Eleven years ago, today, the world changed before our eyes.
No longer would we hug our loved-ones goodbye at the gate to their flight. Never again would we so easily assume our nation to be invincible.
Another beautiful Tuesday, eleven Septembers ago, I still remember clearly the confusion of the day. The rumors of unbelievable things that swept through the halls of my middle school as the principal refused to allow teachers to turn on the televisions. We weren’t to learn the extent of the tragedies unfolding until we were safely at home, in the care of our parents. Perhaps it was a wise decision on Mrs. Poe’s part, but, in truth, it only added to the uncertainty and fear swirling around us.
It was on that day eleven years ago that I began to ask some of the larger questions that we fragile beings can ask… questions of faith, questions of doubt, and questions for some sort of certainty in the midst of near-deafening confusion.
The slack jaws and hollow stares on television screens. The flags in the streets. The accusations on the radio. The tears in the eyes of the broken. The endless replays, replays, replays… infinite loops of death and destruction…
It was too much for one thirteen year-old boy with no foundation.
I was swept away.
It was in this time that I sought something beyond myself for comfort, for stability, for peace.
Though I had grown up with some assumption of higher power, I had never truly looked for God anywhere, or even spent much time talking to him more than to ask him for a few things and then hang up (Come to think of it, sometimes it doesn’t seem like much has changed).
This was, in earnest, the beginning of my walk with God.
Born of confusion, fear, and uncertainty though it may have been. Tragedy gave birth to seeking, and seeking gave birth to faith.
Over the next few years, the Lord led me into relationships with people who would introduce me to a world of faith and ancient literature with which I had been almost entirely unacquainted previously. I was ferociously discovering the story of God, and, for the first time in my life, it seemed like it mattered.
It’s hard to believe it has now been over a decade since my faith journey truly began.
In that time, I have learned to hate, I have learned to judge, I have defended the gospel of legalism and the gospel of conservatism, I have learned how to talk-over and out-wit those who disagreed with me. This was my apologetic. This was my attempt to defend God… because I still thought he needed my help.
Then I learned how to be a perfect Christian. Cursing, drinking, smoking, kissing too much, and attending church too little had become the cardinal sins. I did my best to make sure no one appeared squeakier and cleaner than “Super-Christian Jesse Baker,” so that they may see and come to know the Light and find hope in Jesus. It didn’t matter that I struggled very seriously with a foul sense of humor, self-doubt, and a level of sarcasm that practically eliminated any chance of deep and meaningful relationships with my peers. I thought I had packaged my God for the selling, and anybody who wasn’t buying was likely hell-bound anyhow.
Later, I attended a university that wouldn’t settle for my packaged-and-sold version of Jesus, and my mentors, peers, and reading list simply would not allow me to remain the same version of myself I had strutted onto campus in the fall of ’06 (We should all thank God for that season of humbling in my life).
So much has happened since then, but this time of year always causes me to reflect on the infancy and budding adolescence of my faith since September 11, 2001.
My journey over the last eleven years has hardly been extensive. I am not an old man… in fact, I’m only barely a man yet at all (my beard being the only true signifier of actual manhood). I recognize that the decade-long reflections of a twenty-four year old may go as quickly as they come as life rattles my bones. However, it is astounding to me today to reflect back eleven years to an afternoon just like this one…
Barely a cloud in the sky, I was walking the fairways of Bluegrass Country Club during my brother’s golf match against Riverdale, asking my mother questions about what it all meant, wondering what was going to happen next… all with a heavy pit in my stomach, and an awareness, even in my youth, of the magnitude of what had happened… It was as big a turning-point in my life as I can remember.
I praise God that he found me in the midst of such confusion and doubt. I praise him that he found me when I didn’t even know to seek. I’m amazed at him that he would place me amongst such incredible people at such a delicate time in the formation of my spirituality.
I praise God that he continues to lift life out of those ashes and flames.
Each day, I know that he is redeeming the irredeemable, and reviving the lifeless. I am a testament to his unfailing wisdom and grace, and, for that, I am thankful today.
‘So, may the Lord make us instruments of his peace. Where there is hatred and violence, let us learn to sow peace and love; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.
And let us not seek so much to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in our forgiving that we find forgiveness, and it is only through death that we may be born again.’
*Paraphrase of the Prayer of St. Francis