On the morning of September 11, 2001, Stanley Hauerwas was supposed to give a class lecture. Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School, Hauerwas was named in 2001 as Time magazine’s “Best Theologian in America.” When a graduate student on the morning of 9/11 delivered the awful news that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, Hauerwas found a television. He saw a second plane crashing into a building
Should we cancel class? the graduate student asked Hauerwas.
No, he answered. The least we can do is gather to pray.
Earlier this year, when I read Hauerwas’s memoir, Hannah’s Child, I appreciated many of the prayers Hauerwas had written and prayed before class lectures and other various events. This morning, as I read further about the recent tragic deaths of our American ambassador to Libya and three members of his staff, I’m reminded that the hopes and pleas of Hauerwas’s prayers 11 years ago are still relevant, necessary.
I am saddened both by the cruel violence in Libya as well as the ignorant, inflammatory rhetoric, which has likely served to ignite it.
Today, as on September 11, 2011, it’s most appropriate that we pray. I’ve excerpted lines from three of the prayers Hauerwas prayed after the tragedy of the 9/11.
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Vulnerable – we feel vulnerable, God, and we are not used to feeling vulnerable. We are Americans.
Nor are we used to anyone hating us this much. Such terrible acts. Killing civilians. We are dumfounded. Lost.
We are good people. We are a nation of peace. We do not seek war. We do not seek violence.
Try to help us remember that how we feel may be how the people of Iraq felt when we bombed them [in 1990]. It is hard for us to acknowledge that “we” in “we bombed them.”
What are we to do? We not only feel vulnerable but helpless. We are not sure what to feel except shock, which will quickly turn to anger and even more suddenly to vengeance.
We are Christians. What are we to do as Christians? We know that anger will come to us. It does no good to tell ourselves not to be angry. To try not to be angry just makes us more furious.
You, however, have given us something to do. We can pray, but we wonder for what we can pray. To pray for peace, to pray for the end of hate, to pray for the end of war seems platitudinous at such a time.
Yet when we pray you make us your prayer for the world. So, Lord of peace, make us what you will. This may be one of the first times we have prayed a prayer for peace with an inkling of how frightening it would be for you to grant our prayer. Help us.
It is hard to remember that Jesus did not come to make us safe, but rather he came to make us disciples, citizens of your new age, a kingdom of surprise.
If we are able to acknowledge such evil and still know how to go on, we will do so only by clinging to the cross of Christ.