Prepent 5774: Day 35, Finding God in Tragedy
Who shall live and who shall die—and why?
Journey into the High Holidays with Amichai Lau-Lavie, founder of Storahtelling and the spiritual leader of Lab/Shul. It’s a daily dose of inspiration to get you focused and ready for the new year, featuring daily intentions, simple tasks, and tools for living better.
On this day, 12 years ago, I got God.
Our office was evacuated, and I started to run home, stopping on the corner of 5th Avenue and 10th St. I was surrounded by strangers, all of us staring south at the one remaining tower, fear in our faces, hearts racing, minds numb. People covered in ash were already running up the avenue, barefoot and hollow-eyed.
When the second tower toppled, right in front of our eyes, in the midst of that thundering silence, I felt the presence of God. It was greater than anything I had felt or known before.
Not the kind God of my childhood prayers, not the God of grace: I saw Kali, the Hindu Mother of Death, taking life and shocking the world with the force of a furious volcano. I fell to my knees in wordless prayer. I prayed for the safety of loved ones. I asked for courage and consolation for all of us.
I am Jewish, and my faith, like my mythology and spiritual vocabulary, is rooted in the stories of my people. No Goddess of Destruction, skulls around her neck and tongue blood-red with fury, was ever part of my religious education. My father’s Holocaust legacy left us with a charred and tattered theology where nothing made sense of the horror but silence.
But on 9/11, on that street corner, I beheld a mystery that didn’t help make sense of the sheer horror and loss I was witnessing, but filled me with the knowledge that we are not alone—that terrifying knowledge that we’re merely pixels in a picture far bigger than the sum of our many parts. Kali, just one aspect of divinity, lingered like the smoke and the smell for many days to came.
She stayed through the Days of Awe that immediately followed, filled with dread and death and silence. Who shall live and who shall die? Who by fire? Who from fear? And why?
Today I pause on this Prepent journey, just two days before Yom Kippur, to honor the senseless mystery that we call God—unknown but alive in so many elements of our lives, including fear, death, terror, and rage. I pause to remember the tragedy, and affirm the hope of moving forward.
Where’s God in my life when it hurts? Can we honor the horror along with the beauty in life? I light a candle, sit in silence, and embrace the paradox—it’s all I can do.
Follow along with the Scroll’s daily Prepent series here.
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