War Diaries, August 15, 2022

Suffering, of course, can lead us in either of two directions: (1) it can make us very bitter and cause us to shut down, or (2) it can make us wise, compassionate, and utterly open, because our hearts have been softened, or perhaps because we feel as though we have nothing more to lose.  Suffering often takes us to the very edge of our inner resources where we “fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31), even when we aren’t sure we believe in God!  We must all pray for the grace of this second path of softening and opening.  My opinion is that this is the very meaning of the phrase “deliver us from evil” in the Our Father (Lord’s Prayer).  In this statement, we aren’t asking to avoid suffering. It is as if we are praying, “When big trials come, God, hold on to me, and don’t let me turn bitter or blaming” — which is an evil that leads to so many other evils. 


Struggling with one’s own shadow self, facing interior conflicts and moral failures, undergoing rejection and abandonment, daily humiliations, or any form of limitation: all are gateways into deeper consciousness and the flowering of the soul.


Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation/From the Center for Action and Contemplation 


The daily meditation pages of Richard Rohr this week took on the theme of the two universal paths of suffering and love, which he points out are part of most human lives.  St. Therese of Lisieux reminds us that…’suffering alone gives birth to souls.’


Today is the feast of the Assumption of Mary, an observed holiday in Poland.  It celebrates Our Lady’s union with the Trinity. 


In Mysterium Coniunctionis, Carl Jung writes in a footnote: “A Catholic writer says of the Assumption: ‘Nor, would it seem, is the underlying motif itself even peculiarly Christian; rather it would seem to be but one expression of a universal archetypal pattern, which somehow responds to some deep and widespread human need, and which finds other similar expressions in countless myths and rituals, poems and pictures, practices and even philosophies, all over the globe.’”  Victor White, The Scandal of the Assumption


How accessible is Mary?  I have a long history with her which I shared with my analyst and my most intimate relationships.  Let me be very clear that I am quite aware of her archetypal status but know from my personal relationship with her that she is so much more.


If you would, dear reader, consider with me for the moment that before Mary became an archetype or God-bearer, she was a Jewish mother.  Have you ever known a Jewish mother?  I can tell you I have had the good fortune to have known many and some very well.  They are a force, especially where their children are concerned.  There are many worn-out, hackneyed stereotypes of the Jewish mother which I ask you to disregard as they are pointless to the subject.  We are moving too fast in this world to adequately assimilate what is happening to us psychologically, and when that happens, we must go back.  What did you miss when you were thirteen?  What was happening in your life; what signs were there that you might be able to see now more clearly from a distance?  This is the kind of psychological work I’m talking about.  Why is it important? Because the world is on fire and the target is humanity. 


I want to go back to Mary as a Jewish mother and talk to her about real life and suffering and love and obligation and faith and her traditions as a religious woman.  I want to know how she managed the humiliation of being pregnant out of wedlock.  How did she keep strong when the village shunned her?  I want to know how she felt having no home in which to give birth to her first-born child.  She hadn’t midwives nor mother, nor sisters nor neighbors to assist her, but had to endure the impoverished conditions of where animals slept and remain faithful that she was worthy of God’s love in spite of her circumstances.  I want to know the suffering of her flight into Egypt.  I want to know how she survived in a foreign land caring for her children, not knowing the language of her hosts or having any familiarity with their customs.  I want to know about her return and the joy she must have anticipated upon hearing that Herod was dead and her family was no longer in danger.


Before Mary became an archetype, she was a Jewish Mother.

Catholics believe that Mary was free from original sin from the moment of her conception, thus the Immaculate Conception and thus upon the completion of an earthly life, she enters heavenly glory by grace.  Did she know this?  Did everyone who knew her know this too?  Did Mary Magdalene, with whom she clung so close at the cross, know this?  Did the other Mary’s who gathered there know?


In these times of the oppression, abuse, exploitation, and slaughter of women, I believe it is a mistake to exclusively spiritualise the archetypes with whom we so desperately need human contact.  It is a slow and carefully trodden path into which one ventures seeking the humanity within the archetype, for she is the God-bearer and has the power of the Divine, but she is also a mother who understands human suffering.


Our last Mud Day event of the season was on Saturday.  The families who joined us had a fantastic time, outside rolling around in the mud, splashing around in water, running, jumping, climbing, playing…a child’s pastime, a child’s human right.


Ania offered cookies and sweet things with coffee from the cafe.  The house opened up for lunch and dinner, putting forth a feast of vegetarian and vegan options. 


The closing event was a theatrical one.  Stefan read from his own mother’s children’s book, Lesńe Wędrówki, about the forest and its animals.  The Ukrainian residents animated the story with music, singing and dancing, bringing it to life to the delight and squeals of both child and adult alike.  It was especially memorable because Stefan’s children and grandchildren were there to honor her.  Maria Radziwiłł Wąsowicz endured five long years of war without her own mother, Zofia, who was in


Ravensbruck, and her father, in Majdanek.

For those few, blessed moments, we could forget there was a war raging in a country only hours from here.  For those few, blessed moments, everyone could lapse into a temporary state of magical thinking that they could go home after the party was over.


I try not to engage in conversation about the war because invariably there comes a point in which pragmatism and rationalization overtake compassionate thinking and nothing assaults my senses worse than this.  To think that we can maneuver our way around this situation without first and foremost recognizing that we don’t even have an inkling about the impact upon those lives whose homes have been destroyed, whose family members have been lost forever, whose livelihoods usurped; and it doesn’t bring any satisfaction, not one iota, to say that WWII was worse.  Not one.  Because whether you are surgically removed or removed with the blunt edge of an axe, the end result is the same.


Ultimately, the family is no longer the functioning unit it was before the terror struck.  There is no container left for its traditions, its language, its culture and its stories.  Everyone is on the run; mothers still cling tight to their little ones.  And even though the members of my family-by-marriage survived the war and went on to live conventional lives, they were never the same. 


Ilse Weber was Tommy’s mother.  They were for a while at Terezin before they were both moved to Auschwitz.  This is the song she wrote and sang to him. They were murdered in the gas chamber.  Ilse also wrote children’s books and books of poetry.  She was such a talented woman and we lost her and her dear boy, and for what?  What have we gained as a ‘civilisation’ from the slaughter of Ilse and Tommy?  And the loss of all the mothers and children all over the globe.  How are we a better humanity because of this loss?  I am curious.


Gala is one of the residents here.  She is a child psychologist by profession and an artist.  She organises artistic and outdoor activities for the children, whose mothers must be very grateful to her to have a bit of a break during the day.


On Friday night, a few weeks ago, she told me that the windows of her family home had been blown out.  She said that she remembers leaving an open book on the table.  Now with all the dirt and water from the rain that has accumulated inside the house, she imagines that out of the spine of the book grows a long, thick root that stretches into the outside by way of the open window, giving rise to beautiful flowers.