Healing Words

Meditation on James 3:1-12

Pastor Karen Crawford

Sept. 12, 2021

It was Sheila Moody’s first day of work at the Pentagon—Sept. 11, 2001. It was a beautiful, early fall day—blue skies, sunny and clear. Jim and I listened to Sheila’s story this week, along with others captured in the MSNBC documentary, “Memory Box: Echoes of 9/11.”  

      Artist Ruth Sergel built the simple plywood box slide right after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 to provide a medium for the stories of ordinary people to be shared—and not forgotten.

The participants would share their stories twice—first in the days and months immediately following the attacks and then again in 2021, when they would also share what it was like speaking in the Memory Box the first time and what has happened to them since then.

     Certain details stood out to each of them in their stories. Sheila Moody remembered that she brought a few personal items on that first day of work at the Pentagon: her Palm Pilot, a novel to read at her lunch hour, and a Bible. She sat down behind her desk in her cubicle that morning and began her accounting job. Then, at 9:37 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77 carrying 59 passengers and 5 al-Qaeda hijackers crashed into the west side of the Pentagon.

That day, nearly 3,000 people died and 25,000 others injured in 3 attacks, hijacked planes crashing into The World Trade Center,

in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania,

and into the the iconic, five-sided building that is the headquarters for the Department of Defense.

     Sheila would eventually overcome her fears of another terrorist attack and return to her job at the Pentagon.

She told ABC News in March 2002 that she was sitting at her desk when she heard slide “a whistling, like a whistling sound and then a rumble, and then just a big whoosh… It felt like air at first but then I realized it was fire, just a big ball of fire. It felt like it came in through the window and just engulfed us.” She was only one of 3 workers to survive from the 34-person Pentagon accounting office.  

     When burning debris fell from the ceiling onto her hands, she shook them and cried out to the Lord for help. She shared in her Memory Box video in 2001 that she thought she was going to die. At the same time Sheila prayed for help, Staff Sgt. Christopher Braman prayed that God would give him strength to go back into the burning building and rescue those trapped inside.

Chris, a cook at the Pentagon and former Airborne Ranger, heard Sheila’s cries and answered, but he couldn’t see her. Sheila said that “he reached through the smoldering darkness as she clapped her hands to guide him, unable to call out again because she was choking.” ( Orange County Register, 9/5/21) “He would plunge inside toxic, smoldering ruins again and again over three days, helping to recover and bag the remains of 63 (people) among the 184 victims” who would perish that day as a result of the Pentagon attack. (Orange County Register 9/5/21)

     “Our prayers must have met somewhere,” slide Sheila told the Orange County Register last week. “I thank Jesus Christ as my savior, but I thank Sgt. Christopher Braman as my rescuer. God called him to order and put him into action.”

Chris picked up his cross and followed the Savior!

Sheila spent weeks at Walter Reed Army Hospital slide recovering from severe smoke inhalation and third-degree burns.

Doctors took skin from her legs to graft on her hands and face. Her physical scars have healed, but the mental scars were something she, like all the other survivors, would have to deal with on a daily basis.

     Sheila, in her many interviews since 911, is aware of the power of words, how they may affect others. She chooses her words carefully as she describes her journey to physical, mental, and spiritual health—being able to forgive those who tried to murder her that day.

     She uses healing words. How could she withhold forgiveness, slide she asks, when our suffering Lord, who died for our sins, offers unconditional love?

We have the joy of reading passages from James throughout the month of September. James is special in that it is considered the only wisdom book of the New Testament—much like Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon in the Old Testament.

Martin Luther didn’t think James was spiritual enough. He called it an “epistle of straw.”

He hated the part in chapter 2 about “faith without works is dead” and that pure and undefiled religion is caring for widows and orphans, who were the neediest people of his time. But we have to consider the audience for James; the epistle is written for people who are already Christians and want to be more faithful Christians, bearing the fruit of their spiritual transformation and witnessing to the self-giving, unconditional love of Jesus Christ.

 Today’s passage in chapter 3 on taming the tongue, being perfect in our speech, follows James’ urging believers to be “doers of the word and not hearers only.”  Therefore, the taming the tongue is an example of how to be a doer of the word—and live out our faith.

This passage haunted me this week as I failed miserably and repeatedly to tame my tongue. Miserably and repeatedly. Did I say that I failed to tame my tongue this week? The one verse that brought me comfort was verse 2. “For all of us make many mistakes.” Even James is admitting to not speaking perfectly, all the time. But he emphasizes that we should make it our goal.

For if we have a problem with our speech, the problem isn’t just with our tongue.

The problem is with our hearts.

Jesus says in Luke 6:45, “The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”

On this day, in a world so needing to see and experience the unconditional love of Jesus Christ through us, our hearts and our words matter more than ever.

We witness to our faith and Christ’s love and grace when we speak healing words. Words that bring us together—and don’t divide. Words that make us whole.


     Sheila Moody is retired now after two decades of working at the Pentagon. She is a grandmother.

She welcomed to her family her son’s fiancé and now wife, a young woman from Egypt who was raised a Muslim. They are expecting their first child. “How amazing is that?” she asks, and laughs.

    Chris Braman, who prayed for strength to enter a burning building and saved Sheila’s life on Sept. 11, 2001, is a retired Army Sgt. First Class.

He turned 53 in August. He emerged from the tragedy a reluctant hero, a strong speaker, and a teacher who is ready to share his faith. He travels the country to talk about and give instructions on terrorism awareness. “He’s a cheerleader of sorts to hospitalized children, cancer patients, wounded veterans, and others in need of a boost.” ( Orange County Register 9/5/21).

     Though he retired from the Army in 2010 on a medical disability, he wears his dress blue uniform for such engagements. The charred uniform he wore while searching for people inside the Pentagon after the attack was sent to the U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum at Fort Lee, Va.

     He suffers from chronic asthma and has lungs like a coal miner, “severely and permanently damaged by breathing in jet fuel, smoke, asbestos, chemical fumes and human matter. The heat and chemicals seared his nasal cavity through to his esophagus…And then there’s the post-traumatic stress he’s learned to deal with through yoga, meditation and prayer.” (Orange Co. Register)

     In Chris’ modest home, mementos and awards from his Army career are displayed in a glass-top table in his living room. A cabinet displays the Olympic torch he carried on Dec. 21, 2001, inscribed with “light the fire within.”

     But where is the Purple Heart and Soldier’s Medal he was awarded for bravery on 9/11? Stored away somewhere, Chris says. He insists that they are honors he didn’t deserve.

     “It was all God’s intervention,” Chris says. “It had nothing to do with me.”

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, thank you for your word to us today. Help us to be doers of your word and be perfect in our speech, with your help. Teach us to tame the tongue so that we allow you to speak through us healing words and with our lives bear witness to your unconditional love. And Lord, bless the first responders and all the volunteers and survivors of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Continue to comfort and bring peace to the families who lost loved ones 20 years ago. Make us one as a country, dear Lord, as you did in the wake of those terrible attacks. Let us be united and remember our love for all of America, with all its diversity, all of us your children. Heal us and make us whole. In the name of our Triune God we pray. Amen.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Minnie, a toy poodle.

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