I never felt so inadequate as I did in the days immediately after September 11, 2001. For a pastor, Sunday is always coming. You know you will need to say some words that represent a truth far beyond your own feelings or opinions. What in the world would I say? I called a mentor in ministry to ask what he would say. Surely he would have some answers for me. But he said he had nothing for me. Just shock and despair for a world so divided by violence.
I remember helping to lead an interfaith prayer vigil that week fifteen years ago. People from many faiths and no faith gathered in a large sanctuary. We invited people to come up and pray with clergy. I will not forget praying with the mayor of our Dallas suburb. He knelt and turned his tear-stained face up to me, eyes full of searching need for God.
I remember the sanctuary was filled to overflowing that Sunday. The people streamed in like it was Christmas Eve and Easter combined, but with no easy holiday spirit in them. We needed to be together, but most of all, we needed something, someone, beyond ourselves to lead us through this national and global storm. The exact words of the sermon I no longer recall. What is emblazoned on my soul from those days is how palpably we all seemed to feel our own inadequacy and how greatly we needed wisdom from beyond ourselves.
I remember that some faith leaders took to the airwaves to pontificate about how God was at work and about who was to blame, as seems to happen when tragedy strikes. I once thought having faith meant having and giving answers: about why things happen, and how God is involved, and what we are supposed to do. Now, however, it seems to that me when we quickly move to our own answers, we miss the authentic relationship with God that comes from raw, humble seeking of wisdom from beyond our own. My mentor was right to refuse to give me borrowed answers. Proverbs chapter 3 says: “Do not be wise in your own eyes. Blessed is the one who seeks wisdom. All her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who embrace her.”
Now that fifteen years have passed, I hope we can still remember what it is to need God.