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September 11, 2001


We are pulled forward into a future we do not want
Come sooner than we feared
Like terror at the thought of judgment
We are not prepared for this
The scale of this
The loss of it
The threat delivered like a blow
To the fact of who we are.
Taken by surprise, we absorb
This savage, brilliant act of vengeance, asking
Who, and why?
Was there some remedy we missed
Some redress that might have averted
The box-knives in the cockpit,
The jet fuel inferno of office workers
And those who raced to rescue them?

Retribution lays out its tracks early
That soulless satisfaction that always seems
To retrieve its path home again, but always higher
In a never-ending spiral, fresh victims, sorrow
Upon sorrow, fueling its own causes.

Those who now grieve without this simple cure
Are thrust forward by the collapse of meaning
The assault on symbols that cannot save us
To the colder season where darkness begs for light --
September to October and November
Holy observance of Endtimes and the Advent of new life
When only altars can bear the ache and longing
That permeate our waking hours and sleepless nights.
As days grow shorter, it is then that people gather
In every tongue and race huddle to rekindle hope
The ancient songs and common symbols shared
Rekindle and return, whispered words that reassert
God still dwells within our damaged human circle
And love is still stronger than death.

Against so primitive a need, in this one protected space
We dare ponder the unthinkable: What world is ending?
Is it ours? What prayer will forge our sorrow
Into compassion for the work ahead?
What grace will give us back tomorrow
Where mercy and justice might embrace?
As Jesus wept and saw the temple fall
He took his own place among the victims
To await a second coming, where tears are wiped away.
Apocalyptic signs cover innocent and sinner same
With smoke and ash, terror and rage.
The Son of Man, that stunning future we resisted
Is coming then and now and once again.

These images describe the urgency, the surprising
Inevitability of his promised presence in our hour of need:
“Like a thief in the night”
Who breaks in upon our normalcy, the illusion we are safe
And steals the ground beneath our feet,
The changed course that marks our fate.
We will never be the same.
Going out like children under bright familiar skies
We return changed, older, shock-eyed, trembling.

But also this parable:
“Like a woman in labor”
Whose time of anguish gives birth to new life
The long sorrow that yields to new worlds
Resurgent hope that what we -- one generation --
Could only conceive but could not do
Others will do, must do.
A birth of new hope
Not in the possibility of peace
But its necessity -- our end or our beginning.
The sowing we will reap.

Patrick Marrin is editor of Celebration, the ecumenical worship resource published by the National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company.

National Catholic Reporter, September 21, 2001