Is it irony that the torment of the Ukrainian people is occurring just now – at a time of the year that holds much meaning for many who believe in a greater good? Jews, Muslims and Christians alike look upon this season as one of deep prayer and reflection – Christians currently observing Lent, Jews looking ahead to celebrating Passover and Muslims coming upon the holy season of Ramadan.
As Christians, we begin our walk into the desert, a contemplative journey, a time of isolation and sacrifice as we are challenged to be our best selves. We are asked to go deep into who we are, who we are meant to be. We know what lies ahead and we pray for the strength it will take to bear up under it. We understand that this is a quiet time so that we may do what is needed, so that we may evolve closer to who we are meant to be. Again, I think of a Mary Oliver poem…
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.
I can’t help but liken this to the plight of those in Ukraine. Their challenge is immense – their journey’s end is unknown but they resolve to continue towards whatever it is that lies ahead. Their faith and their trust in that future keeps them moving forward. This season we are called to do the same.
As Jews, we move out of the desert into freedom, from slavery, from bondage into the land of milk and honey. The Covenant has been fulfilled. Promises made have been kept. After all this time, we are free. Our seder is prepared.
Like our ancestors long ago, Ukrainians commence their exodus, leaving all they cherish behind – loved ones, homes, security – not knowing what the future holds for them.
The mystic-poet, Rumi, said…
Start walking, start walking towards Shams,
Your legs will get heavy and tired.
Then comes the moment of feeling the wings you’ve grown lifting.
How relevant are these words today as we sit in front of our TVs watching others struggle to hold on to what is theirs. We pray for the future of our brothers and sisters, of their beloved land, . Like the Jews, Ukrainians have endured much. And like the Jews throughout their exodus, our Ukrainian brothers and sisters remain resolute and strong, ever trusting that they will soon reach the land of milk and honey.
During Ramadan, as faithful Muslims commemorate Mohammed’s first revelation and the receipt of the sacred scriptures, they will spend these days fasting, reflecting, praying.
The month of Ramadan is that in which was revealed the Quran; a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, a number of other days. Allah desires for you ease; He desires not hardship for you; and that you should complete the period, and that you should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that perhaps you may be thankful.[Quran 2:185]
Again, we witness a journey…one not so different from the others, one filled with hope and relief from oppression.
And there are so many, many others walking both public and private journeys…those made vulnerable and abandoned by the pandemic, victims of violence and abuse, poverty, discrimination of all kinds, the marginalized around the globe – pilgrims, one and all.
Ironic? Perhaps. Coincidence? Maybe. But I don’t think so. I believe all of this is exactly what has to happen. And I trust the future is already laid out. The part we each will play in that future, I don’t know.
I can only pray that we all will, eventually, feel our wings and set down into the promised land. God bless Ukraine!
PS: I know we are all asking how we can help and many of us have found a way to do this. If you are still at a loss, I direct you to the Instagram account of a friend’s daughter in law who, as her husband serves in the State Department in Moldova, spends her time assisting the many Ukrainian refugees crossing the border each day. You can read about her daily involvements on her Instagram account by clicking https://www.instagram.com/onemom_onemeal/?hl=en.