon, looking for the one-hundred-ten story twin towers in lower Manhattan.  Once my eyes were fixed on the towering World Trade Center, I knew that I had found the southwest corner of the city and everything else could be calculated from that point. Each time I spotted it, I knew also that I was locating my own neighborhood – our apartment just south of the buildings and my church just east – neither more than two blocks away from the horizon-dominating structures.

      All of that changed on September 11, 2001.  That day began with blue skies and great promise. That day began with the belief that the Twin Towers would be a direction-giving constant in our lives.  But it ended with the discovery that our old assumptions were no longer valid and that those immutable points of reference which we had previously trusted were no longer there.

      Looking back now, ten years later, I recognize the deeply emotional and spiritual significance of that day:  We lived through a surprise attack on our homes, churches and neighborhood.  We witnessed planes being used as high explosives causing the deaths of thousands.  We saw all around us the collapse of those buildings which we had relied upon for direction and also we felt – within ourselves – a sort of emotional and spiritual collapse.

      My memories of 9-11 and of the months that followed revolve around just this spiritual collapse.  I saw it all around me.  I felt it myself:  The sense of being divided, fractured, pulled in a dozen different directions, torn to pieces, and longing ever so deeply for wholeness, serenity, a re-integration of body and soul.  As a boy growing up in eastern North Carolina, I used to hear folks talk ‘about so-and-so “going to pieces” as they disintegrated emotionally and spiritually.  The events of ten years ago gave me a new appreciation for that home-spun theological insight.

      The twin towers were gone.  Thousands had been killed.  There, in their place, lay what became, for me, the very symbol of spiritual need, of a city, a nation, and a society that had been torn to pieces.

      But that was not to be the end of the story.

      For as days and weeks went by, there, in and among the debris, the dust, and chaos of that site several recognizable forms began to take shape.  Just barely high enough to be seen from street level but clearly visible from the windows of higher buildings nearby, stark and irregular outlines of large steel crosses began to appear…crosses towering above the place of death, above the wreckage, above the events which had torn so many of us to pieces.

     The first of the crosses apparently emerged from the debris, from the remains of the towers themselves, as if by divine construction.  Then the workers, the policemen, the firemen, the military men and the construction workers began to look for every opportunity they could find to construct new ones, making crosses…large and small…out of the burnt and twisted steel which covered the site.
     The men working at the site were feeling as much pain as those who lived nearby.  They needed the crosses, too, in the midst of their own sense of loss and their own feeling of being torn to pieces.
It is in the cross of Jesus Christ that we can find the love of God even in the face of senseless attacks and death.  It is in the cross of Jesus Christ that our sense of being torn to pieces can be healed, soothed and it is in the cross of Jesus Christ that you and I can be restored to wholeness, health and well-being.
     This year we observe the tenth anniversary of the terrorists’ 9-11 attacks.  Ten years later, the events of that day are still clear in my mind:  The death, the dust, the despair.  But what is clearer still and what has stood out the most for me over the past decade are those crosses – the cross of Christ and the power of God – and the accompanying hope and confidence– of which they spoke.

 

“In the cross of Christ I glory, towering o’er the wrecks of time;

all the light of sacred story gathers round its head sublime.”
–John Bowring, The Hymnal 1982, number 441

 

John

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