Years ago, most Americans watched the twin-towers fall, again and yet again. This was 9-11 and network television replayed the terrorist attacks so many times. It was horrifying, and we suffered, a kind of national PTSD. As a country, we tried to “tackle” the Middle East and discovered our nightmares didn’t go away. For years that followed, we started looking at foreigners as a threat, especially if they were Muslim. We stopped trying to understand. In part because of the media, we translated secular anxiety into religious isolation.
Not much later, a Catholic priest gave his congregation another way to see. He taught not from television but from timeless faith. Father Ray Moss told his congregation to look up. He said something like this: “Imagine each religion is like people with a telescope, looking at the stars. Perhaps Christians are looking at the Milky Way. Perhaps Jews are looking at the Big Dipper. Perhaps Muslims are looking at the star beside the moon.” Father Moss said: “Each religion is looking UP to God, but what they see shows them a different view. God is vast and each religion, in its own way, is trying to religion can reach for the stars.”
But, tragedy lasts a long time in our hearts and in our memories. Now, it feels like we’ve forgotten tolerance and become more afraid. We want security in a world that has no walls.
However, we do have another choice — to look at our fear and transform its shadow into understanding. We can try to see what science teaches — that we are connected across the lines of time and space. And, we can try to see what all religions teach — ”Look up at the great expanse of Mystery. And, look after all those who are in pain.” In other words, we can honor our human connection and start looking for common ground. It is a small world, after all.
Such was the wisdom of Lauren Thompson who wanted her son to feel safe again. So, this mother, from Brooklyn, wrote a book called “Hope is an Open Heart. “She found children who had survived tragedies and showed their stories to her son. Lauren wrote “While bad things happen, the world is nonetheless a good place to be.” Children around the world taught her that “Hope is knowing that things change — and that we can help things to change for the better.”
After warfare in East Timor, the children saw “Hope is a candle flame in the dark.”
Even from strife in Sri Lanka, the children knew “Hope is a heart that is open to the world around you.”
And from anxiety on this side of the Atlantic, children learned “Hope is remembering that you are not alone.”
Rev. Dr. Sally Palmer is a religious studies adjunct professor at the University of Wyoming and the former pastor of St. Paul’s United Church.