upper room daily devotions

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Violence, 9/11, and Requiem

I love the music written for Requiem Masses. Emotive, dynamic, and compelling, the music moves the listener through a journey of deep spiritual mourning. A Requiem, or Eucharist for the Departed, is known as it is because of the first word of the Introit: “Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine” (“Give them eternal rest, O Lord”). The word "requiem" simply means "rest" or "repose." A Requiem Mass is celebrated to bring rest or repose to those who have died. It is a gorgeous and mystical service.

As we move closer to the 10th anniversary of the horrendous acts of September 11, I have begun to think of the music from several of the great Requiem Masses. The horror of that day draws us to pray for the thousands who died, for their families, for the cities that were caught in terror, for our nation that was paralyzed by fear and has struggled with it ever since, and for the world that has changed in the aftermath. We pray for the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, who have felt the brunt of the US response. We pray for thousands of US soldiers who have lost their lives and for those whose lives have been forever changed. We pray for the children of the world; children are always the ones most affected by war, poverty, and violence.

In one way, not much changed after September 11. Terrorist attacks and violence - even devastating violence - have always been a part of human culture. Planes have been hijacked. Bombs have been set off in public spaces. In the rush to remember September 11, 2001, many people forget about the 1993 attempt to bring down the World Trade Center. Even the use of mass transportation, including planes, for one's violent means has been around for a long time. Whether one speaks of IRA attacks in England, Timothy McVeigh's bombing in Oklahoma City, the 1988 Libyan bomb on Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland, the 1968 Palestinian hijacking of an El Al flight from Rome,the 1995 Subway Sarin Incident in Tokyo, the 1991 Luby's massacre in Killeen (TX), the 2007 mass shooting at VA Tech, or any other number of incidents, political minorities, fringe groups, and crazy people have been directing their rage at others to deadly effect for a very long time.

Over and against terrorism exists tyranny, which occurs when the state misuses its power in order to oppress or suppress a people. Tyranny always relies upon violence and its threat. Tyrannical regimes and governments have been recorded since the beginning of human history. Ethnic, tribal, and religious strife is neither new nor creative. Whether one speaks of a Pol Pot, Alexander the Great, genocidal Bosnian Momčilo Krajišnik, Leopold II of Belgium, or many other despots, the state can be a force of evil, violence, murder, and terror. Forced disappearance has been used in many countries, most notably Argentina, to remove people through abduction and violence in order to stop them from challenging the government. Tyranny is at the heart of my own faith story. When Jesus was crucified on a cross, it was an act of the state to silence a troublesome leader. This type of execution served to keep an oppressed people in an occupied land from rising up against their oppressors. Rome publicly crucified people and allowed their corpses to hang in public view to discourage others who might find rebellion or revolution an appealing idea. Not terrorism proper as it was enacted by the government, terror-inducing it certainly was by terrifying those who longed for freedom to remain quiet, afraid, and under the rule of tyranny.

The difference between a group rising up against a tyrannical power and terrorism can sometimes become muddled. One group's resistance fighter is another's terrorist. One country's claim to stability may be at the expense of a vulnerable minority.

Even though violence wasn't introduced into the world on September 11, 2001, something earth shaking did occur. In addition to great human loss, on that day ten years ago, the American sensibility of invincibility and permanence was significantly challenged, and it was deeply shaken. The surprising thing was that this sensibility was not only held by Americans. Much of the world looked at the United States as a privileged country. Physically removed from its enemies, economically and militarily unchallengeable, technologically advanced, and politically stable, it was difficult to imagine a different America. The natural response to this shaken sense of belonging was to declare that terrorism on American soil would never happen again (which, of course, it can and has). The government passed laws and initiated processes to ensure that nothing like the horror of September 11 would ever be permitted again. This deep desire for certitude and safety in a changing and unsafe world led to several acts of public theater, including but not limited to the removal of shoes and full body scans at airports and colored terror scales. Such folly resulted in two things: First, it kept a level of terror alive within the nation. This ongoing hum of terror-whitenoise prevented necessary real and deep mourning, and communal healing became almost impossible. And, second, it served no real purpose in saving lives. The government certainly did many things and instituted many processes for the protection of the country (more than 30 potential plots were thwarted), but in the midst of the rush to invincibility and certitude, the government also spied on Quaker meetings, put people who disagreed with the government on the No Fly List, and tapped our phones. Moreover, the Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost us much more than the billions of dollars that we have lost from our Treasury. They have cost us the precious blood spilled from our children, spouses, and family members. They have cost us our ideals, our hope, and our identity. September 11 changed us by making us a country bound by fear.

On this 10th Anniversary of September 11, I am thinking about the power of the Requiem to move us through an experience of not just "remembering" (we have done a decade of that), but of honest and real mourning, of finding rest and repose. Requiem invites us to sing and pray for rest and repose for the individuals who died in the towers and on the planes. We sing and pray for rest and repose for those who have died in the wars that were waged on behalf of the ones who died in the towers and on the planes. Because o
ur fractious government no longer even pretends to seek governance for all (only power for a few and comfort for those who are already comfortable), we sing and pray for our nation's government that has died to its duty to a common good. We also sing and pray for rest and repose for all our whole world, which has lost its sense of neighborliness, trust, and commonality.

The world has never been a peaceful place. To imagine it so would be to ignore the many other losses, deaths, and suffering that have occurred throughout the world. I think this makes the Requiem even more needed now. Its Christological language is the heart language of my soul and my tradition, but a Requiem need not be exclusive for Christians; it is a human cry for rest and repose. We all die a little when we lose the idea of living lives shared with one another and embarked upon lives known only through war, greed, and victory.

Today I hear the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's (1756-1791) Requiem, K. 626, his final composition. It was left unfinished at his death.

Lacrymosa dies illa, qua resurget ex favilla, judicandus homo reus. Huic ergo parce, Deus. Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem. Amen.

O how tearful that day, on which the guilty man shall rise from the ashes to be judged. Spare him then, O God. Merciful Lord Jesus, grant them rest.

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