Last week, while talking with my spiritual director, I looked out the window and was struck by a vision of bright orange aloe blossoms. I knew the blossoms were there, but they took on a new and strong meaning in the context of our conversation. I’d been reflecting on my Lenten discipline and this vision of bright orange beauty was a very stark contrast.

The contrast is with the bright orange firebombs in Ukraine that I’ve been watching through the “window” of my television screen. I’ve been struck with the power that single individuals and their sinfulness can have on millions of people they don’t know and don’t care about. Putin has gone to war with Ukraine because—well, honestly, I can only imagine the deep inner reasons why he believes he must smash Ukraine. Clearly, it’s more complicated than just wanting them back in the Russian fold, because who wants a devastated and debilitated country they’ll just have to invest in rebuilding?

I’ve also been reflecting on the continued impact of our prior president on America, in the form of a divided populace that puts politics before health and wisdom, and racist power before the good of the whole. If we’re not careful, we will end up devastating and debilitating this country just as thoroughly (but in different ways) as Putin is doing in eastern Europe.

All this is connected with Lent because God put it on my heart that the right Lenten discipline for me this year is to pray for Putin and Trump. This is very challenging for me. I’m used to, in the back of my mind, asking God to overthrow them or take them down. Praying for them is hard…and necessary.

This idea that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us goes back to Jesus, of course. I once read an article about how Putin’s experiences as a young officer in East Germany shaped his view of the world. I wonder: If he had experienced aloe blossoms instead of firebombs as a young adult, would he have turned out differently? So many Ukrainian young adults are being formed in Putin’s war-torn likeness, whether we like it or not.

We are powerless to change Putin, but we can still pray for him and those like him. We can also pray for the proto-Putins out there—that they may experience aloe blossoms instead of firebombs. Perhaps our job is to share blossoms, and compassionate, blossoming words and actions, with all those we meet. In that way, we might perhaps send a proto-Putin down a different path than they might otherwise learn to tread.

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