Poet Ken Sehested: Hope & Healing at 9/11 (with thanks to Seamus Heaney)

On the eve of 9/11, the prophetic poet and peacemaker Ken Sehested has penned a new poem that he first read aloud in his congregation: the Circle of Mercy in Asheville, NC, and now is sharing with you through ReadTheSpirit. Among Ken’s other columns in our online magazine: He wrote about the passing of his friend in peace activism Will D. Campbell and earlier Ken shared his poem Pentecostal Passion.

Now, Ken’s restless mind and heart have been churning over lines from the late poet Seamus Heaney (see our extensive tribute to Heaney at his death). Writers around the world, to this day, still are discussing Heaney’s last words—texted from his telephone to his wife’s phone and later revealed at the poet’s memorial service: Noli timere. As The Atlantic Magazine’s Robinson Meyer wrote just a few days ago—to clear up confusion in other news media about these last words: “Before his death, the poet Seamus Heaney sent a text message to his wife. It said, in Latin: Don’t be afraid. … Noli timere. … Noli makes a request of one person, like a lover, or a friend.”

Ken also was reflecting on Heaney’s 1990 poem, The Cure at Troy, a play in verse form that borrows a tale from the ancient Trojan wars. See our earlier Heaney story for more, but in a nutshell: That poem was written by Heaney in light of the global fears surrounding Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. The Cure at Troy echoed again after the Boston Marathon bombings. It is a poem that has inspired peacemakers like Ken for more than two decades.

As a pastor, Ken also was meditating on the opening of Deuteronomy Chapter 31, when Moses offers his heart-rending farewell to the people of God and to his successors with a charge of “be strong and bold” and “do not fear or be dismayed.”

All of these factors melded into …


By Ken Sehested

History says: Don’t hope on this side of the grave. It is too much to ask for mere mortals such as us.
Yet we say, Noli timere.

Do not be afraid.

Hope is not beyond your reach. It is not in the highest region of heaven, or out beyond the farthest sea. Hope need not be the exclusive province of heroic figures.
Noli timere.

Do not be afraid.

Hope is in your mouth, ready to be savored; it is in your heart, awaiting love’s harness.
Noli timere. Noli timidus.

Do not be afraid, brothers. Do not be timid, sisters.

The time will come when the longed-for tidal wave of justice will rise up, when hope and history shall rhyme.
Noli timere.

Do not be afraid.

So then, live toward that great sea-change on the far side of revenge. Believe that a further shore is reachable from here.
Noli timere. Noli timidus.

Do not be afraid, fathers. Do not be timid, mothers.

Believe in miracles and cures and healing wells.
Noli timere!

Behold, the Beloved summons heaven and earth to witness our resolve: blessings and life in the face of curses and death.

Choose life, and rejoice evermore.


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Ken Sehested is co-pastor of Circle of Mercy Congregation in Asheville, NC, and author of In the Land of the Living: Prayers Personal and Public. Both Ken Sehested also is part of Blessed Are the Peacemakers, a book with many profiles of heroic peacemakers.

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