On September 11, 2006, five years after the terrorist attacks on American soil, we continue to reflect, to mourn and to search for hope. Here in Hong Kong, I found the day to be a very difficult one. In the morning I watched the news coverage of the event and was moved to tears by the words of those who miraculously survived the attacks or who lost loved ones in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and in the Pennsylvania countryside. I felt a deep homesickness - the need to be close to family for support and comfort.
Feeling completely disinterested in the day's work I took the bus to the office and opened my email. One of the mailings I received had the following quote from Parker J. Palmer, the author of "The Politics of the Broken-hearted."
"There are at least two ways to picture a broken heart ...The conventional image, of course, is that of a heart broken by unbearable tension into a thousand shards--shards that sometimes become shrapnel aimed at the source of our pain. ... Here, the broken heart is an unresolved wound that we too often inflict on others. But there is another way to visualize what a broken heart might mean. Imagine that small, clenched fist of a heart 'broken open' into largeness of life, into greater capacity to hold one's own and the world's pain and joy. ... Here heartbreak becomes a source of healing, enlarging our empathy and extending our ability to reach out."
The quote jarred me out of my melancholy mood and prompted me to use this time of reflection and introspection to find strength and hope from an event which defies comprehension. What might we learn from this act of senseless violence? What can we do to change our hurt and anger into a balm of compassionate healing and transformation?
It is understandable that our first reaction to such an experience is to allow our hearts to be broken "into a thousand shards" which can inflict pain on those whom we perceive as responsible or even as unsympathetic to our pain. The desire for revenge may be one of those human emotions given us by God with the hopes that we will struggle with it, grow in our understanding and compassion of others and then move to a higher level of human reaction and interaction. If so, is God demanding the impossible of us? The apostle Paul struggled with this when he wrote, "For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing." (Romans 7: 18-20)
And when those in leadership over us focus our attention on the need for revenge through violence instead of forgiveness and the good that God wishes us to do, is there any space for us to seek a different nurturing of our broken hearts?
Yet within all the tears, rage, and uncertainty, there are those who have found the God of compassion within their unspeakable loss and pain. They have allowed the God of compassion to break open their "clenched fist of a heart" and let the pain of others find a resting place there. Through this sharing of pain, even with those who are so different and even unlikable, they have not only found a source of healing for themselves, but also healing for the world. Their feelings and desire for revenge have been overpowered by God's touch of gentleness, humility and love.
Are they simply dreamers who wish not to confront the realities of violence in our world today? Are they misled by romantic visions of the power of love over evil? Or are they exhibiting the kind of power that can transform the world? Will their broken hearts, which have become open hands to receive others, slowly and steadily change the hearts of those who wish to do such terror against others? Do we truly believe that there is power in God's love and that we are called to bring that love to a conflicted world, even if it seems like a na´ve and foolish thing to do?
What would Jesus do in this situation? I suspect he would stand as he did throughout his life, arms spread wide to welcome all, even those who would hang him on a cross, and by doing so he would end the cycle of violence and bring into reality the Community of God which we are all called to be a part of.
As we reflect on the events of Sept. 11, 2001 and all the death and destruction that has ensued over the past five years, we need to look at our own broken hearts and see if their brokenness has resulted in shards of hatred being flung at others, or instead has been opened up to accept, to understand and to help heal.
May God give us the courage to do what is required of us.