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Gospel & Art Intersection: 9/11, Tragedy & Hope

September 11, 2013 2 comments

Posted in: Gospel & Art

“Pain is unmasked, unmistakable evil; every man knows that something is wrong when he is being hurt...pain insists upon being attended to...”(from C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain)

Tragedy has a way of leaving its mark on us, and like a hideous scar, though it may fade, it will never go away. Twelve years ago today, on September 11, 2001, tragedy struck the nation when terrorists attacked leading to the destruction of both World Trade Center towers in lower Manhattan and the subsequent death of an estimated 2,819 people. Many wounds were inflicted that day, and subsequently there are plenty of scars left to mark that horrific day in history.

When the shock and confusion began to subside, and the country began to mend, many decisions had to be made in regards to how we, as a society, would respond. From the inception of those plans, leaders knew that artistic expression would play a vital role in the process of restoring hope (though there has been much debate over the years as to whether symbolism or extreme safety measures are more important in the given circumstances.) Ultimately they knew that art could serve multiple purposes: both as a memorial of the tragic past, and a symbol of hope for the present and future. So world-renowned artists and architects have been included in the discussion of meaningful design and architecture.

Architect and Master Planner of WTC, Daniel Libeskind, specified about the project:

“When I went down [into the ruins] I suddenly saw this was not just a site to be rebuilt...this site is such a great, passionate wound...people care that this void in New York cease to be a void, that it is filled with something memorable, something that will heal this space. But you have to create a balance between tragedy and hope.”

Whereas the images of the remains of 9/11 2001 are ghastly and terrifying, the plans for Ground Zero are breathtakingly beautiful.

9-11 destruction 9-11 build new


Throughout history, suffering has a way of seeping into every segment of all societies regardless of age, race, and socioeconomic class. It knowns no boundaries. Yet in the wake of tragedy, art has a way of instilling hope. The notion of art as a sign of hope is not new. In fact, Tolstoy explained in his book, What Is Art?, that art has a way of showing how the world could be. Namely, hope that this is not the end, and hope that something better is coming. This is where the gospel and art really begin to intersect amidst trials. Hope is central to the message of Christ who stated, “In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The gospel elicits hope.

What is unique about art in the wake of tragedy is that it has the capacity to evoke feelings that draw people together and point them toward a future and a hope. In effect, art can evoke a hopeful response to the notion that one day all things will be made right. A longing that resides within all of us, especically when enduring pain.

“There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven; but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else.”(from C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain)

**For more on the conversation of 9/11, Tragedy & Hope - World renowned artist and New Yorker, Makoto Fujimura has written extensive reflections on 9/11 and the role of art and creativity in his book, Refractions, and he also posted today via Facebook: "About to head into my studio: best way to remember 9/11 is to create beauty." You can also read a poignant blog post from him today that addresses the gospel, tragedy and art here.



Sean, my initial reaction (and strictly opinion here) is that if playfulness does have a role amidst the landscape of tragedy, it is revealing that life and the world we live in is a collection of vast experiences of varying degrees of significance and evoking an array of feelings, thoughts, and emotions. I think playfulness can also be used strategically as a tool to engage in social commentary (i.e., political cartoons, Calvin & Hobbes, etc.).

Yet I also wonder if it can be a form of denial because life is hard enough as is, so why focus more attention on the struggle?

This also makes me ponder the familiar phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan,
"The medium is the message," and thereby consider what the author/creator's intent is in exhibiting playfulness amidst a bleak backdrop.

Gabe deG on Sep 18, 2013 at 11:19am

I would love to see Ground Zero in person. However, it does strike me as having a marked level of seriousness. In my opinion, Makoto also makes very serious work. I had a chance to meet him at the recent biennial CIVA conference. My question for him – and the question I would like to ask you all – is this: What role, if any, does playfulness (good humor, lightheartedness) have in hope, the gospel, and artistic expression in the wake of such extreme and violent expression as 9/11?

Sean Palmer on Sep 12, 2013 at 6:50pm

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