After the tragedy - Prayers for our nation

As the sun rises on another day, the unbelievable tragedy of the terrorist attacks Tuesday in New York and Washington still has a surreal quality. We've seen the images. We've heard and read the reports of unprecedented human devastation on American soil.

But we're left with the emptiness that comes from being so helpless in such situations.

For most of the United States -- and certainly for Southeast Missouri -- the contrast of the deep blue skies of a mild September day against the billowing, angry smoke of commercial airliners crushed into large buildings is all but impossible to assimilate.

For many, the first concern is for loved ones and friends who might have been victims. Still others feel the impact of not being able to travel by plane as the continent's air traffic was brought to a standstill. Those with military ties wonder what the future might hold as the nation acts to protect our shores and strike back at those responsible for the attacks.

And questions -- there are so many questions with so few answers.

Who would do something like this?

Why did so many innocent people have to die?

Will it happen again?

In other parts of the world, terrorism has become the stock in trade of political disputes large and small. Americans have tasted terrorism in doses administered by individuals whose warped views result in a blown-up federal building or dead and maimed recipients of letter bombs or bloody corpses of children -- our children! -- lying in the halls of schoolhouses across the nation. But terrorist attacks of the magnitude of Tuesday's devastation have never happened here, even though they have been mightily feared and widely warned of.

The impulse to strike back is stronger than any other human urge. But, to compound the sense of desperation, we don't know where to hit back. It is easy to pick an enemy, but is it the right one? And if we take military action, how many innocent people will die or suffer from our retaliation?

Amid the overwhelming sea of helplessness, there are anchors in this storm.

One comes from our ties of national fervor, which are stimulated in ways that unite us in time of attack. Americans are bound by common beliefs in justice and human dignity, both of which have been sorely breached by the events of Tuesday.

It is at times like these that our national emblem, the U.S. flag, becomes a beacon of hope and a source of resolve. This is a time to fly the flag. (A U.S. flag is included in today's newspaper inside Section C.)

Another line to security and safety comes from the solace and power of prayer. How gratifying it has been to see churches throughout our area fling open their doors to those who earnestly seek a dialogue with the Almighty. This is a time to pray boldly and often. To that end, consider these prayers in this time of national perseverance:

For those who have died: O God, whose mercies cannot be numbered: Accept our prayers on behalf of your servants who have died in this tragedy, and grant them an entrance into the land of light and joy, in the fellowship of your saints.

For those who grieve: Most merciful God, whose wisdom is beyond our understanding, deal graciously with those who grieve the deaths of family and friends. Comfort them. Surround them with your love, that they may not be overwhelmed by their loss, but have confidence in your goodness, and strength to meet the days to come.

For all who work in emergency services: Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women who provide emergency services in this tragedy. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace. Strengthen them in their trials and temptations. Give them courage to face the perils which beset them. And grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be.

For the president and other leaders: O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We commend this nation to your merciful care, that, being guided by your providence, we may dwell secure in your peace. Grant to the president of the United States, the governor of this state, and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do your will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve the people in your fear.

For the human family: O God, you made us in your own image: Look with compassion on the whole human family. Take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts. Break down the walls that separate us. Unite us in bonds of love. And work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth, that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne. Amen.