[On March 9th, 2022, during a global gathering of songs and prayers, James O'Dea delivered the soul-stirring remarks below. Both an activist and a mystic, James is a former President of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, Washington office director of Amnesty International, and CEO of the Seva Foundation. He worked with the Middle East Council of Churches in Beirut during a time of war and massacre and lived in Turkey for five years during civil upheaval and coup d’etat. For more from James, watch a deeply moving interview.]
VIDEO: [Introduction by Charles Gibbs; prayer by Bijan Khazai.]
He has taught peacebuilding to over a thousand students in 30 countries. He has also conducted frontline social healing dialogues around the world.
I’d like to share our contemplation together with you about resilience in the light of Ukraine.
When we think about resilience, we think about hardi-ness, toughness, strength, ability to weather the fiercest testing, and in that strength, not to be overcome with our victimization and our wounds. When the wounds are so devastating, it is difficult to rise above them. Yet, in Ukraine, we see that strength which is rising above the terror, trauma, and wounding being inflicted on more people. Oh, hail to the light in Ukraine!
In the context of values, of human values, resilience is also tenderness, compassion, generosity. It is deeply empathic. In resiliency, the tears are allowed to flow. The tears are allowed to do their work. I ask us all, “Have we allowed our tears to do the washing of the emotional field for Ukraine, and to see in all of its stories and recognize the heartbreaking opening of tears as our collective human health?” That is a part of what can keep us resilient – because if we block the tears, if we stay tightfisted, we deny power that is given to us through them.
Resiliency is about the preservation and celebration of our highest values. And one of those values is to stay vulnerable, but not to be trampled on – to call forth the courage to live those values in the most terrifying assaultive conditions.
I ask each of us, have we lived into our own courage? What courage are we showing, are we matching? Where are we stepping in, the way the light of Ukraine is stepping into such courage every day? Every one of us just has our breath taken away with acts of courage – children going through danger zones to rescue parents and grandparents, grandparents staying behind and proclaiming, “We will never run from this.” So let us be washed by the tears and drink in the courage that we are also invited to live into.
Resilience requires truth. Lies are unsustainable. Lies eventually choke themselves in chaos and destruction, but the truth marches on – the truth of who we are. The lie that the Ukrainians have been told: “You are alone, The world will get over you quickly. We can take your country, take your pride, take your spirit and crush it.” And so many lies and false narratives.
How have we stood up for that truth? Because when you pan out, that's a global evolutionary moment, when we are all asked to step up with hearts wide open to challenge the false narrative about humanity. And to say in this time that people are still willing to give their lives for truth or freedom, for justice, to challenge the false narrative of power and oppression.
Resilience also requires love made manifest, love incarnated in all of its forms. In its call to the spirit, many of us have seen these images – a young child who walks alone across the border to tell the story of what happened to his family; a young 12 year old girl, singing at night in the subway to a crowded subway, which is a bomb shelter, and lifting their spirits with that connection. It is so inspiring, at these moments, to feel that palpable love in the world. We are releasing something that is extraordinary in this moment. A hundred and forty-one countries at the United Nations said to Russia, “No, that is not right. That is not the way to go.“
So have you also tapped into that love?
I will leave you with an image a number of us saw live on the news. It was a moment when a Russian soldier in his twenties was captured by the Ukrainians and brought to the town square. The people surrounded him. And then one of the women in the crowd pushed forward and offered him soup. And then another woman stepped forward and offered a cell phone, and said, “Here, why don't you call home?” And the soldier started to cry. There are those tears again. The soldier started to weep.
Every day now, I go to that image of the woman and the soldier – like a sacred icon to feed on that energy, to call forth that energy within me. Resilience requires that we understand each other compassionately, that we really see the truth of who we are – the Russian soldier seeing the humanity in the Ukrainians that he had been a part of quashing. I ask us, where can we rediscover humanity in parts we might be quashing? That grace, that flow of compassionate understanding, may it grow. May the light of Ukraine grow. May it push back all demonic darkness, all of our stupid ignorance, all of our failures to see each other, and to bow with profound gratitude to all those men, women and children in Ukraine who have showed us what resilience really is.