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“I thirst,” said the Russian tank officer, leaning against the turret, blood oozing from his shoulder onto his jacket.

“I thirst,” said the Ukrainian soldier tightening a tourniquet above his ankle seeping blood, his mouth twisted in anguish.

“I thirst,” said the scarved grandmother holding her toddler’s hand, watchful of potholes lest she fall.

“I thirst,” said the battle-terrified youth seeking a means to desert within the mayhem of the next explosion.

“I thirst,” said the field reporter, dismayed by her empty thermos bottle and too far from the station to replenish it.

“I thirst,” said the teenager sheltering a puppy in his hooded coat as he shivered in the cold, his village just strafed by mortar shells.

Many also thirst far beyond the war zone: those tending the  supply lines, those strategizing the next strike, those searching casualty lists, those suturing new wounds, those listening for glimmers of hope, those praying from arroyo-like depths.

And there was Another who cried, “I thirst!” who shares our thirst.

Be still and know that I am God.

So proclaimed the psalmist, an imperative directed toward centuries of warring factions, both within and without. What is there about the human spirit, so easily impaled upon conflict, so easily seduced by Evil’s allurements that appear all powerful, the ultimate in satisfaction?

In our time, another unbridled war escalates in Ukraine with the murderous Russian offensive, twelve days old. Terror breeds more terror. Madness sours perspective. Blood stains once-manicured streets. Flurries of “We’ve got to do something!” fill the media like Icelandic blizzards crippling its cities.

Yet, another Voice compels our full attention. Be still. Substantial life-change is at stake and we know it. Naked, trembling, we stretch into our psyches and release our own trigger fingers, yield our recalcitrant wills, unravel murderous distortions, and unclench fists. In the process, we come to Know that I am God.

Indeed, this is a solitary war, even more critical than Ukraine’s, the sweaty business of engagement and retreat, of binding up wounds and receiving new ones, of regrouping until learning to walk anew, upright in spirit.

The spirituality of the Twelve-step Recovery puts out psychic fires around the world. Its practice continues helping me.

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. 

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