This coming Sunday, March 10, CBS plans to air a two-hour special featuring footage that's never been seen of the attack on the World Trade Center. In an unusual coincidence, on Sept. 11 a documentary crew already was at work in Manhattan on a piece about New York City firefighters. They caught on tape the plane flying into the north tower, the first tower struck. They also caught many dramatic moments of carnage. Some of the footage is from inside the towers.
Even before its airing, the special stirs controversy. Relatives of those lost on Sept. 11 argue that the special will re-traumatize them, reminding them all too vividly of images they want to forget. Several of those relatives mounted a campaign to persuade CBS not to use the new footage of atrocities.
Generally speaking, when a filmmaker has ratings-grabbing footage of a controversial nature, he or she goes through a certain amount of public hand-wringing over the question, Do I have an obligation, a public duty to show the material? They often manage to reluctantly conclude that they do, and the footage is aired, and the ratings are grabbed. There's no reason to look for a different outcome here. Larry Grossman, former president of NBC News, offered a balanced summary from a newsperson's perspective. "It's a wrenching decision. Are you doing it to exploit an event because you have [the footage] or are you doing it as a public service? The answer is probably both" (The Boston Globe, Feb. 21).
Whether you plan to view the program or not, questions remain concerning what we see, what we need to see, and how we respond.
The Bible's book of Job directs our gaze considerably higher than even the top of the World Trade Center once would have. "Look unto the heavens, and see; and behold the clouds which are higher than thou.... Remember that thou magnify his [God's] work, which men behold. Every man may see it; man may behold it afar off" (35:5; 36:24, 25).
We all need to see - and already have within us the capacity to behold - more of God's work. Sometimes, as Job implies, we get hints of that through scenes from nature - looking to the heavens, beholding the clouds or taking in some other scene of exquisite peace and beauty. For many, such scenes awaken an inner awareness of a higher power, a divine intelligence and creator.
But, of course, there's so much more to see of God's work than even all of nature suggests. God's greatest work - even greater than the clouds or the Grand Canyon, or the Galápagos - is us. In the aftermath of 9/11, we all saw, or at least heard of, countless instances of firefighter helping victim, stranger helping stranger. And in every instance, whether the individuals were religious or not, spiritual facts were in play. This fact, for instance: man, including male and female, is the work of God and does the work of God. Every time you or I or anyone reaches out to help, to forward the ongoing healing efforts connected with 9/11, that's doing the work of God. Whether the help is of an overtly religious nature or not makes no difference.
Acts of unselfed love, of courage, of patience, of goodness, practically expressed - acts that in small degree echo the healing message of Christ Jesus' ministry - all derive from the Divine, even though they're performed by us.
Yet it's not quite enough for this to be true. We have to see and understand it to be true. Then we find more than human energy powering our endeavors. We find still more endurance, more capacity, to do yet more problem solving, more selfless loving.
As we learn to behold the work of God - the evidence of divine Life expressing itself endlessly - we're also able, when necessary, to look straight at the worst atrocities without fear or morbid fascination. Those scenes lose their power to traumatize us. We begin to glimpse solutions, healing actions to take in response to those horrible scenes.
Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy once wrote, "Each successive stage of experience unfolds new views of divine goodness and love. ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 66). We need to see and can see those new views - and then act on them in ways that help and heal.