Dear Friends in Christ,
I remember that it was a particularly beautiful morning. It was clear – not a cloud in the sky. The children had returned to school. The traffic on the highway moved at a pace as commuters made their way to work. Life after summer holidays was returning to normal. And yet that day in September would be anything but normal.
The first hint that something was terribly wrong came when I turned on the radio in the car. Andy Barrie, the host of Metro Morning on CBC, seemed distracted. His usual smooth and comforting voice was clipped as he tried to describe what was happening in New York City. Something about a plane… about the south tower of the World Trade Centre… about the Pentagon. I couldn’t make sense of it.
I was on my way to clericus. It would be my last meeting with colleagues in the Diocese of Niagara, as I was taking leave from my ministry at Church of the Incarnation to become the incumbent of Church of the Redeemer in this Diocese. I don’t remember much about the gathering; it was a blur. I was too preoccupied with wanting to know about what was happening south of the border. When the meeting was finally adjourned, I raced home to watch things unfold on television. The images that came flooding through the screen will be forever imprinted in my mind’s eye.
Do you remember where you were 20 years ago, when the towers collapsed? Do you remember what you were doing when a plane fell from the sky in a field in Pennsylvania? Do you remember who you were with, when the Pentagon burned?
Congregations across the land scrambled to open their doors and to pull together makeshift prayer vigils and worship services to provide sanctuary in the face of the terror. Folks left work and went straight home to be with family. We watched the skies for any sign of further threat. We tried to make sense of what we were seeing, feeling and experiencing. We were bewildered and grief stricken. 2,977 people were killed that day, 6,000 more were injured. Many of us knew someone who knew someone who lost their lives that day.
In the wake of 9/11, our lives would be forever changed. After that day, we looked at tall buildings in a different way. They were not just residences and workplaces, symbols of progress and ingenuity, but potential targets. After that day, we saw first responders in a whole new light, heroes in our midst. Security became more than a word: it became our mantra. We longed to feel secure in crowds, in airports, in the subway, on a plane. Our response was visceral.
A few days after 9/11, I was invited to be a speaker, among a number of speakers, at a memorial gathering in Toronto. It was an event sponsored by the Democrats Abroad and Republicans Abroad. There were a host of singers, dignitaries and religious leaders who offered their reflections in the hopes of bringing some peace, some solace and some perspective.
I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live. (Deuteronomy 30.19) This was the text that I chose for my reflection that night. Long ago, our Biblical ancestors stood on the threshold of the promised land. They were stepping out of wilderness, the place of grief and bewilderment, to embrace a new life of promise, of home, of security and of plenty. Moses reminded the people to remember where they had come from and how they had arrived at that moment, that it was God who lifted them out of slavery, that it was God who led them by day and by night all the way to the land of promise. Moses was imploring them to see that the promise of plenty, of peace, of abundance relied on the providence of God’s love and by the choices they would make. Choose life. Be a blessing. Love your neighbour, love the sojourner in your midst. Love even your enemy, Jesus would tell us.
These challenging words of Deuteronomy 30.19 came to mind for me as the last military flight left Kabul on August 30th. The two events are of course linked. Sometimes the decisions we make linger and they have consequences that we cannot foresee. It’s not always clear whether a choice we made long ago was a blessing or a curse. I know this to be true in my own life. Don’t you? Yet, the overwhelming thrust of our faith is to try again, to make amends, to bless and to make things better. The compelling hope that draws us together in Jesus is that love will prevail. And that is our part… love your neighbour. Always.
Tomorrow, bring to mind those who died. Remember those who continue to grieve the loss of family and friend. Give thanks for those who placed themselves in harm’s way for the sake of life. Pray for peace in our world, in our communities, in our homes. May God grant us courage to choose life.
Yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Andrew Asbil
Bishop of Toronto