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    A View from the Pew
    Sunday
    Sep112011

    From the Wreckage, Wondrous Signs

    From the Wreckage, Wondrous Signs

    Last night, my husband Pat and I boarded the train after a few days spent in New York City. We joined a substantial group of travelers, leaving behind us the throngs of people flooding the Big Apple to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers.  The presence of added security that included militia holding rifles, hundreds of police officers with weapons and dogs fed newscasters and reporters who escalated fear with sensationalism throughout the entire week. As we exited Penn Station, we entered one of the train cars with the rush of departing travelers and located two seats on the end of a row. I asked the young man sitting close to the window if he minded switching his seat to the opposite side near a young woman who looked about his age, so that I could sit near Pat. “No problem, as long as she’s fine with that,” he replied, looking at the young woman. “Sure, that’s fine,” she smiled. The young man moved to sit near the young woman. They immediately began a hearty conversation as Pat and I stored our luggage in the overhead apartment and gratefully sat down in adjoining seats. As much as we love Manhattan, we felt no remorse this weekend to leave the clamor of traffic and blocked streets of the city as it prepared to commemorate the events of 9/11.

    As Pat and I chatted, we suddenly heard a loud and very aggravated voice telling us to “Stop talking. This is the Quiet Car. The signs are right in front of you: people don’t read them and don’t pay any attention to them. “A bit stunned, Pat and I looked around us for reactions. The two young people in the seats next to us seemed as surprised as us. The exacerbated voice took on the bodily person of a man punching tickets, still telling people that this car ‘should be as quiet as a library. Whispering is allowed but that’s it.” He punched our tickets and moved on the next row of passengers. I looked around for the sign that intimated that this moving ‘library’ put us all on ‘silence’ – including our cell phones. There it was – the bold blue sign with blocked letters - QUIET CAR, with a finger shushing a faceless mouth on a notice above our heads that included the mandate to “refrain from loud talking or using cell phones in this car.”  Pat and I walked right under the sign and never noticed it. When I walked down the aisle to use the bathroom, I noticed another QUIET CAR sign over my head as I moved down the passageway. All conversation between travelers ceased; this train was on tête-à-tête lockdown. I felt badly for the two young people who seemed to enjoy their mutual exchange as potential new friends. He put his ear buds on and watched a movie on his laptop; she read a book and checked her IPhone for messages. The train car became as silent as the North Room in the NYC Public Library.  

    I wondered about signs and what they reveal to us about ourselves. What do the signs of this post modern culture indicate? Do we read them or avoid them? Do they silence us or prompt us to speak up? Signs direct us, inform us about events, warn us against danger, and indicate a change of climate. Signs can create paradigm shifts in the cultural landscape of a city, nation and the world that include politics, religion, and economics. Does faith play a part in the way that we interpret the signs on our Christian journey? How does our relationship with Jesus make a difference in how we read and understand those signs?

    I continued to ponder these questions when I entered my place of worship this morning, an urban church in downtown Boston. Just beyond the glass wall of the gathering space, my favorite setting of Ubi Caritas by Maurice Duruflé emanated from the choir section. “Where there is charity and love, God is there.” As I listened, I wondered: where do we find that charity – that agape love that is unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, and thoughtful love, the signs of God’s love among us? In his homily, the pastor asked where we might discover fresh signs of hope in the magnanimous mercy of God who meets us within the human wreckage of all of our pain, our hurt, our grieving, our anger, our wrath, our passive aggressive vindictiveness, our indignity at evil and injustice done to us. Can we forgive seventy seven times when we hold onto wrath and anger, as Sirach points out? “Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the LORD? “ (Sirach 27: 30)

    Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est. Out of the wreckage, the wondrous signs of God’s provisional love exist in how we interact with people we like, don’t like at all, those who have used and abused us and those we despise. Challenging stuff, this gospel we follow, but packed with the potential to change hatred to love, violence to peace, injury to pardon, doubt to faith, despair to hope, darkness to light, sadness to joy. Out of the human wreckage of debris, wondrous signs exist all around us because we know and follow Jesus.

    Christ’s peace to you all on this day of remembering.