In times of crisis and loss, when some humans behave as monsters and most humans are powerless to effect change, it is natural, comforting, and–for many reasons–imperative that we return to our ancient stories of love and transformation. The Lenten Journey, the path from the soul’s winter to its utterly opposite flowering in spring, is one such story; it is the Christian story many of us have been steeped in since our childhoods, but other belief systems teach from similar journeys of the spiritual cycle flowing from death to new life.
The tragedy facing Ukrainians and Russians confronts each of us with questions we have to answer before we may pass through the door to transformation: Who are we to each other? Why are we here? What do we do when evil challenges our better natures? How do we respond to suffering? Does love have boundaries?
The answers may differ; there is never only one course of action with which to respond, but we know in our bones that to regress to our first impulse of returning violence, to answer murder with murder, to initiate vengeance upon the perpetrators of such horror is not the choice that alters the course of history for the better, or that corresponds to our hearts’ commitment to healing and the evolution of our spirits.
When times are peaceful, it’s easy to say, “Love is the answer,” but it’s quite a different pronouncement when we witness suffering at this level and feel powerless to help.
I think of the Lenten story, of the absolute innocence and peace-filled heart of the hero, and how his light challenged the dark hearts of those in power. “Oh, no,” they must have thought, “if everyone accepted that all are equal and all are welcomed, the entire hierarchical empire would collapse!” The Prophet shook their lies into the open air; he called forth the truth of their greed and cruelty into the collective consciousness, exposing them for the charlatans and unmitigated oppressors they really were. He pulled aside the curtains and revealed how their silken splendor cloaked the brittle pillowed thrones of puny thugs.
He had to be killed not because he was evil, but because he was pure goodness. And because he spoke the brilliant, simple truth, upsetting the shoddy scaffolding of ornamented lies that supported the power of men dedicated to their own egos’ desires and nothing else.
Ukraine poses such a threat to Putin’s tiny, dark heart, and he cannot see for the light these people shine in his eyes, which is often the case for one who has chosen to live his life in darkness.
And us? What can we do in this time of such magnificent technology that we’re all instantly and continuously brought to the foot of this cross?
In the Lenten Story, the Innocent Victim’s beloveds were powerless to stop his suffering. Some fled from the scene or betrayed their friendship, which means their love. (Friend is derived from the Old English word meaning to love, to favor. Despots are friendless. Bowing sycophants are not friends.)
But those who allowed Love to lead them beyond their urges to flee, deny, hate, or despair, stood; they just stood and witnessed the suffering, loved the victim through his dying, watched the violence and cruelty done to his body, heard his cries of pain, remained through his final out-breath, carried and entombed his tortured body, and went home, broken in spirit, to grieve.
That is not the story’s ending, but it is where we are now, standing in the Suffering, witnessing the expanse of misery that hate-filled humans can cause. Indeed, in our time, one unloved, unchecked human can destroy the planet with his hatred.
And I, with my love-filled life, feel powerless, powerless to alter this.
And then I consider the spiraling path from Advent to Easter, from birth through death to wider rebirth, and am mindful that this road will always, always take us through suffering on our way to transformation, if we seek the wisdom every part of the journey offers.
The word witness comes from the idea that to observe a thing and understand it deeply allows us to “testify” to its existence and substance. We saw this; we were there; we remained present and learned again what humans steeped in hatred can do to other humans. And how love resists.
We don’t like this part of the journey. We often reject it and so add to our shadow’s burden. Advent requires such intolerable patience and Lent forces our soul to confront itself. “Ummm, no,” we think. “Please, let’s just jump to presents, to flowers and feasts and chocolate.”
Christmas and Easter are fun and delicious, filled with light and delight. But their real gifts have to be earned. Our flaws and destructive habits can be named and detached from our egos. We can sacrifice desire on behalf of our own and others’ well-being. “Look at yourself,” is Lent’s rugged–and deepening–invitation. “Look again.” First, we change; then we see that Christmas and Easter are always here. Transformation allows deeper and clearer vision; it lifts veils of delusion.
To evolve, we need to be awake through every lesson, every moment of the cycle, and develop the powers that guide us through those times that are dark and frightening, those times that bring the mirror too close. We must bear self-scrutiny; we must witness our weaknesses as well as our strengths. How will we heal if we can’t identify our wounds?
In this moment, there is the need for us to summon our power to witness the reality of hate, which exists in each of us and can only be healed through our choice to surrender it to the greater power of love, or there will be no Easter, no transformation, no rebirth.
The entire Lenten Story would lose such depth without those few who stayed beside the Transforming One and witnessed.
We can choose to be present and witness the evil; witness the suffering, the courage, the strength of those in the path of Putin’s dark storm of self-hatred. Witness those who do not surrender to this hatred and fear; witness those leaders whose clarity and resolve withstand the urge to lash out and instead guide the world through this time of dark suffering and back to balance. Stand and witness; suffer beside the victims in spirit; offer love and any possible aid; offer support to our leaders; offer the loving-kindness and the balance of our own spirit, but witness and do not turn away.
We’re told that Love works together in all things for our good, if we love fully. And that means that when we are powerless to stop others from suffering, our power is to remain present in love, to witness and remember what we have seen, and to testify, sharing all the ways love brought us through to a new and fragile Easter.
Take great and gentle care of yourselves. Feed your spirits. Create. Never surrender your hope. Be kind. Witness. Love.
Ways to help Ukraine.
Also, we can help those in our community who cannot withstand rising energy costs: Ride-share. Bike. Walk. Work from home. Donate to food banks and resale shops. Volunteer. Contact lawmakers to renew green energy commitments and funding rather than rush to more fracking and drilling: NOW is the time to transform how we treat the Earth as well as each other. Fight for better public transportation. Convert to solar power. Advocate for affordable electric vehicles. Reduce consumption of energy. Reduce consumption of anything mindlessly purchased to fill holes that can only be filled by love-in-action. Wear a damn sweater. (Jimmy Carter was right. About most things.) Be safe and well. 💕🌸💕
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