It has not been easy. Everyday I look at the skyline to see if any more buildings are on fire, or if there's an airplane lowering itself towards Manhattan, rather than taking off. So, while I'm still afraid, it is through my faith that allows me to walk through my fear and deal with it head on. It is my faith which has deepened and my fear has lessened. My faith has jumped so tremendously this past year and I have been so in tune with God, that I now see my calling is to the religious life as a Catholic nun.
September 11 reinforced and confirmed my atheism. Religion has always been one of the most effective ways of making people hate each other. In every country where there is religious fundamentalism and intolerance, there is violence. Countries that practice religious tolerance don't have such problems. In the United States, the result of the rise of the religious right and their movement to impose their beliefs on others has been a huge increase in violence, against gays, against abortionists, against non-Christians. One of the lessons we should learn from 9/11 is to condemn religious intolerance of any kind--including the current demonization of Arabs and Islam.
Seeing Faith at Its Best
9/11 reinforced my appreciation of the fragility of life. A few hate-filled fanatics were able to wreak tremendous destruction and inflict widespread pain. It takes a far more tremendous amount of love, courage, commitment, patience and devotion to heal and re-build.
As for those who simply write off religion as an incubator for fanaticism...I would note the millions upon millions of dollars in help for the victims flowed through churches. Thousands of volunteers who went to Ground Zero and offered aid in other places and ways were motivated by their deeply held faith.
In my community, churches and synagogues collected money and blood, and we later gathered clothing and food in an interfaith relief effort for Afghan refugees. A recent study showed that people of religious faith gave a significantly higher amount of their income to secular charities (while also making donations through their churches, synagogues, and mosques) than did those who expressed no religious affiliation or belief. Red Cross volunteers have told me this is certainly true when it comes to blood donations. These are massive examples of the positive application of faith.
"Will I be stoned for not owning a flag?"
I am a Christian, and I have always been deeply suspicious of Patriotism as a religion--I was raised in an environment of idolatry of all things American. I have always rued America's sense of superiority. I am made nervous by shows of solidarity that seem to stamp out the ideals of democracy, ie will I be stoned to death if I don't own a flag? My love for God has not changed, though. I continue in my sense that God is moving history towards Parousia [the Second Coming]--no more tears, no more death.
But my life IS changed. September 11 was my daughter's first day of nursery school. Since her birth my heart has been peeled wide open with a sense of vulnerability that is raw and frightening. September 11 I have vowed to protect her from overwhelming imagery--we turned off the TV, almost entirely. I have not and will not discuss the event until I am asked.
I have to admit, my beliefs and practices did take an abrupt alteration after September, largely due to the fact that I had a bit of an extreme psychological reaction to the attacks. Up until then, I had considered myself a dedicated Wiccan, but the aftermath of that day left me shook up and more isolated in my spirituality; I wanted to learn more about other people's beliefs before I decided upon a concrete set of concepts for myself. But the main effect on my spiritual living after 11/9 was with regards to my thinking--I meditate a great deal more now. In the weeks (and even months) following the attacks, I would find myself in deep, absorbing thought for long periods of time. I write much more in my diary now, and have met/formed/got to know my Guardian Spirit through the writings and my own meditations. It's less about the ritual now and more about my learning, which I see as a good thing.
"I became a Buddhist"
I was entering my senior year of college, and was beginning to realize that the faith in which I was raised no longer held anything but a sentimental place in my heart...In the horror of that day, I saw the absolute rapacious and evil nature that man can devolve to, but I also saw (in the rescue workers) the pure acts of altruism and ultimate gestures of compassion that the human heart is capable of producing.
So, despite the destruction and devastation, I took from September 11th two things: a new faith in the human being, and a new understanding of the importance of community and the simple kindnesses in life. I rededicated myself to finding spiritual peace, and I did... in the teachings of Buddhism. Our happiness, our sense of compassion, our advancement as a society, and ultimately, our liberation must come from us as individuals. We are each responsible for what we do, and don't do; what we affirm, and what we deny. In the end, September 11th articulated, to me, the need for daily spirituality; the daily kindnesses and acts of compassion that show "We Care!" Namaste!
A Muslim Examines Islam
I am a Muslim and have always been proud to be a Muslim. The events of 9/11 strengthened my faith in God. Not that I ever had doubt in my faith but the many attacks on my religion from both Muslims and non-Muslims pushed me to seek more knowledge on my faith. As pure and clear as ever, my faith has an answer to everthing and has guided me to become a better person.
In the past few years, I have spent a lot of effort trying to grow out of the God of my childhood. The white-bearded good-guy "fixer" God who is always on our side in the game (or the war), the one we ask to heal a broken relationship or save a loved one from death. I thought sure I had vanquished that childish deity, replaced with a more authentic image of God as companion, the lover of my soul. But when I watched the plane slam into the tower, I suddenly forgot all about that companion God, and immediately turned to the God-who-fixes-things, a spiritual two-year-old crying "Mommy!" With those around me I prayed, pleading with God to make everything right again, punctuating my prayers with earnest promises to be "better" from now on. Hoping to sway God, I attended church more often, remembered to pray every day, followed all the rules, acted like a good little believer.
But God did not make everything better. People died. The nightmare did not vanish. In my fear, I continued my self-betterment regimen, not really thinking about it consciously, but somewhere inside hoping that if I were just good enough it might appease God and change His mind.
Slowly, as the dust cleared in lower Manhattan, so did my awareness. I volunteered in a small way in the relief effort and realized that while I might be helping the firemen by serving food and drinks, the primary way I helped them was just by being there, a compassionate, loving presence. Just being there. Slowly I began to remember who God is. God who is with me, loving me, all the time, not just in church, not just when I'm "good" or pious. The God who is there, was there when the towers fell, who doesn't prevent bad things from happening but transcends them through love. The God who, I'm certain, embraced every person who died that day in His loving arms.
So yes, after a couple of months, I stopped attending church as often. And I did lose faith... in that Santa Claus God of childhood who takes away pain and makes everything good. That God is dead to me. I had to lose my faith in that false image of God before I had room for an authentic image of the God of Love. September 11 was painful, but because of it I grew up spiritually.
Grieving for Humanity--Including the Terrorists
I found that of all the emotions I had, anger was not one of them. My overwhelming feeling was one of deep grief. Grief for the victims, for their families, for all of us who felt so vulnerable and terrified in the minutes, days and weeks that followed.
But I also felt grief for the terrorists. It broke my heart to try to imagine hearts so hardened to the suffering of others. It broke my heart to think of the hatred and anger they had in them for years on end. I know that their violent thoughts and actions are going to be the cause of their own suffering for ages to come and they won't understand the cause and effect relationship between this life and their future suffering.
Feelings of Prejudice
Prior to 9/11 I had more of a heart to listen patiently and engage in amicable discussions of the varieties of beliefs. Now...I don't seem to have much patience or light-heartedness regarding opposing beliefs. I have also had a reaction of fear. Something else I am NOT proud of. I myself have experienced a feeling of "profiling" or "prejudice" a few times this year. This happened while traveling, and even once in a restaurant I encountered a group of middle eastern men...they were unfriendly, not speaking English, and my reaction was to feel both fear and anger. My mind went to 9/11 though I offered a smile and tried not to stare. I have gone out of my way to treat anyone who even looks arab with respect, warmth, and compassion. Truthfully in my heart I have hurt over the thought of anyone being mistreated out of any type of anger.
What was meant to weaken our people strengthened our determination.
What was meant to cripple us economically led to more giving than ever before.
What was meant to instill fear allowed our bravest of heroes to shine.
Let us not forget that out of the darkness appeared a bright light.
What was meant to separate us brought us together in unity.
What was meant to disorient us realigned our values.
What was meant to disempower us gave us strength of spirit.
What was meant to crumble our structures strengthened our character.
What was meant to detach us from our loved ones brought us closer to our families.
What was meant to fill our minds with anger opened our hearts with gratitude.
What was meant to invoke terror led to extraordinary acts of kindness.
What was meant to dissolve our faith brought us closer to God.
A Tragic Birthday
My son turned 12 the day the towers fell. We didn't have a party. We spent the evening watching the television and trying to understand how people who claimed to be faithful to their God could kill so many innocent people in the name of that faith.
I don't go to church, but that doesn't mean I don't have faith. September 11th didn't cause me to seek out comfort from a pew, or solace in a sermon. I questioned the actions of men, but I didn't lose my faith in a higher power. I shouted with anger, and cried in pain, but I didn't ask God why he didn't stop it.
"Confused as ever"
I feel as lost, isolated, alone, and confused as ever about religion. It saddens me that so much war, hatred, dislike, or even distrust occur between the three major monotheistic religions: Judiasm, Islam, and Christianity. All three claim to worship this same One True God, yet the fighting and the subtle propaganda continues on all fronts.
"We are a great country"
I was truly changed by 9/11. It opened my eyes to live each day to the fullest, care for those around me and share all that I have and believe in. We are a great country of mixed races, ideas, religions and priorities. For one small moment in time, WE CAME TOGETHER....God does have a plan, I just want to share in the little and the simple things, his teachings are simple enough for a child to understand.