A candlelight vigil for peace in Ukraine will be held at 7:30pm this Thursday, March 3, at West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church, located 20401 Hilliard Blvd. in Rocky River. Please join us for a time to come together where we can support one another, express our solidarity with Ukraine, and reaffirm our Unitarian Universalist commitment to the goal of “world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.” The entire community is invited; in times like this, the different doctrines that may divide us seem flimsy in the face of human suffering and the need for us to reclaim a sense of common ground based on compassion and hope. Rev. Anthony Makar, West Shore’s Senior Minister, will officiate.
Prelude Dave Nocturne, Opus 54 Edvard Grieg
Welcome to West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church. I’m Rev. Anthony Makar, Senior Minister of this community.
We are here tonight because a part of our world is hurting terribly. Russia has invaded Ukraine, rockets are hitting major cities as we speak, including civilian areas, with great damage and loss of life. It is the largest conventional military attack in Europe in the 77 years since Nazi Germany surrendered. More than one million Ukranians have fled their country so far, in what some are saying is Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century.
A part of our world is hurting terribly, and because we are ultimately One Connected World, all are hurting.
We are here tonight because we have faith that gathering in community–that being with our brothers and sisters and siblings–is sometimes the most powerful healing we can offer in times of chaos. Whether you have gathered with us many times before, or are joining us for the first time, tonight we are one community of compassion and concern.
I thank each of you for being here with us tonight.
Chalice Lighting Vicky Warden
In our time of grief, we light a flame of sharing,
the flame of ongoing life.
In this time when we search for understanding and serenity in the face of loss,
we light this sign of our quest for truth, meaning and community.
Opening Song Anthony and Dave
Let us now sing: “We are a Gentle Angry People” vs. 1,2,6
#170 in the gray hymnal.
Please rise in body or in spirit.
We are a gentle, angry people,
and we are singing, singing for our lives.
We are a gentle, angry people,
and we are singing, singing for our lives.
We are a justice-seeking people…
We are a gentle, loving people…
Prayer Barbara Walker
A Prayer for People in War
By Eric Cherry
Spirit of Life, God of Justice, Mother of Creation,
You call us to embody equity and freedom in our lives.
You are present in every struggle to overcome oppression with peace and justice.
And though our siblings in Ukraine are half a world away from us,
we seek to be as near to them as we might in spirit and in prayer.
Strengthen and encourage the noble cause of the citizens and religious leaders of Ukraine.
Inspire wisdom, understanding and compassion in the hearts and minds of the members of the Russian government.
Comfort those who suffer in this and all struggles for peace and justice in our world.
We seek to be useful instruments in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, and so we rededicate ourselves to living lives examined through the lens of right relationship internationally.
Our prayer is that in this very moment, wisdom and compassion will guide our hands and our hearts.
May it be so.
Let us now pause for a moment
and, together, enter into the wise silence…..
This morning I realized with guilt that it’s been a few days since I changed the cat litter. My cat Kiki and all cats love to be clean and tidy, and I wasn’t being a very good cat Dad.
It was in the middle of doing my cat-Dad duty that I wondered what happens to our beloved pets in a time of war. What happens to them, and to all such things as cat boxes and cat litter, cat food, also cat naps on places in the house where the sun shines through just so. What happens to all that, and to those sweet calm moments when your cat comes to you and sits on your lap or chest and its purring that rumbles away in its body becomes a vibrational effect that carries you along with it, and it feels so healing and so good.
What happens to all this, in a time of air raid sirens, rocket explosions, and gunfire on the street? Never mind how war fractures supply lines so that there’s no more things to buy for cats, and yes, no more things to buy for their human companions either.
From war comes so many dimensions of loss.
Perhaps one of the most poignant aspects of the war that Russian President Vladimir Putin has inflicted upon Ukraine is how many Ukrainians and Russians have relatives from both sides of the border who are now standing on opposite sides. There is a complex and intertwined history between these two nations.
“It makes me feel like we are distant forever,” says a Ms. Ryakhovskaya, who fled from her home in the city of Kyiv to the countryside as the Russian invasion unfolded. She is speaking of her family back in Russia. “I can’t forgive them, I can’t forgive that they are part of this.”
This also suggests yet another poignant aspect of this war. How it generates refugees. They must leave home, they must flee, so as to stay safe. But leaving opens up entire new possibilities of danger. Can you imagine? Needing to leave Cleveland right now? Where would you go? What would you take?
The United Nations says it is preparing for up to four million refugees from Ukraine in the coming days and weeks. They are fleeing mainly to Poland, though many are also going to Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia, and Romania. Our oldest Unitarian churches are in the Transylvania region in Romania and I wonder how many exiled Ukrainians are landing there.
So much loss. From war comes so many dimensions of loss.
Now I must say that historically, Unitarian Universalists have not been united on the question of war. United, for sure, in acknowledging its tragic terrible consequences, absolutely. But not united on the question of whether a war can ever be justified, and, if justified, terrible as it may be, it must be fought.
80 or so years ago, many of our congregations were passionately convinced that war against Nazi aggression was very much justified–it was a war that had to be fought.
What’s for sure is that, from any reasonable and historically-accurate perspective, this war that President Putin has unleashed upon Ukraine is not justified. It is simply egregious bullying, in service to fear and greed. No wonder his armies are using cluster munitions and vacuum bombs, weapons that are not allowed under Geneva Conventions. No wonder his armies strike at civilian neighborhoods, which are supposed to be hands-off.
These are war crimes in the making.
But like all bullies everywhere and at all times, he is counting on apathy to be his #1 weapon. He is counting on the apathy of the Russian people, the Ukrainian people, and that of the rest of the world. He is counting on people doing basically nothing as his armies and tanks and bombs invade and destroy Ukrainian cities and Ukrainian lives.
Thanks be to God, Putin is dead wrong! Russians in Russia are protesting this war, and they are risking arrest for doing so. We know that Ukranians are responding with true grit and force of their own. And as for the world, well, even Switzerland (a land famous for its neutrality) has recently declared its support for Ukraine and its opposition to Russia.
Russia stands alone, cut off from most of the world. China does support it–that is indeed concerning. Iran also. A few other countries. But for the most part, Russia is being ostracized. It is being called out. It is being actively shunned in sports, science, and most other kinds of international cooperation. Economic sanction after economic sanction are also hitting home. In our electronically and financially interdependent world, you don’t necessarily have to fight bomb with bombs. Hit them in the Ruble. Pull out investments and industry. Hit them in their oil and gas resources. Cut them off from the Internet and social media. And on and on.
Our grief today, then, is not just for Ukrainians, but also for Russians whose lives are going to be radically upended as well–who will suffer from the bad choices that their authoritarian leader is making. One Russian journalist puts it like this: “Putin is destroying two countries at once.” Russians are feeling shock and shame at this war that is being done in their name.
As for ourselves in America. We are not out of the authoritarian woods yet. Trumpism is still a major force in politics today. Congress can’t seem to pass a voting rights bill that can defend genuine democratic process from the machinations of Trump-like politicians on local, state, and national levels who seek to stack the deck in their favor. We point a finger at Putin, and rightly so; but notice how three of our fingers happen to be, at the same time, pointing right back at ourselves.
So many dimensions of loss these days. These days are overwhelming, layered as they are on all the other historically immense events and moments that we are living through these past several years–Covid-19 of course being one of them.
So here is what I counsel: here are a few thoughts I offer in light of these times that try our souls:
One is a quote from the great writer Mark Twain. He says, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” Some of us grew up in cold war times, with the threat of nuclear war knocking on our door every day. And you somehow made it through. You somehow learned to put your worries in perspective and make room for the rest of your life. We need to learn how to do that today also.
Then there is this piece of counsel. In moments where I have felt completely overwhelmed, and all the things I preach to people I just can’t seem to muster enough energy to practice for myself, my go-to strategy that has never failed me is …. walking. Part of this is metaphorical. I just keep putting one foot in front of the other–left foot, then right foot, then left, then right–I just keep doing this, one step at a time, trusting that the next thing I need to keep moving forward is coming my way, somehow: a hug from a friend, a kind word, a piece of wisdom, a something. It’s like you are driving a car in the dark, and what you can see only reaches as far as your headlights throw light. Which is not very far. Lots out there stays unknown. All you can do is pay attention to what your car’s headlights do uncover. Snow that needs to be shoveled. A sunny day that needs to be enjoyed. A partner or spouse to do things with. Children who need you to assure them that they are safe and you are there for them. Your favorite beverage. Maybe even a beloved cat that likes to cuddle with you. Attend to what is coming your way–the bare facts of your life. Do this, and moment by moment by moment, even in the darkest of nights, you will get home safe and sound. You will.
There is also walking in the practical sense. Walking is soothing. It is not healthy to feel like you are on high alert all the time. It will harm your health. So find things to do that soothe yourself, give yourself time off from the fears of the day. A walk in nature accomplishes this wonderfully. So, go for a walk. Solvitur ambulando, says an ancient Latin phrase: “It is solved by walking.”
For sure something is solved, even if it’s only your anxiety.
That’s no small thing.
Finally, I commend to you the words of this prayer, which I adapted from The Talmud, with a little Dr. King and Abraham Joshua Heschel thrown in:
May we not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.
May we do justly, now.
May we love mercy, now.
May we walk humbly, now.
May we know, as the fragile human beings we are,
that we are not obligated to burn ourselves out in the work,
or to complete the work,
but may we also know that it is on each of us to do something,
that no one is free to abandon this work
that is larger than one’s individual hurts and concerns.
Is a threat to justice everywhere.
So let us now pray with our hands and our feet.
Let us now go into the work.
This we pray, in the names of all who have lived and died
In service to humanity.
So may it be.
Witnessing With The Light Anthony and All
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…. So goes one of the songs in our hymnal. When the chaos feels too big, and our anxiety or grief or anger runs to overflowing, sometimes the best we can do is simply to witness to the values and love and peace with the light that is ours.
To say to each other and the world: love and peace shall not be overcome. There are no bombs or bullets or lies that can extinguish them fully and finally.
It is a matter of faith. Human history is long, and has already seen so many disasters. Yet it has also seen the efforts of countless people of good will, to rebuild what has been destroyed, remember what has been lost, and demonstrate that evil shall never be the last word.
So now: I invite everyone here to come forward and light a candle. Witness with the light your conviction in the power of love and peace to overcome evil no matter how long that may take.
A worship associate will be standing at each table as you come forward, to help as needed.
Let us now Witness.
Song Anthony and Dave
And now we turn to our last hymn.
It is a call to peace.
#159 in the gray hymnal, “This is My Song”
Please stand as you are willing and able.
This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine.
Extinguishing the Chalice Vicky Warden
We extinguish this flame but not the light of truth,
The warmth of community
Or the fire of commitment.
These we carry in our hearts
Until we are together again.
[Extinguish the chalice]
Closing Words Anthony
As we close, let me say that if you would like to help Ukrainians right now, donations of money would be extremely helpful. Most large international aid organizations, including UNICEF, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the International Committee of the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and the International Rescue Committee, are currently working in Ukraine and neighboring countries, where a growing number of displaced people are fleeing. Please check out these organizations and give as you can.
And now, with these words from Olympia Brown, American history’s very first female ordained minister–ordained in the tradition of Universalism–we close tonight’s vigil:
We can never make the world safe by fighting.
Every nation must learn that the people of all nations are children of God,
and must share the wealth of the world.
You may say this is impracticable, far away, can never be accomplished,
but it is the work which we are appointed to do.
Sometime, somehow, somewhere, we must ever teach this great lesson.
So may it be.
Sce Ne Vmeria Ukrainy (National Anthem of Ukraine)