Ukraine - Father Jeff shares his thoughts on the news of 24th February 2022
After heavy rain before the sun had risen followed by a hailstorm at lunchtime, the golden sun is now shining into my sitting room. The Josquin des Prez CDs I ordered yesterday arrived this morning and those perfect sounds of polyphonic harmony are taking hold of me, piercing the air with their aching wonder, celebrating in sound the deepest emotions of a humanity seeking the consolation of God’s peace. The tulips on the mantlepiece, stems now undulating in their death throes, petals wide open like a hungry mouth, moments from falling. How brittle is beauty, how transitory, how fragile, how precious the gift of life.
Probably like you I have been listening to the news, watching the events from Ukraine unfold on the television screen. Last night I had gone to bed worried about the direction of travel concerning the rumblings from Russia, the political intentions and our seeming impotence to prevent the physicality of war. This morning the world seemed a colder, darker place as we heard of air strikes in the early hours, heard first-hand accounts of what is happening more quickly and in places we had not, in our naivety, anticipated. And probably too like you, I do not know how things will unfold.
Outside my window as I write, I hear the high-pitched merriment of children, their cries of joy on being released from school and reunited with friends, family, siblings, carers. I look up and see people still in love, perhaps after years of knowing one another, walking side by side in the stability of togetherness. The sunlight transforms their faces until they become something far more significant than ordinary human beings, the brightness elevating them to depict the wonder and worth of the humanity they represent. How brittle is beauty, how transitory, how fragile, how precious is the gift of life. And how crucial that we all celebrate and protect those things which are intrinsically good about the enjoyment of living and the experience of loving.
One of tomorrow’s tasks is for me to record Collective Worship for the school. Weeks ago they asked that I spoke to them about the quality of endurance. How appropriate that seems to me now. Recovering as some of us still are from the savagery of Covid, perhaps we will all need to know the quality of endurance in the coming days. Over the past week we have known the power of the natural world made manifest in storms Eunice and Franklin. Huge trees swaying perilously, precariously, relying heavily upon their dexterity and upon their rootedness. I wonder if the natural world has something to say to us at this moment in our history?
We will all need the quality of dexterity to negotiate the winds which may come our way. We will all need to bend to new realities from which we will not be able to escape. It will perhaps be our rootedness which will define us and determine our success, roots which give not just stability and strength, but also nourishment and sustenance.
Through the hardships of the last two years many of us have had to acquire the skills of dexterity and endurance. We have had to adapt to uncomfortable truths and painful realities. We have encouraged each other to reflect on where our strength and sustenance comes from and some of you have written to me with such eloquence of where those things are to be found. You wrote of your delight and of the refreshment and inspiration you have derived from the natural world, especially at this potent time of Spring. You wrote to me of the extraordinarily precious gifts of friendship and love, shared laughter, unburdened confidences, empowering unconditional acceptance. You wrote to me of the gift of time: time to notice, time to realise, time to appreciate, time to think, time to reflect, time to ask forgiveness and to forgive, time to be reconciled and put things right, time to connect and know that you were not alone. And together we searched the scriptures for comfort, guidance, reassurance, recognising anew our need for communion, with each other and with God.
Whatever the coming days bring our way, in this country, Ukraine and elsewhere, I pray that each and every one of us may be empowered with the capacity to endure. In a few days’ time the Church keeps Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, when the priest speaks to the undeniable truth of each person present: "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”. It is a reality check that this is not the only life, for those of us born of the Spirit. We are to tend the gift of life, care for it, respect it, nurture it, but as the Risen Christ says to Mary Magdalene in the Easter Garden: "Do not hold on to me”. We are entreated to recognise the distinction between those things which are transitory and those things which are eternal.
May each and every one of us reacquaint ourselves with the things which really, lastingly matter. May each of us recognise and respect those values which give meaning and integrity to our existence. May each of us feel the rootedness which comes from our relationship with a God who loves us, believes in us, caused us to come into being and wants only that we know and celebrate the wonder of being alive. In Him we will find our strength. In Him we will find our resilience. In Him we will find the ability to endure, for our sights are set on those things which can never be destroyed, corroded or affected by any agent who is at odds with the Spirit of life and the love of God.
It was in another letter, written by Saint Paul to the emerging Church in Rome centuries ago, that these words of encouragement were written:
" Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? ......No, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him who loves us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans Ch 8)
May God bless and refresh us all with the spiritual strength we need to negotiate whatever awaits. And may He use us to bring hope, healing and peace to our broken, fragile, frightened world. With love
Lord we pray for all the people of your world, Especially our brothers and sisters in Ukraine: For those with decisions to take Which will affect the outcome of the conflict; For those fighting for their homeland And the protection of their Sovereign State; For families, friends and those who are alone In their homes and in bomb shelters; For all those fleeing Ukraine in search Of safety and security in other lands.
As you look down with compassion And with love upon a family divided, We ask that among us you raise up: Men and women committed to work for peace; Those capable of sowing seeds of reconciliation; Those who will challenge injustice and untruth; Those who live creatively and compassionately; Those who will win others’ hearts, minds and imaginations With a vision of a better, more fruitful and equal world.
Be with those who suffer, grieve and are in pain; Be with those seeking to bring healing and reassurance; Be with those feeling responsible for others; Be with those who are fighting; Be with those who are frightened. Inspire the family of nations To protect and promote All that is good, noble, true And wonderful in your world.
Be with us dear Lord, In this our moment of need. These things we ask and pray In the name of Jesus Christ Our Lord. AMEN.