It is hard to know how to pray watching Russia’s invasion of Ukraine., I am so removed geographically I pray with little or no risk to myself or to my community; so the invasion is somewhat theoretical to me from where I live. My privilege obscures my vision, as with so many present conflicts. I attempt to pray, with no physical experience of danger, loss of life or personal experience of community destruction. Words like “Lord have mercy” ring hollow.
I remember as a child watching Walter Cronkite summarize the day’s events in Viet Nam, the first war shared (partially though selectively) on television. In similar fashion, today I watch the Ukraine invasion through the eyes and ears of media voices including the CBC, the BBC and The Guardian. Now I watch a superpower leader rampage through a sovereign state in order to destroy its independence and its spirit, in order to restore a version of Russia which no longer exists. Putin may devour this beautiful country but he will never destroy the spirit of resistance now on proud if wounded display.
I recently joined a small number of Ukrainians here in Kamloops in a ritual led by the local Ukrainian Orthodox priest who intoned and invoked the power of St. Michael, the patron saint of Kyiv. While I found the militaristic imagery associated with St. Michael confusing and alarming, I myself am not facing tanks, missiles and explosions. It makes sense that one might best respond to such might with an opposing might. Such a strategy is not unique to Eastern Europe. At mid-term services, the English-styled boys’ school I attended in childhood invited us to sing a school hymn:
St. Michael is our patron,
Archangel clad in light;
God grant to us his soldiers
To battle for the right.
One response to aggression is resistance, for some a justification for war especially as a defensive strategy. I am not a pacifist myself but do think my Quaker friends have a message worth considering: Violence always begets violence. As an alternative, a remarkably unified West has turned to fiscal sanctions which now bite though still punish most the poor and vulnerable. The Ukrainian Government and people have been clear; We will never surrender; we will continue–hope against all hope–to negotiate. What Oscar Romero said of the Salvadoran people, that we will rise in the bloodied land of the Salvadoran people came true. Putin is foolish if he underestimates Ukrainian determination and force, If you don’t believe me listen to a message from Patriarch Sviatoslav from Kyiv the morning of Monday, 28 February 2022 (contains English subtitles).
So back to prayer. How do I, or we, pray, now? How might we be peacemakers in the communities where we exert influence and model the behaviour of love? From whence comes inspiration and nourishment? One way is through music. A beautiful song recently appeared on social media, a song of peace, Galoba (The Prayer) performed by the amazing vocal group Trio Mandili. The words of the song are worth quoting in full.
Our Father, Who art in heaven,
Mamao ch’veno, romelits’a khar ts’at’a shina,
With tenderness I stand before thee on my knees;
mukhlmodrekili, lmobieri vdgevar shen tsina:
I ask for neither wealth nor glory;
arts’a simdidris, arts’ didebis t’khovna ar minda,
I won’t debase my holy prayer with earthly matters.
ar minda, amit’ sheurats’kh-vhqo me lots’va tsminda…
I would wish for my soul to rest in heaven,
aramed mtsqurs me ganminat’ldes ts’it’ ch’emi suli,
My heart to be radiant with love heralded by thee,
shengan namts’nebis siqvarulit’ aghment’os guli,
Even if they pierce me in the heart:
rom mtert’at’visats’, romelt’ t’unda guls lakhvari mkran,
Forgive them: “Lord, for they know not what they do!”
gt’khovde: ”sheunde, – ar its’ian, ghmert’o, ras ik’man!”
It is the final phrase, quoting Jesus on the cross (Luke 23:34), which arrests me: Even if they pierce me in the heart: Forgive them: “Lord, for they know not what they do! Such is the way of love. Archbishop Oscar Romero prayed “God have mercy on my assassins” as he lay dying at a hospital altar in 1981. Violence will not endure, but love. Love will overcome. Love presently seems unattainable, except in the remarkable resistance of brave Ukrainians who stand before tanks and give seeds to Russian soldiers. Love arrives from elsewhere, from One greater than we can ask or imagine.
These talented and spirited women render traditional Georgian polyphony gently performed by female singers. Their magical voices, like streams coming down from the mountains, penetrate into the heart. May this music enter every heart as we commit ourselves to peace and peacemaking.God bless Ukraine. Teach us forgiveness. Amen.