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Writing in the Dust: After September 11

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On September 11, 2001, Rowan Williams, the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, was at Trinity Church, Wall Street, just two blocks from the World Trade Center. Trapped by dust and debris as the terrible events of that morning unfolded, Williams offered encouragement and prayer to those around him. Soon after, he wrote this small, poignant reflection on the meaning of On September 11, 2001, Rowan Williams, the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, was at Trinity Church, Wall Street, just two blocks from the World Trade Center. Trapped by dust and debris as the terrible events of that morning unfolded, Williams offered encouragement and prayer to those around him. Soon after, he wrote this small, poignant reflection on the meaning of that horrific day. This is not a book of academic theology or a program for action. Rather, it is one person's heartfelt attempt to find words for the grief, shock, and loss following one of America's darkest days. It is also an effort to find wisdom for the days ahead. Newly available in paperback, Writing in the Dust offers spiritual direction to all who struggle to discern how faith might begin to think and feel its way through the nightmare.


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On September 11, 2001, Rowan Williams, the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, was at Trinity Church, Wall Street, just two blocks from the World Trade Center. Trapped by dust and debris as the terrible events of that morning unfolded, Williams offered encouragement and prayer to those around him. Soon after, he wrote this small, poignant reflection on the meaning of On September 11, 2001, Rowan Williams, the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, was at Trinity Church, Wall Street, just two blocks from the World Trade Center. Trapped by dust and debris as the terrible events of that morning unfolded, Williams offered encouragement and prayer to those around him. Soon after, he wrote this small, poignant reflection on the meaning of that horrific day. This is not a book of academic theology or a program for action. Rather, it is one person's heartfelt attempt to find words for the grief, shock, and loss following one of America's darkest days. It is also an effort to find wisdom for the days ahead. Newly available in paperback, Writing in the Dust offers spiritual direction to all who struggle to discern how faith might begin to think and feel its way through the nightmare.

30 review for Writing in the Dust: After September 11

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Williams was in New York City on 9/11, just a few blocks from the World Trade Center. When the planes hit and the air filled with dust and smoke, what could this man of the cloth do? The same as everyone else: quickly evacuate the building, ensure that everyone was safe, and then watch, listen, and pray. And in the months that followed he thought about what he’d seen that day, what his experience had taught him about violence, peacemaking, and the ways of God. There is such profound wisdom in thi Williams was in New York City on 9/11, just a few blocks from the World Trade Center. When the planes hit and the air filled with dust and smoke, what could this man of the cloth do? The same as everyone else: quickly evacuate the building, ensure that everyone was safe, and then watch, listen, and pray. And in the months that followed he thought about what he’d seen that day, what his experience had taught him about violence, peacemaking, and the ways of God. There is such profound wisdom in this diminutive tract (it’s not even 80 pages long) that I read it twice over. Writing well before military action against Iraq began, Williams cautions against responding in a simple spirit of retribution. We have the freedom to choose how we will react, he insists, and rather than allowing a natural vengefulness to take hold, we can look for ways of changing a culture of hatred and violence – of understanding Muslim rage and working toward peaceful solutions. But prophets’ words are never welcome, and time has, of course, shown that Western policies of retaliation only make things worse. Still, this essay is not idealistic claptrap; it is essential reading for every citizen of a globalized society, with timely warnings about how we use language to create enemies. It is also, for those of a spiritual bent, a frank discussion of theodicy – the theological attempt to justify the ways of God to man. Can we justify God’s absence and inactivity – or is God, in fact, not the comprehensible, interventionist being we so often assume? Rather, Williams argues, “That God has made a world into which he doesn’t casually step in to solve problems is fairly central to a lot of Christian faith.” Here are a few more of Williams’s inspirational words: “We could refuse to be victims, striking back without imagination. The hardest thing in the world is to know how to act so as to make the difference that can be made; to know how and why that differs from the act that only releases or expresses the basic impotence of resentment.” I can’t recommend this essay highly enough; think of it as training in how to face head-on our fear and suspicion, but then transcend them. (This formed part of my article on 9/11 literature at Bookkaholic.)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lawrence

    I remember exactly where I was on September 11, 2001. But I did not know till just now that Rowan William, Archbishop of Canterbury, was practically at Ground Zero. Out of the trauma, he has created this book of personal meditations. I think his purpose was twofold: (1) to help himself cope and (2) to be a pastor to others, sometimes saying what we might not want to hear. I do not find Rowan Williams easy to read. But a slow read of this book was fruitful for me. In the book, the Archbishop refle I remember exactly where I was on September 11, 2001. But I did not know till just now that Rowan William, Archbishop of Canterbury, was practically at Ground Zero. Out of the trauma, he has created this book of personal meditations. I think his purpose was twofold: (1) to help himself cope and (2) to be a pastor to others, sometimes saying what we might not want to hear. I do not find Rowan Williams easy to read. But a slow read of this book was fruitful for me. In the book, the Archbishop reflects on religious language (e.g., the dreadful, dense language of the terrorists that provides religious reasons for killing others) and language in the "breathing space" (e.g., the simple, uncomplicated cell phone messages of love to family from those about to die on 9/11). He discusses what might be an appropriate response to the brutality and carries the reader into a pastoral analysis of meaning and effect of turning the other cheek. He reflects on the loss or end of traditional concepts of war and worries about a response that is no more than an unthinking need for release. He mourns lost opportunities and warns about objectification of others in the Muslim world. He reminds us that, ultimately, destruction, anguish, and death are visited upon persons each of whom personally suffers. He teaches that symbols and ideology never suffer like that and that it is important not to take persons as symbols. I think this is a book that took courage and is a witness to the integrity of one of the foremost religious leaders of the West.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    Might be five stars -- I need to read it again. Essential reading for the re-arrangement of the furniture in one's head.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    A concise and succinct but profound and carefully-thoughtful exploration of deep loss, pain and grief and the most appropriate way for Christians to respond to the questions of sufferers in the immediate, raw emotional aftermath of tragedy. He also specifically applies his response to the particular tragedy of 9/11 and tells us how he responded as one who was there on the day. Dr Williams is insightful but humble and meek in his wise approach. He does not try to explain away or justify suffering A concise and succinct but profound and carefully-thoughtful exploration of deep loss, pain and grief and the most appropriate way for Christians to respond to the questions of sufferers in the immediate, raw emotional aftermath of tragedy. He also specifically applies his response to the particular tragedy of 9/11 and tells us how he responded as one who was there on the day. Dr Williams is insightful but humble and meek in his wise approach. He does not try to explain away or justify suffering, but instead convincingly grapples and wrestles with the constant dynamic tension within which the real presence of the parasitic evil and an infinitely loving, immanent God both simultaneously exist. He seeks to expound upon the mystery and explore it from multiple angles and perspectives while also carefully refuting the arguments of the small but loud and vocal minority of militant atheists who publicly prey upon and exploit the suffering of Christians to try to demonstrate that God does not exist. It was so gripping that I read it in a one sitting.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Linda M.

    This was a difficult book to read. It is difficult because Rowan Williams offers a different way of looking at the events of 9/11. It is a book that you need to study on many of the things he said. It isn't a book that one reads rapidly. I would like to include the words that Stanley Hauerwas of Duke Divinity School that were on the back of the book. He said, "As Williams tells us, these words, written in the dust, are destined to be blown away. But even if that is true, they are words that give This was a difficult book to read. It is difficult because Rowan Williams offers a different way of looking at the events of 9/11. It is a book that you need to study on many of the things he said. It isn't a book that one reads rapidly. I would like to include the words that Stanley Hauerwas of Duke Divinity School that were on the back of the book. He said, "As Williams tells us, these words, written in the dust, are destined to be blown away. But even if that is true, they are words that give life." We must be like Jesus and the woman in adultery in the Gospel of John. When she is accused, Jesus didn't reply, but writes in the dust with his finger. He gives everyone a chance to see themselves differently. Amen!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ben Thompson

    This can be read in a day, but I have left it out on my desk. I have found myself flipping through the pages and rereading random passages. I plan to keep this book at an arms reach for quite a while.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Trey Kennedy

    William’s book was a great help in reflecting and dealing with the aftermath of 9/11. A thoughtful, reflective, and pastoral read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer F

    Much shorter than I expected.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

    Some powerful thoughts mixed in with what now feel like very basic ideas - I imagine this was much more thought-provoking at the time of publication.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Dana Larose

    I heard of this one a million years ago when Rowan Williams (the soon to retire Archbishop of Canterbury) was being interviewed about a year after 9/11. I can't recall many of the details now, but I remember being struck by how humble and thoughtful he was. I'd meant to pick this book up for ages, but finally a little while back I was ordering some books from Powells, remember it, and added it to my order. Read it yesterday (at 80 pages it's more of a long essay than a book). I had expected it mo I heard of this one a million years ago when Rowan Williams (the soon to retire Archbishop of Canterbury) was being interviewed about a year after 9/11. I can't recall many of the details now, but I remember being struck by how humble and thoughtful he was. I'd meant to pick this book up for ages, but finally a little while back I was ordering some books from Powells, remember it, and added it to my order. Read it yesterday (at 80 pages it's more of a long essay than a book). I had expected it more to be a statement on how someone might reconcile their faith with something as horrific as the World Trade Centre attacks, but it's more his thoughts (from a Christian perspective) on how Western nations might respond to something like this. I suppose the tl;dr would be: compassion, thoughtfulness and pausing to think as a society before we respond with violence.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    I don't exactly remember what I was expecting from this book; but I remember finishing it knowing that I got nothing I expected, and felt bad expecting it. Writing in the Dust is an honest attempt to sort out the tragedies of 9-11, in all of its confusion and messiness, from a leading religious figure. I suspect it would do us all good if more religious leaders wrote this type of book, and we read them

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jim Collett

  13. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

  14. 4 out of 5

    Charles

  15. 5 out of 5

    Eric Liles

  16. 5 out of 5

    SR

  17. 5 out of 5

    Siwan Sloman

  18. 5 out of 5

    Agusrachmat

  19. 4 out of 5

    Catharine

  20. 5 out of 5

    Gregory

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ann Van Hine

  22. 4 out of 5

    Brian

  23. 5 out of 5

    Carrie Slade

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jason

  25. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Philip

  26. 5 out of 5

    James Easter

  27. 4 out of 5

    Evelyn Vasquez

  28. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Maccallum

  29. 5 out of 5

    Robert Heckner

  30. 4 out of 5

    Deviousfairie

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