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Published: Tuesday, 10/2/2001

A higher power takes center stage

Suddenly, God is getting a lot of attention.

He - forget the gender argument - is front and center practically everywhere, and not just in the church, synagogue, or mosque, but also in the public square.

People who never or rarely go to houses of worship are showing up there because they, too, were frightened by the terrorist attack and are very worried about what lies ahead for our nation. Maybe they figure this is a problem that not even we mighty Americans can handle alone.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, people wanted consolation. Most realized that the next person was equally as vulnerable. That explains the numerous cries for assistance from a higher power.

But talk about a reality check. The catastrophe forced us to put things into perspective. One minute everybody was talking about what now are mostly trivial issues by comparison. We woke up on Sept. 11 to headlines about the President's economic policies putting Social Security at risk, about political races, and about frogs with waterspouts in Toledo parks.

By day's end, nobody could see the end of our collective grief. By week's end, headlines in newspapers nationwide blared a word that still is challenged in public schools and other public settings: prayer.

But all of a sudden it was very important for the nation to see the President - who called for Friday, Sept. 14 to be a “National Day of Prayer and Remembrance” - sitting with his father, President George H.W. Bush at Washington National Cathedral. Nobody said anything malicious about former President Bill Clinton sitting with them, or about former Presidents Carter and Ford or former Vice President Al Gore, who were two rows behind the President.

What an example of setting aside differences following the tragedy. Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, Imam of the Islamic Society of North America, and Rabbi Joshua Haberman were in attendance at National Cathedral, too.

One or another version of that scene was repeated again and again. Christians and Muslims linked arms around this area's Islamic Center and prayed. That was impressive and moving. College students got together for prayer, and even public school students wanted to gather for student-led prayer sessions.

Nobody cared that other public grounds were the site of similar events. Locally, more than 700 people went to the memorial service at Government Center, then to an ecumenical service at Promenade Park, where religious leaders urged them to pray and to be patient.

Similar scenes occurred across the country. At our neighboring major city to the east, nobody tried to stop or kick the worshipers out of Cleveland's Public Square.

How odd. One minute nobody was talking much at all about God. Then suddenly people are calling for him - and not to say his name in vain, either. Instead of fretting about the market's ups and downs, we were freaked out about if and where there would be another attack. Many knew they needed God's help in order to cope.

Some say it's merely that people wanted to be with others at a time of difficulty. But this was different. These prayer services with Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others were heartfelt cries for God's help.

Of course, Americans understand that our enemies also call on God. But those people don't fairly represent their faith. They are a fringe version of their more compassionate, peaceful brethren.

Must we now worry about church and state running off to wed? I don't think so. Admittedly, though, it has been nice not hearing the din of the ACLU. The individuals and groups who gathered to pray did so voluntarily. Nobody forced them, and not even the ACLU can prevent anyone, the President and the rest of us, from asking God for guidance and comfort.

Rose Russell is a Blade associate editor.



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