Harvesting 9/11 reflections

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | October 18, 2002

Remember that bittersweet blossoming of e-mails and Internet commentary in the wake of Sept. 11? Ever wonder what happened to the most inspiring of the bunch?

Many faith-based groups have spent some time the last year plowing through piles of material. Now the fruits of their labor are coming out as cohesive post-Sept. 11 resources available to the public in print and on the Internet.

Faith leaders said they hope this harvest helps people continue to move toward healing and renewal.

One editor remembered that thousands of people logged onto her denomination's Web site in the wake of Sept. 11.

"They posted their own reflections about what had happened or shared the helpful words of others," wrote Elizabeth Nordbeck in the introduction to "O God, Tender and Just: Reflections and Responses after September 11, 2001."

The collection, published by the United Church of Christ, features prayers, essays, letters of condolence and solidarity, sermons, news briefs, and articles -- all of which, Norbeck explained, "swiftly appeared in a spontaneous sharing of thoughts and information" after Sept. 11.

Norbeck found common themes among the many postings: "Care for those who hurt. Hope for the future. Seek justice, not vengeance. Be informed and be active. Exercise restraint. And trust in God."

The ongoing healing after Sept. 11 hasn't been easy or simple. From the politics of war, to frightened children, to the still oft-asked question of "why," post-Sept. 11 reflections try to address the unanswerable.

As Robert Mundy, executive for ministry interpretation and public relations of the United Church of Christ, reflected, "Collectively, these responses suggest the many and complex layers of political, social and theological issues related to both the events of September 11 and our response to them."

Faith-based groups have also compiled user-friendly checklists -- many of them Web-based -- of simple healing measures churches and individuals can take.

The American Baptist Home Mission Web site features a "Shalom Response" with a list of post-9/11 activities for families or congregations.

Some suggestions are as simple as volunteering for an organization that makes a difference in people's lives, or partnering with a mosque, synagogue or church of a different culture.

Many faith-based organizations also post letters from religious leaders overseas who are offering support for U.S. healing and spiritual care in the wake of Sept. 11. Others also post current news of ongoing humanitarian response in Afghanistan or spiritual care in the U.S.

For pastors who are continuing to help people cope with Sept. 11-related fears and trauma, Lutheran Disaster Response and the Aid Association for Lutherans have published "Prepared to Care," two booklets for pastors to use in the aftermath of a human-caused and natural disasters.

It's difficult to quantify the spiritual fallout after a human-caused disaster, acknowledged faith leaders, and so it's difficult to respond as well.

"In most cases a human-caused tragedy takes its toll on people, inflicting physical and emotional pain on victims/survivors and their families," said Gil Furst of Lutheran Disaster Response. "Often, it is difficult to evaluate 'emotional damage.' For this reason, it's even more important to let survivors know they can turn to the church for compassion and spiritual healing."

"Prepare to Care" features resources to help pastors and churches plan special worship/memorial services. It also highlights prayers, scripture and Bible studies.

Bible passages cited by many faith-based groups include verses that talk about fear, the future and courage.

Many faith leaders suggest Isaiah 41:10 for people facing fear: "Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand."

For those needing reassurance regarding the future, Psalm 100:5 is an oft-cited verse: "For the Lord is good and His steadfast love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations."

Recently in the Washington, D.C. area, as suburbanites have been coping with anxiety surrounding a spate of sniper attacks, pastors have been transferring some Sept. 11 scriptural response toward addressing sniper-related fears. A few D.C. area pastors have preached on Romans 8:31 "What, then shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?"

Popular post-Sept. 11 hymns have included "O God, Our Help in Ages Past," "My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less," "A Mighty Fortress" and many others.

As people continue to heal from Sept. 11, pastoral counselors said many are going through four stages of recovery. The first is denial in which survivors maintain there is really nothing wrong. The second is anger, which may be generalized against the perpetrators, or may be directed at God or at a responding agency. The third is a depression, a serious symptom of grief that may require professional mental health care. The fourth is acceptance, in which the survivor acknowledges the extent of the loss, accepts the limitations that have been imposed, and looks toward recovery.

Whatever an individual's stage of recovery, prayer can help, acknowledged faith leaders, especially in the face of devastating violence and disaster.

The night after the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colo., the Rev. Rick Barger remembered the simple power of prayer. "That night we prayed, 'O God, we are consumed by grief and what we have witnessed in our community,' " he said.

As the harvest of written prayers and other inspiring pieces keeps growing, so might the healing.

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