As this issue goes to press, we are a little over three weeks removed from the day terror struck. It has been a time of intense and widespread prayer on both small and grand scales. We hear people constantly talking about faith, about the comfort they find knowing that God hears. Such was a conversation I overheard on 56th Street recently between two young women. It is a common refrain—and should be, because prayer is the most powerful tool we have. Indeed, it can be an instrument of mass (re)construction. There are a number of recently published, and forthcoming, books that may offer solace and clarity during this painful, dark time. Space limitations, unfortunately, allow mention of only a few.
On his seven-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land for the millennium, Pope John Paul II offered words that are worth pondering. At the Mass on the Mount of the Beatitudes, March 24, 2000, he prayed: “[Jesus’] call has always demanded a choice between the two voices competing for your hearts even now on this hill, the choice between good and evil, between life and death. Which voice will the young people of the twenty-first century choose to follow? To put your faith in Jesus means choosing to believe what he says, no matter how strange it may seem, and choosing to reject the claims of evil, no matter how sensible and attractive they may seem.” This prayer is found in Days of Intense Emotion: Praying with Pope John Paul II in the Holy Land by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Robert F. Keeler and Paul Moses, who accompanied the pope (Resurrection Press, 208p, $12.95).
The saints’ writings constitute a deep well from which to draw prayerful guidance. In coping with the tragedies of Sept. 11, we might reflect on the words of St. Basil: “Anger is a kind of temporary insanity.” And the monk Cassian observes, “The emotion of wrath boils over and blinds the eyes of the soul.” The foregoing counsels appear in “Hate the Disease, Not the Patient,” one of 10 chapters in The Saints’ Guide to Making Peace With God, Yourself and Others by Paul Thigpen (Charis/Servant Publications, 147p, $9).
Recent prayer services across the land echoed the theme of trust and hope in God’s eternal love and goodness. But what to do when God seems remote, absent? In Silent Hope: Living With the Mystery of God (Sorin Books, 192p, $12.95), the author John Kirvan writes: “We have to let God lead us into that world of what cannot be understood, defined, or captured in words, where the only possible language is silence, where our only hope is hope itself.” This book of several dozen meditations and prayers is rooted in the teachings of both ancient and modern mystics: Charles de Foucauld, Julian of Norwich, Abraham Joshua Heschel and Kwaja Abdullah Ansari among them. The latter, an 11th-century Islamic mystic, penned these chilling words: “My God, I left behind the whole world to search for you. But you were the whole world, and I could not see it.” If hindsight is any sight at all, would that the band of Mideastern terrorists had sought and followed Ansari’s God.
Coming next month is Dialogues With Silence, a collection of scores of Thomas Merton’s prayers, edited with an introduction by Jonathan Montaldo (HarperSanFrancisco, 208p, $25). They are harvested from published and unpublished works and illustrated with Merton’s drawings from the 1950’s (yes, he was a talented artist). We might raise our voice with him when, from his hermitage, he writes: “...I beg You to teach me to be a man of peace and to help bring peace to the world...to have the patience and courage to suffer for truth.” Or, elsewhere, “If I trust You, everything else will become for me strength, health and support.... If I do not trust you, everything will be my destruction.”
In a spirit of prayer, we at America say to the victims and the heroes in the terrorist assaults: May the road rise to meet you, and may the sun shine warm upon your face.