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Grainy, sooty, found in shades of gray and black, dull or glossy, ashes form the residue of what remains after intense burning; in the eleventh century they were incorporated into today’s liturgical observance of Ash Wednesday around the world.

The 2020 Covid epidemic halted this ritual until now. Again, priests sign the faithful with a cross of ashes on their foreheads while praying, “Remember, that you are dust and into dust you shall return.” Then, and now, its observance proclaims the beginning of Lent with its practice of varied penance, and the reminder of our mortality.

In my imagination, these blessed ashes of diminishment co-mingle with the ashes left in the wake of Russian armaments blanketing Ukrainian cities, burying the living and the dead, scarring and obliterating buildings and landmarks, stultifying psyches. Ashes weep, blown by recalcitrant winds around the world.

Aside from Russia’s offensive losing its wallop, aside from the heroism of the Ukraine’s president and his people, the outcome of the conflict is uncertain.

“But, in the end, I think Ukraine’s darkest days are ahead of them…Vladimir Putin’s going to burn down Ukraine’s house.” So says Daniel Hoffman — for years, one of the CIA’s top experts on Russia.

With the burning comes more ashes of what was, the leitmotif of Ukraine’s beleaguered history, and with it, its sanctification. We’ve much to learn through prayerful weeping. 

At 3:30 A.M., I awoke with this peaceful dream:

I’m working in a large city with countless others, all in a spirit of harmony and peace. Nowhere is there ill will or discord.

What is unusual about this dream is that it continued throughout the night. I’m glad to have receive it.

In robust health, I’m working, totally involved, energized by multiple projects that enlarge my knowledge of life. I’m delighted to be participating and never tire. Countless others surround me from whom I also learn; and they, from me.

The large city suggests the realm of Twelve Step Recovery, where a minority engage in conscious living that involves selfless care for one another, even through chronic pain and illness unto death. Care for the environment also flows from this awareness of the living God within and in our midst, evidenced by the spirit of harmony and peace. Key to this on-going recovery are the practice of faith, emotional honesty, and willingness.

Another association with the large city is St. Augustine’s philosophic treatise City of God (413-466 CE) in which the believers bolster themselves from malicious attacks by the unbelievers of the Earthly City, a conflict that will continue until the end of time.

In view of our present global conflagration, good versus evil, it’s imperative not to lose hope. Another Power is at work who has brought others through similar perils. Lean into It and do the next right thing, with grace. It’s working out …

And God is always there; if you feel wounded.

He kneels over this earth like a divine medic, and His love thaws out the holy in us.

So concludes the poem, When the Holy Thaws, composed by Teresa of Avila (1515 – 1582) Spanish mystic, reformer of the Carmelite Order, and author of contemplative prayer and practices.

This many centuries later, I wonder of this consoling poem reflects one of her visions with which she was gifted during her life. She knew the wounds, inflicted upon her by ecclesiastical authorities and her own nuns for the reforms she implemented among them—even founded seven monasteries for the observance of the new rule of life. She, too, given her frail health, needed solace and experienced the kneeling God as divine medic.

In my perception nothing much has really changed—only more darkness and disease have distorted our planet from its God-given path.

It’s helpful to return, in prayer, to the gift of these inspired words and let His love thaw out the holy in us. For the holy is properly our birthright and our deepest joy, even in the midst of calamities.

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