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The Heart of Ground Zero

in Spiritual Practice, Travel


On my fourth day in the city I met up with our native New Yorker, Debbie, who took Valerie (from California) and Janet (from Pennsylvania) and me to a real New York City diner for breakfast. She also initiated the three of us into the Mysteries of the Subway, and we took the train down to the World Trade Towers site.

We emerged from the subway onto a wide cement area that used to be the mezzanine of the World Trade Center, according to Debbie. The site itself is not as shocking as I had expected. All the rubble of the devastation of September 11th has been cleared away, and it looks like a huge construction site enclosed by a metal fence. There are signs everywhere asking people not to leave notes or messages or anything, so I was disappointed I could not leave my island cedar and beach glass as offerings. But Valerie had brought a loose mixture of tobacco and sage and sweetgrass, so we blew that, with a prayer, through the chain link fence and into the site.

We wandered across the street to old St Paul’s Chapel, which dates from 1766 and was a center for rescue workers after 9/11. That chapel seems to be where the “heart” of 9/11 now resides. It is not large — about the size of our island church — and the outer aisleways are filled with memorabilia and shrines to the people that died, especially the rescue workers. Being inside the chapel was very moving. Colorful banners bearing messages of love and peace from people all over the world brightened the walls. We sat in the pews and prayed, knowing we were privileged to visit holy ground.

We were just about to leave when a young woman said they were about to have a prayer service that they only did once a day, and would we like to stay for it? Yes, we would. So we went back in and sat down. The young woman, her skin a lovely caramel color, was calm and self-possessed and stood in the pulpit as if she were born to it — a true priestess of New York. She explained that the church bells would toll four sets of five rings each, which is the traditional firemen’s tribute to a fallen comrade. She asked us to pray as the bells tolled, for everyone who died during 9/11, for all victims of terrorists everywhere, for our armed forces in Iraq, for the people of Iraq, and for peace throughout the world.

There was a full, weighty silence in the church, as thirty or so of us listened to the bells and prayed, each in her or his own way. We then said the prayer of St Francis together — you know the one, “Where there is hatred, let me sow love . . .” But the lay preacher (the priestess, as I call her) was very respectful of other religious traditions and pointed out all the other prayers in the booklet, including a Buddhist one, a Native American one, a Baha’i one and more. It was wonderful to feel included and not alienated by the service. She then encouraged us to reach out to those around us. I shook hands with two gentlemen on my left, and then the three of us women held each other and cried.

We were very grateful that Serendipity had led us to be there at just the right time.

Thoughtful, sparkling comments. . .

  • Tracie Sat - May 15th 2004 9:13 am

    I would like to see that chapel.