If you live in the United States after September 11, 2001, and if you are still hoping to bring yourself into a place from which you can continue to live your life in hope and with courage, there are three books you need to read—all of them very small. One, from before The Event, is by Barbara Brown Taylor, and is called When God Is Silent (Cowley, 1998). A second, from immediately afterwards, is by Archbishop Rowan Williams. Its title is Writing in the Dust (Eerdmans, 2001). The third is Barbara Cawthorne Crafton's Mass In Time Of War. Like Archbishop Williams, she was present in New York City (though not quite as close to Ground Zero) on that fatal day. Unlike him, she had to stay on, at her post, her church, St. Clement's, in the Theater District, and with her parishioners in night-long volunteer shifts at St. Paul's Chapel, the refuge and comfort of the police, firefighters, construction workers, and mourners during the long months after.
Why a Mass? Cawthorne poses the question in the first chapter, and answers it only obliquely, as she answers all her and our questions only aslant. A Mass because it sets before us, time after time, the Reason why vengeance is not ours, why our call is to life and the care of the living. Chapter by chapter, Crafton leads us through the familiar parts of the Mass. Introit: a reflection on the restlessness that overcame New Yorkers in the autumn of 2001, the inability to focus, to cherish anything long-term, because . . . well, because. Kyrie: "Why Do They Hate Us?" is a searing short reflection on the wrongs we have inflicted on the Muslim world, and the Palestinians in particular, on our own anti-Semitism, our obscene wealth flung in the face of the world's poverty in the name of "freedom" and "manifest destiny," and our inability to hear that we are not, not always, "America the good."
Gloria was the hardest to write, Crafton says. How to sing "Gloria" amid the ruins? She concludes that the glory the angels sang is inseparable from the peace they proclaimed. To find peace, "you look in the same place you find the glory of God: go where something terrible has happened and look around. Someone is working to make it better. And Someone Else is there" (p. 47).
"Credo: The God We Believe In" reflects on the struggle to come to terms with "a God who would . . ."—the God who, as Rowan Williams says, seems useless in a crisis, a God who is not a genie in a bottle, summoned for our use, and yet loves all that God has made, without discrimination. "Sanctus" tells of St. Paul's Chapel, sketching in brief lines its history, its beauty, its deeper beauty when filled with rescue workers, and the people who cared for them. "Agnus Dei" startles at first: it is about John Walker Lindh, the "American Taliban," the scapegoat. He is like Jesus, she says: not in what he did, but in what we have done to him, making him the stand-in, the one who bears our sins, the repository for our fear and hatred. "Ite, Missa Est" brings us to the end of the Mass, the end of the year: Autumn, 2002. It is a profound reflection on sorrow, and the memory of sorrow, and the going forth of the generations, as memory becomes history and ceases to give pain.
Read this book.