As I write, it’s September 11, and I’m thinking about how impossible it is not to mark anniversaries like this, year by year. You see bumper stickers and facebook status updates that say “never forget,” and I’m not quite sure what that means. I don’t think anybody’s in danger of forgetting. Someone commented about how September 11 is a dose of perspective: to always value the ones you love, to be aware of the precariousness of life. I also hope that it can generate perspective in a different way: to also be aware of how the security we normally feel in this country is an abstract fantasy for so many all over the world. We are called to compassion and solidarity as well as gratitude.
Sitting down at my computer, I don’t know what else I could possibly think about other than that morning in New York City twelve years ago, the blue blue of the sky, a fall chill under the late summer sun, the sense of expectation and promise of beginning seminary. I am also aware of how many times I’ve written this exact account of those days; how my now-husband Noah and I had moved to New York a few weeks earlier for school, not married yet and still figuring out who we were individually as well as together. Each year on this day, I remember kneeling in the seminary chapel hoping, praying, for violence to stop, and each year I remember that day and add up another year of violence. Afghanistan, then Iraq, Libya, Syria. Our violence against ourselves: Islamophobia, the erosion of our civil liberties, the billions that could have relieved poverty and instead funded war. Our polarized political landscape. Guantanamo. I go back to where I was September 11, 2002, passing through a border checkpoint in the Holy Land on the first anniversary of that day: again, violence.
In the Gospel last Sunday we heard Jesus lashing out at the crowds who were following him—he’s fed up with their desire just to see the next big thing, watching him do a healing here, an exorcism there. The crowds seem uninterested in real transformation: they want entertainment. Are you in this for real? Do you have what it takes to follow me? Do you? “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” You can’t, Jesus, says, just come along for the ride. You have to be in it, all the way, asking hard questions and making hard choices.
By that standard, nobody can follow. And I do think Jesus was being a little sarcastic—I have a calling from God as a parent and a spouse, and I’m sure I’m not called by Jesus to abandon those I’ve made a life with. And I do have to commit. Still, the truth is that real discipleship of Jesus is impossible on our own. Our somewhat clunky prayer for this Sunday begins, “O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts.” The subject/object/agency in that sentence is pretty convoluted: the Holy Spirit moves in us, prays in us—but as we are made in the image of God, there would be no “us” at all without our Creator.
Forgiveness is certainly impossible on our own. If it’s the life of God within us that makes it possible for us to follow God, it is certainly the life of God in us that enables us to forgive. It is the providence of God, too, to forgive where we just aren’t ready at the same time as it’s the providence of God to enliven our anger at injustice and oppression.
So there’s the muddle for today—grief and pain, hope and righteous anger—all one holy stew of God’s presence with us and God’s being intertwined with ours.