Broken and Beautiful

The second Sunday in May, Mother’s Day, never fails to stir reveries about my maternal ancestors. This past week, I have been dwelling on memories of my own mother and grandmothers and also pondering the great-grandmothers I never knew. Gathering old photographs, I set up a little altar laden with rosaries, jewelry, china, and bits of antique lace, to honor them. I lit candles and filled glass vases full of whatever was blooming in my flower garden.

Each year, I strive to affirm my daughters (all three are mothers too) of the unique power that the bond of maternity can wield in our world. Beyond blood, there is an inclusive love line that extends to all humanity, an extension of the “Holy Mother,” prescient and desired by everyone. She takes many forms– from fierce protectiveness like a lioness to quiet perseverance like a hen on the nest; from courageous refugee mothers to diligent hard-working moms who must multi-task like a juggler every single day.

I desire to remind all women, whether biology has made them mothers or not, that there is great strength when we bond together and stream this unique alchemy into the world. Unfortunately, culture often highlights our faults, sins, imperfections, and shortcomings until we feel paralyzed and broken. Ironically, however, this very brokenness often acts as a catalyst for the creation of something beautiful eventually to appear.

Out of these ruminations, I was inspired to rummage through my garage for a box containing broken pieces of the Blue Willow dishes I have used at my dinner table for many decades. I collected this pattern, one piece at a time, not only because I love the blue and white hues but also because I resonate with the story on each piece about transforming love (look it up and you’ll understand). Every time even a saucer cracked or broke, discarding the shards was unthinkable so I kept them, hoping I could perhaps make a mosaic someday. The time had arrived! I decided to learn this process (on YouTube) and give this gift to my daughters as a symbol of home, motherhood, and beauty from brokenness.

While I arranged the pieces, mixed the mortar, glued, waited, spread grout, waited yet again, and wiped off the excess, a sense of elation wafted through me. I wept over all the broken pieces of my motherhood that amazing grace has recreated into something new and beautiful. I felt the presence of our Blessed Mother, the many female saints, and most of all, the women who have been spiritual midwives for me and so many others, all around me. My hands were interwoven in theirs as I finished the projects, wrapped them in tissue paper, and wrote a little Mother’s Day poem for my daughters. The message for them, from me to you: We are broken and beautiful–both/and, not either/or!

May the Holy Mother continue to guide us in ways unexpected.

For God’s Sake

In the Midwestern Catholic home of childhood, my parents never swore or cursed in front of us. My French-Canadian mom especially abhorred profanity which she considered to be a sign of ignorance and language laziness. She substituted other words for common swear words (like “Oh fudge!” or “Shoot!”) which always slightly amused us kids. And when it came to using God’s name in vain? Under no circumstances was that acceptable. A slip-up sent us immediately to the Saturday afternoon confessional! If pushed to the absolute limits of their patience, my parents would often say, “For God’s sake, just DO it! (or STOP doing it). This would halt us in our tracks. There was no more ominous a request. The message was clear. If we couldn’t make a change for them or for ourselves, we were to change our behavior for the sake of the Holy One who gave us everything.

I do not consider myself old-fashioned or outdated but when it comes to language, maybe I am. I still cringe when profanity or the name of Jesus is dropped casually in conversation, in the media, in films, and on television. Worse is how easily it spills out of the mouths of the young in simple imitation of what has become commonplace usage. Others my age have shared similar family stories with me even though they, themselves, admit to having abandoned “clean” language as a spiritual discipline long ago. Who can blame them? Profane words are mere symbols of the frustrations and anger that are at an all-time high these days. What is troublesome though, is that we are no longer shocked by anything we hear. We have adapted to a “new normal” that does not elevate our minds, hearts, and words.

As a spiritual director, I talk to people all the time about God-consciousness and our struggles to make inner and outer lives match. Sincere seekers often feel ashamed of their scatological outbursts that seem to erupt out of nowhere. They want to control and change these impulsive tendencies, especially for the sake of the little ears that are nearby. There are, of course, ways to reverse these behaviors–like putting coins in a jar every time a swear word escapes. Sadly, this practice is often abandoned rather quickly unless a teenager in the family is put in charge of the jar. Sin and the fear of hell no longer motivate us either so I often hear myself saying what my mom taught me: “Can you just stop, for God’s sake, if not your own?” Cleaning up langauge may benefit ourselves and others but can we engage in better practices for non-utilitarian reasons? Simply to be true to the God within?

These are questions that can only be answered by trial and error, practicing, experiencing, failing, trying again and again. No one is perfect (another momism) but we can improve by taking small steps that lead to lifelong changes. Taking profanity out of our repertoire not only alters the way we speak but also shifts the way we think. The language of the Beloved then has a chance of transforming the world.

Do We Become the Mask We Wear?

Photo of a painting by Marilyn Zapp

For two years, we have hidden behind masks for health purposes. It has not been fun albeit necessary. All the while I have meditated daily on the consequences of blocking our faces, such important nonverbal communication indicators of feelings. I have especially lamented the detriment to small children and teens – not only the fear of other peoples’ germs but also the potential loss of skills in interpreting facial cues. Research for ions has revealed the importance of learning these skills as infants. My youngest granddaughter was born in September of 2020, at the height of the pandemic. In her first year, she was exposed to no one without a mask (except immediate family members). I constantly fretted, along with my daughter, and we made a constant effort to emote unmasked when in the confines of home. Even though she seems very well adjusted 19 months later, I still wonder what has been lost. But masks have always been a constant source of contemplation for me.

In summers long ago, I took my girls to the Sawdust Festival in Laguna Beach. It was a pilgrimage of sorts into the world of local art and hand-crafted treasures. On one such visit, I became enthralled with a painting of a young woman holding a mask by artist Marilyn Zapp. Both the mask and the woman are crying. Underneath is an inscription: Do we become the mask we wear? Then, having just facilitated youth retreats exploring the false and true self, I felt compelled to purchase the painting. It has hung in my office ever since and I have used it as a springboard for many interesting discussions.

This past weekend, I spent a day of retreat with my 15-year-old granddaughter, Elaina, who celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation yesterday. Because of the pandemic, her two-year preparation was conducted wearing masks at all times and did not include an overnight retreat, often a highlight for many teens. Even though having a one-on-one with her grandmother could hardly compare, she sweetly accepted my invitation and we had a treasured time together. We talked a lot about masks, not only the PPE ones she had to wear the first two years of high school but also the invisible, psychological survival masks we think we have to wear to be accepted. I asked her to select magazine photos to represent the different masks she wears with friends, parents, herself, and God. Then she arranged them in a collage on a paper mask. Her photos were touching, revealing, and poignant; the discussion honest and deep, much more symbolic than the medical mask, which she said she was “used to,” and “did not mind.” I marveled at how adaptable we all are and cried inside about that reality.

Once again, masks are back in the news cycle, filling us with confusion, anger, and fear. People are so divided over this issue! Elaina and I ruminated over why we are not more concerned about the fake masks we are forced to wear every day. As my painting reminds, if we are not careful, the false self does become what we think is our true self. A tragedy. A lie. The true self, often hidden, dormant or disguised, is the innate “image and likeness of God,” the “Christ within,” emanating from every soul, the love that binds us together for eternity, the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit. As I told Elaina, it will take us a lifetime of diligent effort to shed the masks of the false self and allow the Christ within, the true self, to stream out into the world. But it’s worth it!


HAPPY EASTER SEASON EVERYONE! The rising cycle of the Paschal Mystery is upon us now as we celebrate for fifty days (until Pentecost). Doesn’t it feel glorious? My bearded irises, calla lilies, rose bushes, and geraniums are blooming. Along with Jesus, all the earth has risen to new life. Likewise, my engagement with Lent has ended and now I am joyfully embracing this Spring season with a renewed and intentional gusto. I began on Holy Saturday by making traditional Easter bread for my family to share, a sacramental gesture of gratitude for the gift of the resurrection.

I have been baking bread for fifty years–for holidays, special occasions, and little presents for bread lovers. My fascination with the whole process started because my mother baked bread and simply, I loved to eat it! It was crusty on the outside and sweetly tender on the inside. Even the best bakery in town could not compete with it. Spread with butter and jam or peanut butter, it never lasted more than one day at our house. When I moved far away from home after I married, baking bread was one of the first culinary adventures I undertook. As simple as the ingredients are, the process was one I learned to respect. From the mixing of flour, yeast, and warm liquids, there was kneading, and diligent waiting for the dough to rise before baking. The end result still seems to me like a little miracle.

These days, it is important not only to look for little “resurrection” miracles but to participate in them as well. The world situation can be infinitely depressing if we cannot see through lugubrious situations with a mystic’s eyes, with a “faith that looks through death,” as the poet wrote so long ago. In Christianity, what looks like death/defeat is really life/victory. Every moment is paradoxically meaningful when we rise from our banal, cynical, false self tendencies. In essence, the resurrection teaches us that holding the tensions of life can be endured with the gentle hope of rising again.

Everyone “ooohed” and “ahhed” when they beheld the loaves of Easter bread set as the centerpiece of our family table on Sunday. In between my grandchildren’s egg hunts and the many lures of peeps, chocolate bunnies, and jelly beans, we tacitly became the Body of Christ when we broke bread together and humbly remembered why we gather on Easter in the first place. Rising to the occasion, we were aglow with bonds of generational love that we then streamed out into a world in need. I hope you felt it.

Stones Crying Out: Lent Week 6

The drama of Holy Week always takes my breath away, beginning with the gospel story that recounts the scene of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Suddenly, the Messianic secret is out and everyone enjoys a collaborative “epiphany moment,” with the realization of Christ’s true identity. The apostles are appalled when a huge mob crying “hosanna” and waving palms in homage follows Jesus, riding on a donkey, into the center of the city. Peter, James, and John must have been wringing their hands in worry. The last time they were there, people nearly lynched Jesus. Making a big fuss would most certainly put them all in harm’s way. But when the apostles tried to quiet the crowd, Jesus protested saying that if they were silenced, the very stones would cry out!

Jesus’ reference to stones crying out always gets to me. I have “a thing” about rocks anyway, as most of my friends know. These solid, inanimate objects speak to me especially when I walk on the beach. Heart-shaped rocks leap out like valentines. Smooth white pebbles gleam like peppermint jelly beans. Turquoise, orange, and copper-hued stripes shine brightly when drenched with saltwater. This time of year, they look like Easter eggs and I fill my pockets full. I know God has lots of rocks and does not mind if I relocate a few to the Medicine Wheel prayer circle in my backyard or give them away to friends who also appreciate what lies in plain sight beneath our feet.

Sometimes big boulders even cry out “hosanna” as seen in this photo I took of three perfect white crosses that seemingly appeared out of nowhere. When folks express worry that our world is trying to erase the Holy One’s presence, I assure them not to be fearful. The Creator will not be silenced. If you don’t believe me, read the gospel for Palm Sunday. We have the word of Jesus on this topic.

The Triduum (three days preceding Easter) is in our sight now. I am easing into these momentous celebrations with eager anticipation and calm. Usually, this is the busiest, most stressful time of year for me. But now that I am retired from professional church ministry, I am happily anticipating the celebration of the Paschal Mystery in a new and different way. On Holy Thursday, I will wash and kiss the feet of folks in need. On Good Friday, I will ritually pour out lamentations for this suffering world and venerate the cross with like-minded friends. On Holy Saturday, I will bake Easter bread and wait at home, tomb-like, for our family celebration on Sunday, another glorious resurrection amidst the messiness of life. All the while, my ears will be attuned to the subtle whispers of the stones, flowers, plants, and ocean, that fill my soul to the brim with everlasting hosannas.

Alive Again: Lent Week 5

Since March of 2020, the reality of death has been literally in our faces every single day as we constantly engage with the tragic pandemic stories on the news. Yet, coronavirus is not the only reminder of our mortality. There are natural disasters, school shootings, fatal accidents, other diseases, and most recently, the war in Ukraine to remind us that life on this side of the veil is fragile. While we live with the certainty that no one gets out of this alive, most of us remain in denial, shocked at the death toll, believing somehow that we are all supposed to die peacefully in our sleep at age 100. In reality, this is an uncommon experience and found nowhere in Scripture.

The Gospel for the Fifth Week of Lent, Cycle A (the RCIA readings), the story of the Raising of Lazarus leads us ever more deeply into the mystery of life, sickness, death and resuscitation. This confounding narrative could be the source of a lifelong “lectio divina,” there are so many quirky details. Lazarus and Jesus are best friends, something we did not really know much about before this story. Lazarus falls fatally ill (think of someone in ICU with Covid) and although Jesus is told to come right away, he takes his sweet time getting there. Lazarus is dead and in the tomb three days before Jesus finally arrives. He seems utterly surprised, weeps copiously, and then performs perhaps his greatest miracle: he calls Lazarus back to life. The story ends there but I always wonder what Lazarus said to Jesus at dinner that night.

A happy ending to the finality of death is also at the heart of the Paschal Mystery with the resurrection of Jesus. Holy Week is coming soon and we will be plunged again into pondering why Jesus chose to endure enormous suffering, horrendous torture, and humiliating execution before he spends three days in a tomb and is resurrected. I never look forward to walking through the gulf of grief and lamentations on Good Friday and Holy Saturday but by Easter Sunday, I am always grateful for this sacred journey, fraught with lessons about dying for love and holding the many sorrows of everyday living.

This past week, I attended the musical “The Secret Garden” produced by the young thespians at Santa Margarita High School. Like many of you no doubt, I had read the book by Frances Hodgson Burnett when I was very young and had always loved the story. Since the play’s Broadway debut in 1991, I had longed to see the theatrical adaptation on stage and was not disappointed by this stellar production. (I am always astonished by these talented young artists!) As the story goes, the unresolved grief in a family locks the door to beauty, preventing the living and the dead to move on. Then, quite by accident, a lonely, grief-stricken little girl with resilience and tenacity, finds the key that opens the door to a secret garden that has grown fallow. Love awakens the dormant plants, brings technicolor to the flowers, and heals the brokenhearted. Out of death, life comes forth, unbound, like Lazarus, alive again; like all who make their peace with the cycle of death and rebirth.

Oftentimes, when sickness or death invades life, people of faith question how those without spiritual inclinations can endure its ravishing effects. How indeed? Right at the top of my list of spiritual questions for God has always been the same one: Why do we (or anything really) have to die? Only in the silence of meditation each day can I even begin to release such queries and embrace the birthless, deathless Christ who lives hidden inside the secret garden of each human soul. Only then am I surrounded by the communion of saints and angels, still with us, alive again in every remembrance.

Learning to See: Lent Week 4

During this Fourth Week of Lent, I am confronted once again with the story of The Man Born Blind in John’s gospel. Blind from birth, Jesus anoints this man’s eyes with a saliva-mud formula, an instant cure. Word gets back to the religious authorities who immediately interrogate everyone about how this happened but no one can explain it, even the blind man himself who simply says, “I once was blind but now I see.” Don’t you wonder what happened to this unamed man after all the hoopla died down? Did he become a disciple? What was it like for him to have both his physical and spiritual eyes open? I like to think he was changed for good but knowing human nature, I wonder.

Spiritual blindness is an ongoing problem for us. This is obvious when we simply listen to the news media, pay attention to the political drama, or experience the after-effects of the pandemic. The irony is, we are ego-centric and thus do not readily see our own blind spots. Most of the time, we miss critical turning points until other people, continual suffering, or crisis open our eyes to our complicity. Even then, why we do the things we do is easily rationalized.

During this time of Lenten scrutiny, I challenge myself and those I guide to try to identify spiritual blindspots. “But if I am blind to them, how can I name them?” is a sincere and important question many seekers ask. Not your fault! Learning to see the world from God’s vantage point is not often taught in a very practical way by priests, teachers, and theologians. If you are new to this, take heart, there is a way. According to a book and podcast by Brian MacLaren,* we have to re-learn how to see and this journey begins by identifying human biases. And there are many. I will name five and then hope you will read the rest of the book and/or listen to the podcast episodes. Think of 5 “C” words: confirmation (not the sacrament), complexity, community, complementarity, and contact.

Confirmation bias happens when I welcome information that confirms what I already think and resist information that disturbs or contradicts my view. If I have been convinced, for example, that vaccinating for Covid is the best possible cure for everyone, then any information that confirms my viewpoint is welcomed but when presented with expert testimony that questions or doubts my opinion, I will quickly reject the position as false, sometimes without any consideration.

Complexity bias happens because the human brain prefers a simple lie to complex truth. “It’s more complex!” I often hear myself saying when my grandchildren make general statements like “All religion is evil,” or “All politicians are crooks.” We like to boil every situation down to the least common denominator so we do not have to grapple with the confounding particularities of a moral problem.

Community bias makes it hard to see somthing your group doesn’t want you to see. No one likes to be “the cheese standing alone” in the midst of people you love or call family. Easier to go along with the group than going against it. We live with moral loneliness all the time and that’s not a comfortable place to be.

Complementarity bias happens regularly: if people are nice to you, you’ll be open to what they see and have to say. If they aren’t nice to you, you won’t. I know you get the idea because this bias begins in kindergarten.

Contact bias is easier to recognize–if you lack contact with someone, you won’t see what they see. This is the basis of most prejudicial bahavior. If we never bother to get to know the Muslim family down the street, we have no idea what they have experienced, what they do or think.

No one has 20/20 spiritual vision, not even the most holy among us. Yet, this is no excuse not to clean our lenses, or agree to have a spiritual cataract removed with grace, the laser of the soul. I personally do not like living with my biases, of which there are many, but am willing to be anointed with the healing serum of Christ. I wish it would be an instant cure, as in the case of Man Born Blind. I can only hope the the Divine Physician gives me more patience with others. In any case, I will continue to lean into the deeper meaning when I loudly sing: “I once was blind but now I see.”

*Brian MacLaren’s Podcast:

Thirsting for Living Water – Lent Week 3

I cannot remember the first year that water bottles became ubiquitous companions of seemingly everyone from preschoolers to senior citizens. Today, designer flasks, which are larger and more insulated for freshness, have replaced plastic (better for the environment and our health). Apparently, no one may leave the house, even for short trips to the grocery store, without access to hydration. When did we citizens of the world become so thirsty?

Heading into the third week of Lent has always raised this question. For decades, I accompanied seekers of Catholicism in the RCIA process. Lent is a very intense time for them, especially when they participate in the Scrutinies, ancient exorcism rituals, on the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays. Special stories from the Gospel of John given them rich archetypes and themes to apply to their lives. The first of these stories about the Samaritan Woman (aka the Woman at the Well) focuses on her deep, unseen thirst for a better, more meaningful life. She hides this spiritual thirst from everyone, except Jesus, who she unexpectedly encounters when she is drawing water from Jacob’s well at the hottest time of the day. Jesus is just passing through and has sent his apostles into town to get take-out while he rests. He intentionally positions himself so he can talk to this outcast about his well of “living water” which will never leave her thirsty. She ecstatically abandons her bucket of water and runs to tell everyone her good news, completely satiated by the love flowing from someone who actually saw what she was really craving.

Last week, my nineteen-year-old grandson and I spent the day together. He graduated high school in the Spring of 2020 when everything was shut down and has spent the first two years of college online. A natural introvert, he adapted well to the confines of his Zoom classes but recently confessed to me that he is bored now and feeling restless to get out more. Since he had expressed interest, I invited him to accompany me to the Laguna Beach Art Museum. As we meandered through the exhibits, I could see how thirsty he was for in-person experiences and was delighted by his thoughtful comments. When we left the museum, he was also drawn into the magnificent view of the coastline, the allure of the ocean, the tidepools below and the white waves hitting the shoreline. My heart broke a little when he disclosed that he missed the ocean and could not remember when he had last been there. After a quick lunch in Dana Point, we headed for the beach, just to gaze and breathe in the salty scent of natural living water. My eyes stung with tears (I hid these from him), the holy water of the Spirit, as I reveled in this rare moment shared between grandmother and grandson.

Perhaps the water bottles that have become part of our daily lives can remind us that our spirits need be hydrated as much as our bodies do, especially as we emerge from the pandemic and engage with the world again. The young need the old. The old need the young. We are parched and continually thirsty for one another. We both need to drink from the well of living water which naturally flows in abundance from the tributary of Love. Like the Samaritan Woman at the Well, only these personal encounters with the Living Christ, rising from being present to one another, can and will satiate our deepest thirsts.

Transfigurations: Lent Week 2

The Second Week of Lent is upon us and “it’s good that we are here,” according to Peter after experiencing the Transfiguration. What an understatement! Kind of like saying “I enjoyed it” after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I always wonder what lingered in the memories of Peter, James, and John after that incredible vision of Elijah, Moses, and the resurrected Christ. Surely keeping it a secret was a joke. That unexpected glimpse into the spiritual realm must have permanently altered their vision, just like any authentic experience of the divine, even the smallest of transfigurations.

On cue every spring at the beginning of March, the bare wisteria vine that grows outside my kitchen window suddenly blooms with delicate, fragrant, and liturgically correct purple blooms. Every year I am transfixed watching the flowers multiply at an astonishing pace. I planted that vine myself many years ago so that I would have something to gaze at while I cooked and did the dishes. Despite the awareness that spring is near, that the dead-looking vine is teeming with life, I am always startled when these sweet blossoms beckon me outside to stand agog at this ordinary but marvelous transfiguration.

Experiences of the divine are also revealed in the lives of those around me. I communicate by text almost daily with my close friend, Fr. Jim Ries. He recently retired as pastor of Our Lady of Fatima parish in San Clemente. Now he lives in Oceanside, close to San Luis Rey Mission, in a mobile home he completely remodeled to accommodate his disabilities. Fr. Jim has a degenerative nerve disease called “Charcot-Marie-Tooth” and is permanently confined to a wheelchair. Friends for many years, I remember when he nimbly walked and rode a bike, discerned his vocation, attended seminary, and his ordination to the priesthood. We remained close during all of his assignments as a servant priest and pastor in the Diocese of Orange. Jim has spent nearly every holiday with my family, a “little brother” to me, an “uncle” to my kids, a sports-on-TV sidekick with my husband, a jokester at the dinner table with my extended family friends. All along, Jim knew what was in store, that his body would slowly decline, but that never deterred him from living abundantly.

Fr. Jim sees moments of transfiguration even in his own sufferings, of which there have been many. About two weeks ago, right in time for Lent, he fell and broke his leg, a major setback for him. While I screamed at God over the unfairness, Fr. Jim accepted the week-long hospital stay and many months ahead of physical therapy with his usual calm good nature and courage. He revels in the little victories of sleeping through the night and watching televised sports from his recliner now that he is back at home. He says he is offering up his sufferings, picking up his cross, and following Jesus for the salvation of the world.

I marvel at Jim’s resilience and quiet piety. Even though I have learned to see transfiguration in the ordinariness of a spring day, like my blooming wisteria vine, I am hard-pressed when it comes to suffering. I still have a lot to learn about the Paschal Mystery although I am repeatedly transfigured by its truth and beauty, drawn into deep caverns of meaning, and comforted by the cycles of renewal it promises.

Visions of the dazzling white garments of Jesus in transfigured moments come and go quickly for most of us ordinary pilgrims on the spiritual journey. Yet we can anchor these little manifestations in our memories and resolve to stay awake enough to see more. At the oddest moments, when the heart surges with gratitude, Peter’s voice may arise and remind us that indeed, “it’s good that we are here.” Then, like the apostles, we descend the mountain to spread that good news.

Temptations: Lent Week 1

The First Sunday of Lent every year focuses on Jesus’ temptations in the desert. It’s a mythological tale that most Christians with basic formation know. Jesus fasts for forty days and nights and then, just when he’s ready to return from his retreat, the devil appears and tempts him with three very human desires: power, prestige, and possessions. Not only does Jesus not give in, but he also defeats the enemy by engaging his strong will and acute biblical rhetoric. I always want to yell “touché” when the devil slinks off defeated and Jesus is comforted by angels.

After listening to this gospel at mass on Sunday, the topic of temptation has occupied my thoughts. Like everyone, I have had many temptations in my life, some I gave into, some I resisted, others I simply observed with obsequious detachment. No longer wrestling with the devil at my age, I do still wrestle with God, almost every day, in fact. There are so many mysteries and paradoxes, so many confounding situations in our Christ-soaked world. I am tempted to lose my temper, change my sanguine nature, ditch my contemplative commitment to nonviolence, especially when I ponder world news each day. So much gloom and doom have tempted us to give in to depression, anxiety, and a host of other apathetic stances. Resisting these more subtle temptations has been far more difficult than we ever knew.

I watched “60 Minutes” this week and their report about the people of Ukraine brought tears of rage and sadness to my entire being. An overwhelming temptation to engage headlong into the conflict and DO SOMETHING engulfed me. I absurdly entertained thoughts of what it would be like to be in physical combat, forcibly resisting the oppression. The compassion of the Polish people on the train platform made me want to get on the next plane and join their efforts to take care of the vulnerable. Let’s be real, I silently told myself. I cannot engage either of these temptations. I am an older American woman committed to nonviolence who has no power or prestige on world stages.

Late last night, I had a long conversation with a soul friend. She talked about her fears of another world war. I told her we had to stay detached from these gut-wrenching thoughts and the temptation to believe we cannot defeat evil except with violence. When we hung up, I wondered if I had said the right thing. Was I telling her NOT to engage with the faces of those beautiful children and mothers on the trains, the resolute ones staying behind to fight? Just stop reading editorials and watching the news?  Move into blissful ignorance and not think too deeply? While I was only trying to help assuage her anxiety, apathy is not the answer, of course, when it comes to temptations.

So what else can I do? I can (and will) write a check and send it to the Ukrainian Relief Efforts. I have, after all, a wealth of possessions that sometimes possess me way too much. Yet my conscience sneers at this paltry solution. Simply sending cash is too easy and will not untether me from the deeper conflicts within my spirit. Every day, I turn to prayer, always my go-to solution for everything, even though sometimes these efforts never seem like enough.

In the end, I ask myself, “What is the spiritual response to these nagging temptations that constantly peck at the hard shell of my well-ordered life?  Rebuking the devil is also not enough, as Jesus showed us in the gospel story. The paradox of living in this on-going war between good and evil begs us to hold the tension of this world resolutely enough to slake temptations and gently enough to allow the restoration of angels.

According to prolific writer and theologian, Fr. Ron Rolheiser, we should always view the world as we look upon the scene at Calvary: Jesus hanging in between two thieves. From a distance, you cannot tell which is which. Closer, we see that Christ is with us in the human drama of struggle, suffering, sweating blood, and dying for love. The scene is not simply a remembrance of what happened two thousand years ago, but is real today–Christ is riding on those trains with the refugees, fighting for peace and freedom with both the Ukrainian and Russian people. On both their sides.

Perhaps the best response for us who are far away from the conflict is to keep the faith and resist the temptation to think we have been forsaken or abandoned. It always astonishes me how the Good, alive inside us, quickly appears when the chips are down. The whole world is reaching out to the people of Ukraine, coming to their aid with immense, unfathomable love. When tempted to do good, the Christ in us arises, surprises, and sustains all who are in need. Seeking the wisdom place, let us unite in solidarity with all who are affected by war and be comforted by the enormous display of empathy flowing into the world.