Russia, Ukraine, and Lent
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25
Contemplative author and teacher Fr. Richard Rohr describes the recycling pattern of the created universe as order, disorder, and reorder. We witness this pattern all around us as birth, growth, decline, death, and rebirth. It appears to be a relentless and often painful cycle from which there is no earthly escape. Much of the disorder and reorder in our world is caused by natural events like earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, and the like. Other instances of disorder are instigated by human choice, as in the interior chaos caused by a home remodeling project. Many large-scale sources of human-caused disorder, as we are currently witnessing with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, are initiated by the violent actions of the leaders of one nation against another. Fear, greed, and toxic nationalism often inspire such unsettling actions. While the order phase of the cycle is characterized by seeming stability, comfort, and predictability, the disorder phase is often painful, unsettling, and destructive, particularly to individuals. The reorder phase brings about a new normal, although the advantage in the reordered environment often accrues to the most powerful and influential.
Life on earth is never static. If it were there would be no opportunity for new life, rebirth, or even for an improved life. When we are in a comfortable position we often resist change because we cannot know that our new position will be as comfortable. When our comfortable position comes at the cost of significant discomfort to others, those others may attempt to create disorder. Most of us are reluctant to change in any significant way until change is forced upon us. And for some, a stable discomfort seems preferable to an unknown new normal. When the oppressiveness of our current life circumstances becomes too much, or when our desire to strike out against real or imagined injustices hits a tipping point, we willingly force a time of disorder so a reorder will occur, even though we cannot know the nature of the reorder.
The defining moment of the Christian faith was birthed from a time of disorder and reorder, which was the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Jesus of Nazareth stood at the crossroads of two opposing forces, symbolized by the horizontal and vertical beams of the cross, and died at their intersection. Jesus of Nazareth was nailed to the cross, and Jesus the Christ was resurrected from it – disorder, then reorder. As we enter the season of Lent, as we prepare to walk with Jesus to the cross, we should know that walking this path with any measure of sincerity or dedication forces us into a time of disorder. In the gospels Jesus is explicit that following him requires us to “deny ourselves” and to take up our crosses. I interpret this to mean that we willingly abandon the comfortable order we find ourselves in and face, head-on, the opposing forces that separate us, one from another. The forces that invade and oppress, the forces that hoard and withhold needful resources, the forces that abuse and neglect. And make no mistake, those warring, violent forces reside within every one of us. Jesus knew it 2000 years ago, and we must face our individual responsibility for the pain and suffering in our world today. “Those who want to save their life will lose it,” Jesus reminds us. In other words, if we do not willingly change in ways that lovingly reflect our oneness with everything and everyone in creation, we will contribute to times of disorder, often unknowingly.
While I do not believe these difficult times of disorder are God-ordained acts, I also cannot deny that God allows them to happen, no matter how painful. I believe they are inherent in the way the world was created. God did not stop the betrayal, arrest, humiliation, torture, or murder of Jesus – why would we believe God would spare us from similar fates?
As we walk through this reflective time of Lent, we should pray for the people of Ukraine. We should pray for the people of Russia and eastern Europe who are being forced into a painful and uncertain time of disorder. We should pray that the reorder, whenever it occurs, will bring a lasting peace and an end to some of the perpetual injustices present there. And most importantly, we should pray for our eyes to be opened to the ways we contribute to personal, communal, and global conflict. Where is the violence in me? In what ways do I invade and disrespect the sovereign lives of others? If we do not find ourselves in and accept some responsibility for the problem, we cannot be a part of the solution. Unless we willingly take up our cross, whatever its nature, we cannot follow Jesus to the time of reorder, also known as the resurrection.