I went to bed with a heavy heart last night. War, violence, and terror, once again.
I remember watching the towers fall on live TV, my senior year of high school.
I remember my college experience shaded by the war on terror, the destruction of Iraq and the long quagmire in Afghanistan.
When I graduated, the Great Recession hit.
For a few years there was something like peace mixed with terror, as mass shootings became increasingly regular here in the US. We welcomed our first child, and then a second and third during one of the most turbulent periods in our politics, coupled with a never ending pandemic.
And now this.
Whenever normalcy begins to become believable again, some new threat emerges, and storm clouds darken the horizon once more.
I’m reminded of a quote from my favorite book from childhood, the Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
It is becoming more and more certain that we are again living in “such times.” The stability of the postwar years is crumbling before our eyes, and the future is no longer so certain.
And, as in all things, I feel within my heart the sharp contrast between my own awareness of dreadful world events, and the quiet and playful lives of my small children at home, who are often (but not always) blissfully unaware of the anxiety and fear in their parents’ hearts.
It is a luxury that they are shielded from the brunt of it, while Ukrainian children sleep in subways and get loaded onto buses by their parents. My heart, my prayers, and my aching sense of helplessness goes out to them.
Today I had the privilege of going to Mass at a local retirement home. I was the guest reader, and the readings were exacting in their condemnation of oppression, of ill-gotten and ill-used wealth, of the horrid sin of pride and the harm it causes the innocent:
Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries.Letter of James 5:1-6
Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten,
your gold and silver have corroded,
and that corrosion will be a testimony against you;
it will devour your flesh like a fire.
You have stored up treasure for the last days.
Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers
who harvested your fields are crying aloud;
and the cries of the harvesters
have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure;
you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.
You have condemned;
you have murdered the righteous one;
he offers you no resistance.
I have to confess, the holy wrath of the scriptures, incisive and unrelenting in its takedown of the rich and the proud, warmed my troubled heart. It reminded me that the God I love and worship does not turn a blind eye to the suffering of the poor and oppressed. But indeed, that their suffering is near to God’s heart, and their prayers rise directly to God’s ears.
But even more than that, it was the witness of faith of those fellow worshippers in their 80s, 90s, and even 100s, that brought me real hope. They had seen and fought in wars. They had endured recessions. They had raised children in good times and in bad. They had watched tyrants rise and tyrants fall.
And here they were, gathered around a makeshift altar, raising their hearts and voices in prayer, with sincerity and a hope that depends on nothing but God to be proven true, and real, and worth clinging to and worth fighting for.
And so during the Mass when they were anointed, I was anointed too, for although my physical body was well, my heart and mind and spirit were sick, sick to death, sick of war and violence and injustice, sick of the cry of all those who simply want to live in peace, to raise their families, to enjoy what fruits they have earned from their labors, and to live good and holy and noble lives.
I am, still, utterly exhausted by it, and yet, even in this exhaustion, I know that God is with me, with all of us, and most especially, God is with those kids huddled in a subway or being shepherded onto a bus in Kyiv.
So yes, hope is possible. Naive optimism? Not so much. Not anymore.
But hope, hope is always possible. It’s renewed with each breath, with each dream, with each act of goodness and solidarity and compassion toward another human being. Hope is always possible because hope comes from God, and God bows to no tyrant.
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3 Comments Add yours
Ah Michael John, once again you encapsulate the feeling of so many and write is so eloquently. Next week, as I walk out the door of a company that has been my weekday home for 22 years and start this next journey of my life, I can’t help but wish I was walking into a world at peace. Instead I face the unknown in a world that becomes more foreign to me each and every day – and then I get your words of hope – a life raft in a sea of uncertainty. Continue to shed your light into the places that darkness is trying to inhabit. Your words continue to touch my heart. Aunt Janey
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Thanks so much, Aunt Janey. It was one of those days where I had to write to know what I was thinking and feeling. Total overwhelm. I pray that your transition goes smoothly, and that the next phase of the journey is fruitful and fun. Thanks again for your kind words!
I loved your ending – you built up to it throughout your writing. It was powerful as our God is. Thanks for writing down your thoughts and feelings on this as we all are struggling with it. God bless.
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