Horror. Despair. Fury. Incomprehension. Impatience.
These are the emotions roiling through me on an unholy loop. I oscillate, like many of you do I suspect, from shock to fury to despair and back again. DO SOMETHING, my soul cries as the bombs rain down on children and women and men and animals. Putin, I shriek, must be stopped.
How many countless others, across the globe, now and at almost any moment in the past, have called out in the same way?
Someone sent me this image a couple of days ago:
I’m not sure what to think of it, frankly, except, well, nothing ever changes does it? (And of course, ‘world’ war is a rather western-centric perspective, but still.) Cycles return, each time letting us view the world, and our experience of it, and responsibility to it, from a slightly different vantage point.
The other thing that strikes me is that in Tarot 6+8=14, or the Temperance card. That gave me pause. Balance? Moderation? Harmony? Unification? In a time of genocide? Really?
Well, it’s the card that sits between Death and the Devil… a sort of pause, a taking stock. It’s also the card of paradoxes, where two things exist at once. And there’s a bit of wisdom right there. Humans can be unimaginably cruel and inspiringly kind; they can be unspeakably craven and inconceivably courageous. We can feel helpless as we watch genocide unfold (again) before our eyes, and still be galvanized to whatever action is in our power to take. It is also worth noting that the archangel Michael is the figure in this card. Michael is repeatedly depicted as the “great captain,” the leader of the heavenly hosts, and the warrior helping the children of Israel (although I suspect he’s on the side of the Palestinians as well these days). Early in the history of the Christian church, he came to be regarded as the helper of the church’s armies against the heathen and against the attacks of the Devil. He holds the secret of the mighty “word” by the utterance of which God created heaven and earth and was “the angel who spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai (Acts 7:38). The numerous representations of Michael in art reflect his character as a warrior: he is shown with a sword, in combat with or, in the Book of Revelations, triumphing over a dragon. Is Putin the Devil/dragon? I’ll leave that up to you to decide, but if he is, he needs our prayers as much as the people and animals he’s slaughtering, including Russians. There’s an uncomfortable paradox.
But there is more wisdom in this card. As I meditated on it, I thought, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” That’s harmony and balance, too. Wikipedia tells me the following: “Keep Calm and Carry On was a propaganda poster produced by the British government in 1939 in preparation for World War II. The poster was intended to raise the morale of the British public, threatened with widely predicted mass air attacks on major cities. Although 2.45 million copies were printed, and the Blitz did in fact take place, the poster was only rarely publicly displayed and was little known until a copy was rediscovered in 2000 at Barter Books, a bookshop in Alnwick.” It has come to epitomize that veddy, veddy, British stereotype of the stiff-upper-lipish ability to keep going in the face of any amount of um, inconvenience, to use the sort of minimizing language my grandmother would have used.
And yet, while I want to do nothing more than curl up under the covers in a quivering mass of fear and rage and despair, I am surprised by how comforting I find that old poster. Yes. We must do both. Despair does no one any good, no matter how reasonable and justified an emotion it might be. I rail against it.
I spoke to my wise friend, Sr. Rita, the other day regarding my concerns about the glorification of military heroics in Ukraine, even as I cheer on every act of courageous defiance and resistance I hear about. (A paradox, you say? See above.) There is something unsettling about cheering the violent death of anyone, even a Russian fighter pilot, and the archetype of the Spanish Civil War combattant, a la Hemingway, often leaves out the gore and horror of the actual experience. But what choice does any sane human have at the moment, but to pray for the protection of Ukrainians against a barbaric killing machine and the lunatic driving it?
Sr. Rita reminded me that there is a holy obligation in bearing witness to the suffering of war, rather than its glorification, and that being in profound awe of someone’s willingness to die for others, for family, for strangers, and yes, for faith, is a kind of prayer, however much we fervently wish there was no need for it.
And so, I leave you with this prayer :
Father of Mercy, Mother of Peace,
We pray for Ukraine.
For all of humanity distorted by war.
For all the lives lost, human and animal,
For the homes destroyed, for the land defiled,
For the heartbroken, and for the peace shattered.
May the Spirit of comfort and compassion envelop all who dwell in fear.
May the Spirit of wisdom and humility enliven our global leaders.
May we affirm the dignity and rights of all.
May we seek peace.