“A person tempered in the fires of inner struggle can yield character capable of leadership for this tortured, frantic, unhappy age. What matters is to be only under God, in a living relationship to God, the only necessary precondition for self knowledge so we can be victorious over ourselves.”
–Dag Hammarskjold: The Man and His Faith by Henry Van Dusen
On September 11, 2001 at 9:00 a.m., all the conferees were ordered by a security guard to leave the conference room I was in at the United Nations. The guard told me the United Nations was on high level alert. He seemed very frightened. Outside, I saw billows of smoke coming from the World Trade Center. Confused, I asked someone what was happening. A woman told me about the hijacked planes purposely going into the towers. There was an unknown but potentially staggering loss of life. The phones in New York were all tied up. My credit card would not work. Only coins would go into the public phones.
In the restaurant where I sought refuge, a kind waitress gave me $5.00 worth of quarters. I waited in the public phone line for hours. When I finally reached Joseph at 4:00 p.m., I asked him to contact several members of my family. He had worried I would be trapped in New York, concerned whether I had gone to the World Trade Center area.
Across the street, I found further refuge at the Holy Family Church. Only the night before, as in every year of the United Nations’ 55-year history, UN delegates had attended a special service there and prayed for the opening of the General Assembly. As I sat in a pew, my mind tried to grasp the truth of the attack, but I could not. I could not focus. I could not pray. My mind was racing. A priest came and said the Mass. I found comfort in the familiar liturgy.
Outside after the Mass, I felt God as comforter. A palpable Presence engulfed me and I no longer felt overwhelmed. That experience was so strong and meaningful, the sense of a comforting Divine remains with me today. It reminded me of sitting in my rocking chair during the thunderstorm when I first heard:
Be Still and Know I am God.
I went to sleep after a day filled with poignant memories of joining with broken-hearted New Yorkers reaching out to each other for comfort. I dreamt of a renewed United States and United Nations with a mural of a phoenix rising from the ashes of Ground Zero, a place where people listened to, heard and stayed connected to one another.
In my dream, the American people were brought to their knees by a terrorist action. They then learned anew how to come to right action in the world. The mural in my dream depicted the people of the United States joining with other peoples and nations to share resources to address the root causes of that terrorist act by taking responsibility for 200 years of US hegemonic power, similar to that of European imperialism. In my dream, Americans stopped attaching strings or bribes to their gifts. They shared their resources freely.
When I woke up the next morning, the dream stayed with me. I reflected on it for days and made several key decisions. The dream Phoenix inspired me to be in service at five levels: personally, in my family, my community, my nation and my world. I recognized that the biggest gift I had to offer at all levels was my listening, caring Presence in the PPR– whether in my family, at the high school where I trained peer mediators from 70 cultures and traditions, my microenterprise committed to training and coaching emerging and seasoned leaders, or my Global Mediation and Reconciliation Service, committed to help people find peaceful transformation of disputes, rather than resorting to armed force.
Through the listening Presence I offer, infused with God’s grace as co- creator, I can help others envision a new experience of power and authority and redefine both politics and politician. My listening Presence draws on the power and authority of being in a living relationship with God.
When I returned home from New York, the Phoenix helped me to understand it was time to implement the new leadership revealed to me on Mt. Tamalpais back in 1986. I founded the Institute for Global Leadership established for a post-September 11 world. Its purpose is to provide community and sanctuary for those like me who want to be in service and need extra training and support for the new vocation of Reconciliation Leadership.
I understood my new vocation for leadership, promoting Reconciliation Leadership both within the UN and the wider world. I recognized that my service is based on peaceful Presence, mission-driven action and peace competencies. By contrast, the United Nations uses management competencies. Management consultant Peter Drucker once said that using management competencies contributes to dysfunctional behaviors in the workplace. So I developed competencies for peace that could replace management competencies at four levels of achievement: personal, interpersonal, systemic and global. Through my training program, Reconciliation Leaders can act from a sense of personal peace, learn how to reconcile interpersonal and systemic issues and develop global competencies to respond to the needs of a post-9/11 world fraught with tension and stress.
Just one short month after 9/11, I met Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former Under-Secretary General for the most vulnerable countries and founder of the Global Movement for the Culture of Peace. We shared a desire to be of service during the UN International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence (2001-2010), making nonviolent approaches to disputes a reality. I developed a course to offer at the UN, “Designing and Implementing Interventions for Community, Institutional, National and Global Change,” with Ambassador Chowdhury as my mentor and patron. The course grew into more courses and then into the Reconciliation Leadership Certificate Program to provide facilitators for the PPR and GMRS.
In the years since that terrifying day, I have been asking God about the root cause of 9/11 and why the Phoenix came then. The Holy Spirit spoke gently:
The root causes of September 11 are the grave injustices between the “haves” and “have nots” both in this country and abroad, as well as the often insensitive leadership of the “haves.” The new Phoenix rising out of the ashes of Ground Zero releases the chains of state sovereignty–self-interest— which is the death knell of the United Nations. The phoenix awakens all human beings to their power and activates the term “We the Peoples” both in the United States Constitution and the United Nations Charter.
The roots of terrorism come from poverty both as a deep psychological and spiritual wound as well as a physical one, which can challenge humanity’s faith that abundance exists for all. The inequality and feeling “less than,” causes the “have nots” to feel unequal to those who “have” and causes desperate attempts to try to change the system. People take what they want and need from those who have, because of their sense of futility. There is a lack of consciousness of the commonality of the human condition and suffering which often results in a need to find relief for oneself while ignoring the suffering of others.
“The new Phoenix will transmute the suffering of all and invite every human being to forgive the past and forge a new future together.” – Virginia Swain