Have you ever noticed a small hopeful flower growing out of a crack in the concrete? What joy it brings!
As spring approaches, watch for the fresh new signs of life emerging out of the ground, the barren tree branches, the ponds and other habitats. Signs of life are everywhere!
Good morning. Well. I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time. It’s the Sunday closest to Life in the Cracks Day, which is one of my favorite obscure holidays. The Celebration of Life in the Cracks is meant to be serendipitous, sweet, optimistic. It’s a time to stop and notice that the dead winter landscape is coming back to life. Spring is pushing back against winter. It’s a time of rebirth, reemergence, restoration.
So many lovely episodes in life come as a surprise. Just last month, I woke up on the morning of my birthday to a phone call from a college friend I had not seen in maybe 20 years. After 30 seconds of squealing like girls, we were making plans for lunch. For that very day! And when I walked into the restaurant where we agreed to meet, there she was, as if she’d sprouted like a magical flower on a winter day.
I had another brilliant surprise recently. It was a really cold morning, so I reached into my sock drawer for a thick pair that I rarely wear. When I unrolled the socks, out dropped my grandmother’s ring, the ring that I worried had gotten lost in a move. Which move? So many moves! Ironically, it’s a flower shape! Ruby petals surrounding an opal center, set in rose gold. I really thought it was gone forever. What a joy to reclaim something so precious!
Surprises come at us from all directions, some delightful and some not so much. In preparing for today’s program, I was lining up all my photos of dandelions growing on fractured concrete and brick walls, of fresh green moss blooming on spring garden paths, of crocuses emerging from the snowy garden. Baby chicks emerging from eggs. Isn’t that just the best? And I was trying to think of some “Life in the Cracks” examples that wouldn’t be so beautiful, but maybe at least funny. I don’t know, like spiders jumping out from the window casings, or all those ladybugs who come a jillion at a time. Cute.
But what about negative surprises? I really couldn’t think of any. And then I was writing this exact part of the sermon when I heard the news that Russian invaded Ukraine.
My mind went blank for everything but the international news. All of you probably know that I spent 10 years in Czechia studying and serving the International Unitarian Church of Prague, from 2008-2018. During that time, I met many friends from all around; the U.K., France, The Netherlands, Germany, Australia, South Africa, and other usual places in Western Europe where Americans love to go on holiday. But I also met friends from Russia and Ukraine who are living and working and studying in Prague. I also visited Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, and Romania, places that are on alert right now with Russian soldiers jamming their borders. And these friends are now facing fear and uncertainty because of the aggressions of Vladimir Putin.
For the people of Ukraine, life in the cracks may now mean life in a bunker. Or life in the trenches. Or the end of life all together. The dandelions are being blown to bits, the crocuses being trampled underfoot as soldiers dash about. Nobody is looking for moss. Not now.
How quickly things can change.
Close to Home
This invasion has struck me harder than any of the other wars of my lifetime, because I actually know people who are there. Good friends. Close friends. They’ve been visitors to my flat, I’ve been a guest in their homes, we’ve broken bread together. They’ve babysat my cat, Bijou!
Russians and Ukrainians both, and all the other Europeans who have at some time endured the wrath of the Soviets and come out free.
I have invited some folks here today, and if you’re here, thank you and welcome. I don’t see the attendance list till later. But I think you’re here! Thank you! And we have here with us today a friend I first met in Kolosavar, Transylvania at my first leadership training, and last met at the Third International Women’s Convocation in California.
She is a Unitarian minister in Hungary. She can tell you about herself and what she and her friends are experiencing now as refugees begin to flow into Romania. I’ve also invited her to stay in a chat room afterwards so we can ask questions. I’m grateful to her for fitting us in. Please meet Maria Zsuzsanna Bartha.
Maria Zsuzsanna Bartha
I am a minister in Hungary, but I also serve a small diaspora in Romania. What I do is cross the border between Hungary and Romania every day. Hungary has about 100 kilometer border with Ukraine, and Romania has about a 500 kilometer border with Ukraine. This means from the direction of Ukraine, lots of people are coming in. 300,000 people live in this county in Hungary where I live, and there were about 150,000 people coming through that border in Hungary. This is about half the population.
You can imagine that this has become a crisis, but it is so wonderful to see that everybody was there to help. People were offering not only food and shelter, but rides and medicine and whatever these people needed. I was so heartbroken to see so many babies, and young women, and elderly women coming in, and they didn’t know what to do. Can you imagine to pack your life into a suitcase and go somewhere, you don’t even know where.
What we could do is to help them, to get orientation. It is crucial to get them information and help them with the language, get them basic necessities, and also it is a kind of trauma therapy. The same happens in Romania as well. I didn’t really have time to think about it, I just went there and helped. It’s way more overwhelming than the capacity of our little community is capable of, so we’re working together with charities and this is what we can do to help where we have the opportunity to help. It means making sandwiches, and helping people get from the railway station to the shelter, and giving them sheets, pillows, food, water, diapers, whatever.
It is like ministry, not only about talking at the service, but doing it. I know that you American people are very good doers and shakers; this is what I learned in the States, if you have an idea then just go for it and do it, and this is what I brought home and how we try to help.
Also, I have to tell you that the war is very close. There’s a shortage in cash, you can’t just take out cash from the bank. We experience everyday lots of airplanes above us, and the tension is just palpable. You can just touch the tension and people are afraid, pretty much afraid of everything. Here in Europe, there is a long history of wars, so everyone has a father, a grandfather, somebody in the family who can tell war stories. And I feel so privileged that I am 49 years old and I was not in a war zone before. And I feel so privileged that in 50 years in Europe or after WWII that it was possible not to have war. Although in the 90s, in the former Yugoslavia that was close too, and now in Ukraine. It was so… I mean I can’t believe that this is happening.