Reflection Upon the Tragedy That is Today
John Thornburg
Adjunct Instructor in Preaching
Perkins School of Theology
Southern Methodist University
Dallas, TX


The Lord is my Shepherd.  I lack nothing.


That?s the modern way of saying ?I shall not want.?  I lack nothing.  I have what I need.


Except I don?t have what I need today.  I need to feel that the world doesn?t have people in it who stab innocent flight attendants and then turn jet airliners into weapons of mass destruction.


I need to feel that when I look into the blue sky of an early autumn morning, I won?t see the sky lit up with the flames generated by 24,000 gallons of jet fuel.


He makes me lie down in green pastures.


How I long to slip my shoes off and walk in the gentle coolness of clover and fescue.  How I long to smell that peculiar, wondrous smell of freshly mown grass.  And what I see instead is a meadow gauged deeply by the nose of another jet airliner.  And I hear the screams of those inside, and see the blood upon seat 15F.  And I imagine the unimaginable...what it is like to be the captain of such a plane.  ?Take this plane and fly it into the Capitol Building or I will kill these passengers one by one in your sight, and if you don?t, then I will give instruction for your wife and children to be slaughtered.? 


He leads me beside still waters.


How I long for a cool drink of water to refresh me on this late summer day, and to splash some upon my forehead, or even offer some of it to my young daughter.  And what I see instead is debris from a burning building floating in the great river that runs alongside Manhattan Island.  I see the Hudson on fire.  I see the water mixed with soot that fills the gutters of a 10 block area.  I see the water which exhausted fire fighters use to douse themselves and to clean off at least one layer of the muddy soot upon their faces.


He restores my soul.


I long for a moment of sanity.. a reminder that not all of the world is like this.. that there is a patch of peace somewhere, a corner of comfort, a sidewalk of serenity, a ribbon of relief.  And I see something like that.  I see the courage of the rescuers, I see the determination of the police, I see the look in the eyes of the fire fighters that says ?I am called to do this? even as they walk to their death.


Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil..


But that?s just it.  I?m not the one walking through the shadow of death.  They are.  The rescuers, the police, the fire fighters, the paramedics.  And here I sit..1800 miles away and all I have to offer is blood and money.  But I offer it, because the point is that THEY ARE walking through the valley of the shadow of death, and they need my blood.


For thou art with me...


I know you are.  It would be overwhelming otherwise.  It would be a tunnel with no end.  It would be a parachute jump without a chute.  It would be death without any resurrection.


Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.


I?m about to get into a place where depression could eat me from the inside out.  I could just hole up, decide that there?s nothing I can do about such invincible evil.  I could just go ahead with my ?if it?s Tuesday I go to IHOP? existence, as though thousands of people dying is the way it?s supposed to be.  And then when I?m about to actually walk that path, you use the staff of your grace and mercy to guide me back to the path of sanity..that even though today seems like what hell must be like, heaven is still in view. Because those fire fighters are fighting off hell, and those dispatchers are fighting off hell, and those nurses who haven?t gotten any sleep in days, and those TV reporters who keep the camera going even when it means they might get hurt.  They are the front line against hell.  Your rod and your staff are making them strong, and hell?s fury  is being restrained.    


You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies..


You, God, are on the front lines.  The Red Cross sets up the table and puts out the food for the wounded and the bewildered, those who are numb and those who are furious.  And it is your table.  You are the host.  And whoever did this monstrosity looks on and say, ?Just die now, you fools.  Just die!!?  And because it is your table, because you sustain us in the midst of this glimpse of hell, we look up and say, ?Not just now, we?re eating.?


You anoint my head with oil.


And when the doctors debreed the burned flesh of the hundreds who walked through flame, and when the nurses gently dress and bandage the wounds, and when Dallas blood flows into the veins of a New Yorker, the oil of your mercy flows like the great river..the one which a few hours ago was aflame with pieces of a burning building.


O God, O God, we do not know why.  We will never know why.  But we know this..


you make us lie down in green pastures..

you lead us beside still waters..

you restore even these tragedy worn souls.


John Thornburg