The Work for Peace in Ukraine, the Great Lakes, and Beyond
My heart and my thoughts, like many people around the world, are with the people of Ukraine right now as the Russian military invades their country.
In my mind’s eye, I can see people living along the Dnieper River that runs through the heart of Ukraine and its capital, Kyiv, much as I and my neighbors live along the St. Joseph River in southern Michigan. That picture, though, is shattered by the news of war - people fleeing the violence, others returning to Ukraine to fight the Russians, and innocent civilians being killed or injured.
The Dnieper River; Kyiv Ukraine (photo by Francisco Anzolo)
A larger story
It is simple to condemn war, especially when we are far removed from the violence. It is harder to recognize the violence in our own history as part of a larger, shared story. While every instance of war has its own unique circumstances, and no two situations are ever identical, it is difficult not to see a common thread running through the centuries. We have written too much of our history with violence and war that serves greed and the desire for control of one people over another.
Even here in the Great Lakes Basin, for example, Indigenous nations are dealing with historical trauma resulting from that larger, shared story of violence and war. No matter the outcome in Ukraine, we will most likely also see trauma passed down from person to person for years to come because of this war. In fact, one can see the trauma from past violence, like World War II, in the roots of this conflict.
Violence born from a desire for control, power, and greed affects not only the people it directly targets but also other lives existing in that ecosystem. The animals and plants, the water, soil and air also suffer from war and conflict. Devastation knows no boundaries.
Healing what is broken
Today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent in the Christian tradition, my own spiritual home. Popular culture has focused on the practice of “giving something up” for Lent. The original purpose of the season, however, was to help people who had broken their relationships with God and with their brothers and sisters to heal those bonds and enter back into the community. In a very real sense, Lent is about reconciliation.
The three traditional Lenten practices of fasting, the giving of alms or donations, and prayer, are simply a means by which people can repair and reconcile those broken relationships with the Divine or with the world around them. In the case of Ukraine, “fasting” or reducing our country’s dependence on fossil fuel, donating to help the victims of the war there, and praying for peace are examples of how each of us can have at least some impact on the war.
Let peace fill our hearts
In the wider human story of war and violence, though, the practices of repairing and reconciling become much bigger, and perhaps overwhelming. I wish I - or someone - had a simple way to counter that larger story of war and violence.
For the last few days, I’ve had a song running through my head that is based on a prayer adapted from the Upanishads (sacred Hindu writings) by the British-Indian writer, activist, and former Jain monk, Satish Kumar. For me, the words of the prayer offer a few clues of how we can begin to heal the damage we have done:
Lead me from death to life, from falsehood to truth.
Lead me from despair to hope, from fear to trust.
Lead me from hate to love, from war to peace.
Let peace fill our heart, our world, our universe.
To heal our broken world we must value ALL life - all people, animals, plants, as well as the water, air and earth. We must face the truth of the damage we have done to each other and the ecosystems we all share through war and violence, greed and the need for control. We must cling to hope and trust, the belief that we can work together and make a better future. And we must embrace love and peace as not the end we seek but rather the means to the end we want.
What is new is us
None of these are new thoughts. In the face of war and violence, people have been writing and saying similar things for millenia. What is new in this situation is us. It is our turn to take the responsibility of peacemaking in our own time. May we take up that responsibility and declare a season of reconciliation and healing along the Dnieper River in Ukraine, the rivers of the Great Lakes, and waterways around the world.