My Psalm 83
Serving Our Enemies
It is a tale as old as time. A man married his love and they had two children – a girl and a boy. Sadly, the mother passed away and the father remarried. This time, though, he chose poorly. His new wife was not a loving step-mother as some are but rather a jealous one. Her jealousy grew and grew and the children lived in fear for their lives. One day they summoned the courage to go to their grandmother’s house. She fed them a snack and told them to find the forest witch. She was the only one who could help.
The children went in search of the witch who lived deep in the forest. Finding her, she told them to become her servants or else she would have them for supper. Scared, the children did as she asked. The girl spun the cloth and the boy carried the water and did the harder chores. The forest animals gave them advice and they were able to escape the witch with the help of the animals, some magic, and the trees. The children left and ran home, beseeching their father to love them. He made their wicked stepmother leave and they all lived happily ever after. Or so the Russian tale of Baba Yaga says.
While most of us haven’t a wicked stepmother or parent, we all have encountered those less than desirable coworkers or bosses. Even a school-age child can name at least one classmate that had given them cause to feel sad or bullied. Hopefully, if they turned to a responsible adult, they would receive help but in today’s world, we often hear “It’s not my problem” or “Sorry; can’t help you.’
When the man known as Jesus of Nazareth was asked how the people should treat their enemies, he gave the example of a stranger helping one of a culture that discriminated against him. We know it as the parable of the Good Samaritan. An injured man lies on the side of the road. Three of his townsmen, his neighbors pass by him and offer no aid. Then along comes a man of a lesser class, a man most would never have helped. This man not only renders aid, he pays for a night’s lodging and food for the injured man.
The story of Baba Yaga is an old one in Russian folktales. Sometimes she is flying on a broom; other times she is said to have two heads. Wherever she is, there is chaos, evil, and pain. The name actually comes from Finland. When Russian soldiers arrived there, they found statues known as Babas. The stories began with this golden babas and then spread. In Finland, as in many ancient cultures, the older women were considered the wise ones. After all, they gave life in the form of birthing children and protected the future of the tribe or clan by ministering to the sick and feeding everyone. Although originally representative of life, ,the concept of magic and evil began to be associated with the babas. In folktales, the Baba represented a person’s fate, the moral dilemmas we all face in life.
Unlike the witches of German fairy tales, the Baba Yaga flew without a broom. Rather, she sat in a mortar, much like what pharmacists use to grind up pills. They might be evil but they never lost their reputation of being wise and the mortar implied that they could also be of assistance and render aid. Usually the stories of our enemies had morals, lessons to learn. The Baba Yaga served to teach that if you are good and wise, listen to your elders and use your intuition, you will be rewarded. However, if you are cruel and unkind, you might find yourself burned to a crisp or eaten.
Hopefully we no longer believe such stories except as entertainment. So how do we learn from our enemies? How do we love our neighbors, even when we don’t like them very much? Who exactly is our neighbor? The man from Nazareth answered that last question while telling his story of the Good Samaritan. Everyone was one’s neighbor, especially if one came into contact with him. We learn from our enemies by loving them. When we treat them with respect, compassion, and generosity, then we are teaching ourselves how to be of service.
While no one is absolutely certain where the name Baba Yaga comes from , Baba is Russian for old woman or grandmother and Yaga is a word that means “finding fault”. How often do we do just that with our enemies? In fact, it is the act of finding fault that often makes someone our enemy. One of the most interesting things about Baba Yaga is that she is neither all good nor all evil. In short, she is very much like most of us. None of us are perfect; neither are we completely evil, without a chance for salvation. When we decide to consider our enemies as guests in our lives, then will we live a life of faith. Working together, we can escape the wickedness of our ways and find love.
My Psalm 83
You know my life, O Lord.
You know what I face;
You know how I am persecuted.
Grant me strength to love my enemy.
Give me compassion to render aid.
Help me help myself, Lord
By helping others.
Be righteous to us all, O God.
May we all come to know you and live together.