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Prayer, Loss & Pondering The Crisis In Ukraine


I've been watching the news carefully over the past month as the Russian invasion of Ukraine has quickly escalated into a devastating humanitarian crisis. That Putin's violent ambition has irrevocably transformed the people of Ukraine overnight is undeniable, but the equally undeniable possibility exists that Ukraine could be just the first target of Putin's hunger for absolute power in Europe; he might very well set his sights on nations under the protection of NATO, which would pose the real threat of a nuclear conflict between Russia and the United States. There is no overstating the obvious implications of the aggressive attack on Ukraine's sovereignty and rights to self-determination. This is a fight for life for the people of Ukraine, and a fight for the principles of democracy that people like myself often- however unintentionally- take for granted.


As graphic images of the death and destruction in Ukraine flash across my screen, I think about something I heard the Dalai Lama say in a public address I attended. "The only outcome of war is suffering," His Holiness said as he recounted the story of communist China's invasion of Tibet in 1950. Violence is abhorrent to me, even when it's the only resort against a much greater evil. I recognize fully well that there are times when violence is the only answer to prevent an even greater loss of life or tragedy (the defeat of Hitler in World War II comes first to mind), but the result is still the same, suffering, and will almost always plant the seeds for some kind of violence in the future. Wars never take place in a vacuum; there are consequences, seen and unseen, and it is almost always the innocent that pay the price for it. This is the terrible reality of armed conflict.


My meditations as of late have included the words I wrote in Sacred Verses: Entering the Labyrinth of the Gods, which at times deals with death (symbolic and actual), and to a lesser extent violence. When I wrote Sacred Verses 42: Sacred Marriage/ I Will Light More of Them I was thinking specifically on the loss of loved ones due to illness, domestic violence or war, the agonizing trial of having to face the death of a loved one and then move on with a life in which they are physically absent. At the time I wrote this set of verses I was meditating on the devastation of saying goodbye while turning to others for answers- only to feel loss more profoundly and question the consolations of those who want to see us whole again. The truth is that we can never be whole again, once we've loved and then lost in some terrible manner. People can assure us that all is well, that our pain will subside in time, but that hole in our heart continues to ask will anything be well every again.


I don't really know how to express my disturbed feelings and heartache given rise to by Putin's invasion of Ukraine. There is something sinister behind these events, behind the autocrat Vladimir Putin and his war machine, by the nature of this conflict that threatens to destabilize not only Europe but the world; and sinister are the images of women crying for their dead children, and people in a state of shock and exhaustion as their only home is ruthlessly wiped from the face of the earth. Explosions and rubble are the monuments to Putin's ambitions, and in their wake a trail of the dead demanding an answer from justice.


What I can express now is what I've already expressed in Sacred Verses 42, that life only has meaning when we can have hope. I consider my poetry to be the voice of an optimism that sees tragedy as a part of human life we can eventually work through and emerge from- worse for wear- as stronger and more determined than ever. But even if our own losses temporarily shatter that resilient part of us, we can opt to listen to the grief of others and take them by the hand, knowing how heartache can diminish and halt life in its tracks. Perhaps we can find some measure of hope for our own life's purpose in sheltering others who've suffered as we have. Vowing to do just that is what Sacred Marriage/ I Will Light More of Them is about. It tells us that our darkness is also a source of light for others, that our deepest pain can be a catalyst for living part of our life in service to others who've lost just as deeply, who've suffered just as hard.


Sacred Verses 42: Sacred Marriage/ I Will Light More of Them


I stand at the threshold of the sky,

where sorrow passes through my feet

like a summer breeze.

These tears of mine add misery to the waters,

and yet I am never carried away with them.

This is the boon my mother gave me,

who comes with her head

covered in a shawl of tenderness,

like the red of a cardinal's wing.

Her shawl frames eyes and lips,

beaming with that light I know as hope.


You pass me a scarf on the wind,

and it is like my mother's hair.

She is a wanderer,

but she returns to me in my dreams,

to tell me all is well.

And is it well?


When I hear the thunder in the distance,

the sound chases my heart into the shadows.

And there I wait with the spirits of my memories,

who whisper prayers louder than thunder,

who light candles beaming with that light

I know as compassion.


And I will light more of them,

for my brothers shimmering now behind the veil.

And I will light more of them,

for my sisters dancing now behind the veil.

And that veil is like my mother's hair,

which covers my sorrows as they tell a tale

from behind my light's veil.


I meet tenderness beneath a tree,

with spirals reaching out from the bosom of that sky,

where death passes through my hands

like a stream moved by Spring.

These moments of beauty and pleasure

add life to the waters,

and yet I am never carried away with them.

This is the boon my father gave me,

who comes with his eyes hidden in a cloak of darkness.

Like the black of a raven's breast,

his cloak shields heart and hands,

enduring with that spirit

I know as time.


You pass me a candle on the Moon,

and it is like my father's voice.

He is a wanderer,

but he returns to me in my dreams

to tell me all is well.

And is it well?


When I hear grieving in the distance,

the sound chases my heart into the shadows.

And there I wait with the music of my memories,

who whispers joy louder than our sorrows,

who lights candles beaming with that light

I know as solace.

And I will light more of them

for my lovers shimmering now behind the veil.

And I will light more of them

for my family dancing now behind the veil.

And that veil is like my mother's hair,

which covers my sorrows as they tell a tale

from behind my light's veil.