I saw Peter Berg’s recently released film, Patriots Day over a month ago. Of the many heroes portrayed in this movie, there is just one person who has taken up residence in my memory. She is a minor character, the woman now known as the “Boston Marathon Bombers widow.” Her presence in the film is shadowy, flashes of her presence, always in the background. Intentionally so.
We know this story, we remember all too well what happened here. And we instantly get caught up in the slowly building tension as the countdown to the marathon ticks down. The music serves as an ominous prelude to the horror about to rain down on the participants in this most apolitical of events. Begun in 1897 as a follow-up to the first marathon run in the 1896 Summer Olympics, the Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest and attracts over over thirty-thousand runners from eighty-eight different countries.
The glimpses of the athletes and observers who will die or be grievously injured float across the screen fill me with dread and I forget the woman in the Hijab.
Suddenly, abruptly, she appears again. Long enough for my mind to process that this wife and mother of the couple’s young child lacks the accent of her Chechen husband. And registers. She is an American? Only after the end of the film did I return to this young woman and wonder.
Not about whether she knew, approved of the insanity planned by her husband and brother-in-law. But rather how did she get here, to a place so alien to her upbringing? Become known as the widow of the Boston Marathon, at the tender age of twenty-four?
How did this quintessentially American young woman called Katie Russell transform herself from Christian to Muslim? Perhaps an answer lies in the word conversion: The attraction of righteousness, the magnetism of God and His majesty.
When we search for truth, we look for something far bigger than ourselves. Well aware of our smallness, we seek something vast and noble, yearning for a belief so strong we would gladly die for it.
Some of us, like ‘Katie’ and me, look for order in a world where disorder reigns. And we find comfort in rules, strangely more so when the rules require personal sacrifice.
When she converted to Islam, Katherine Russell joined close to over one and a half billion people in what may be is the fastest growing religion in the world.
There are clear commands for the Muslim man or woman. Not only about worship but about how life is to be lived. This is no mere one-hour weekly obligation but rather a conscious decision to submit to the will of God. The very name Islam means submission and is a derivative of the Arab word for peace. The convert to Islam does not select those aspects she agrees with as in a menu. Rather she accepts the whole: Her will, she hopes, will fuse with the will of God. Just so, the day I became a Roman Catholic at a Benedictine Abbey, I felt reborn, washed clean. Finally, after years of searching, I belonged, no longer a stranger or alien, I was of God’s household.
My faith begins with the Catholic Church, but it does not end there. It ends in Christ. As one good friend declared, “Your faith is a love story, one that cradle Catholics cannot understand.” Indeed.
But conversion a is a lifelong process, moment by moment. Keeping guard over our thoughts, emotions, and words, convinced that this is our most important work.
Tragically, much of our twenty-first century Christianity and Catholicism faiths are diluted, tepid, robbed of divine justice, of sin. Many Catholics follow only those rules of the church with which they agree. And attend on Sundays to fulfill an obligation. Certain leaders of our respective faiths are infected with a “failure of nerve:” No longer speaking truth but rather a language of convention and appeasement. To many parishioners, the notions of obedience, virtue, evil, purgatory, and hell are perceived as outmoded, irrelevant in this twenty-first century. God is love, He is merciful, they claim, forgetting what must precede mercy: Repentance-conversion. During the last century, Diedrich Bonhoeffer named it: Cheap grace.
Would Katherine Russell and numerous other young women be so eager to embrace Islam if they had been properly catechized? If they knew Christ? If Katie knew by heart the writings of the apostles as well as the Hadith, would her story have a different ending?