I’ve lived my whole life under a nuclear cloud, as likely most of you had. Recent events in Ukraine, and the nuclear sabre-rattling of Russia’s president have brought this to the fore. Most of us with any understanding of European history have a sense of how this conflict could escalate in some truly horrendous ways. In a statement widely attributed to Albert Einstein, it has been observed: ‘I do not know what weapons the third world war will be fought with, but I know that the fourth one will be fought with sticks and stones.”
My 36 year old son asked my wife and me how we dealt with the nuclear tensions of the 1960’s. It’s plain all this has been bothering him. It’s been bothering us as well, triggering all those memories of civil defense drills of crawling under desks or going down to the subterranean designated shelter area in our elementary school. I watched President Kennedy on our black and white TV show overflight pictures of Cuban missile bases 90 miles from our southern borders, bases from which much of the eastern US could be reached in minutes. I remember the tense days when we wondered if these would be our last. I remember that my parents did not have much to say to assure us, but that my dad continued to sit with me as I prayed my nightly prayers, talking until I dropped off to sleep. I didn’t know what the night or tomorrow would bring, but for the moment I felt a measure of safety. Perhaps that’s all we ever have.
My wife and I looked at each other as we took in our son’s question. We both said, “This is worse.” Is it that we know more, and have seen so many more instances of the unthinkable happening? Is it our apprehension of the volatility of a war in east central Europe, amid a cluster of nations, knowing past histories of how more and more became embroiled in what became “World Wars?” Is it apprehensions of a Russian president who has assassinated political enemies, violated sovereign borders, and crossed moral bright-lines of protecting non-combatants and medical facilities?
How do I deal with it? I think I try to limit the amount of time I give it without ignoring it. But I woke up the other night thinking of how serious this all is, and all I could do was pray myself to sleep–praying that God would restrain evil, confuse the efforts of evildoers, and to pray for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people and the safety of those seeking to flee to refuge. I also pray for our leaders and others in the world. How does one communicate firm and believable resolve and yet work to contain and quench a fire that could destroy much of the world, without fanning the flames? I’ve known God to give wisdom in the moment, and so I pray that God will give in spades that kind of wisdom to those who act on our behalf.
Having said my prayers, all I know to do is get on with my life, to keep showing up in my work, to sit down with gratitude to meals with my wife, to tend to our home, cleaning up fallen branches and reveling in the coming of spring. There are the evening walks, rejoicing in sunsets, watching children play and praying over the homes in my neighborhood the blessings of God. I remember that we never truly have the promise of tomorrow, only this moment, and the opportunities of the moment. For all I know, the garden I plant and tend may be left to another. One day, for sure, it will be. But there is goodness in this day. And I will keep tending that garden in hope of flowers and vegetables.
The day of my birth marks both the anniversary of Hiroshima and the Transfiguration. I live between the powers of destruction and the one who makes all thing new. Some wonder how one can press forward under the cloud. I do as well. How do you live when the push of a button can wipe out our efforts? The Transfiguration reminds me that all our efforts aren’t about results but are at best foretastes of what’s to come, and more often, I think, simply rehearsals for our work in the new creation.