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By Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt

 “There are no words….”.

The comments of a CNN reporter looking towards the Manhattan skyline as a cloud of dust and debris blossomed over the downtown core of the City of New York on the morning of September 11, 2001, were followed by silence. The visual image of the results of one element in a terrorist attack which changed a global pattern of life and relationships needed no further commentary.

Twenty years have passed since that event. Reflecting on that moment of history, the only tool available to me and to so many others is the use of words. How words are used to convey facts, thoughts, concepts, reflections and emotions connected with such a moment of human history is, perhaps, the only way to ensure that those born into a world after 9/11will be able to grasp the truly transformative nature of that moment.  

The lives of people throughout our global village were impacted by the ripple effect caused by the carnage and catastrophe of that day. The immediate loss of life resulting from the plane attacks and crashes in New York City, Washington DC and a Pennsylvanian farmer’s field generated words of anger, retribution and retaliation.

Words fueled calls for action resulting in a war which lasted for decades,  impacting and transforming the lives of an unimaginable number of individuals and families.

We use words creatively to convey our thoughts to others. In spoken or written form, we seek to communicate and to share those ideas and emotions which are on our hearts or in our minds. Sometimes we do so clearly and there is no room for misinterpretation or misunderstanding. At other times, how we use words to express ourselves may lead to disastrous results and broken relationships. 

The use of words allows one generation to pass along to another generation some sense of how life was lived in a different day and age.

There are times when words shape a travelogue of past experience. I can write about having climbed the steeple of the Anglican Cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand (destroyed by earthquake), experienced  an organ concert in Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris (damaged by significant fire), or having stood with my family on the observation deck of the World Trade Center, New York (destroyed by terrorist attack) in a very simple telling of the experiences. It becomes a greater challenge to write about the emotions connected to the loss of those unique places.

Words also serve as the tools of creativity.                                          

Long time ago, in the time before all days before the creation of all things, the Word was there face to face with the Great Spirit. This Word fully represents Creator and shows us who he is and what he is like. He has always been there from the beginning for the Word and Creator are one and the same. Through the Word all things came into being, and not one thing exists that he did not create.                                                  
(Gospel of St John 1: 1 - 3)
“Walking the Good Road - the Gospels and Acts with Ephesians - First Nations Version “ 

As members of a community of faith we use words to offer our praise, submit our prayerful petitions, express our thankfulness and to bring into our own life experience the life, ministry death and resurrection of Jesus. Even the words of Jesus, offered as an expression of Divine Love, are interpreted in many ways. 

Words may also respect a sense of mystery, leaving clarification of meaning to be an individual experience. As her life was the focus of political and religious tension, with her beliefs being put under severe scrutiny, Queen Elizabeth the First expressed her Sacramental devotion using these words:                                        

His was the Word that spake it;                                      
He took the Bread and brake it;                                      
And what His Word doth make it;                                      
That I believe and take it.  

In a world full of words and visual images that seem to bombard our daily lives with no apparent visible means of escape possible, more and more individuals are being drawn towards a pattern of devotion which includes an ample amount of silence. For the Society of Friends, the Quakers, silence has been a key element in their community life and worship. In our own Book of Alternative Services, a rubric offers this simple optional guideline,” A silence for reflection may follow “ (BAS pg.188).

There are moments; moments of global history; moments of awe and wonder; moments of devotion; moments of disaster; moments filled with profound love; when there are no words.     

Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt has retired from full time parish ministry, but continues to offer priestly ministry in the Diocese. 

(Photo: Ged Lawson/Unsplash)