Listening to the news that Olympic skier Bogdana Matsotska from Ukraine withdrew from the Sochi Winter Games last week, I was deeply moved. She wanted to show solidarity with protesters in Kiev facing violent conflict with government forces. This skier felt that withdrawing was one small thing she could do in the face of persecution and strife in her home country.
One radio commentator said that someday when Ms. Matsotska’s grandkids ask her what she did during the attack on civilians during 2014, she could tell them how she’d refused to turn a blind eye to the atrocities and instead took a public stand for peace. What better representation of one’s country is there than a radical stand for justice to prevail?
A friend of mine and her family live in Kiev, and she wrote this recently about the situation: “The bravery and sacrifice [the protesters showed] in the name of freedom, democracy, and justice is inspiring.” My friend and her family had been praying daily for peace before being evacuated to Warsaw in recent days.
While things are shifting every day in Ukraine, many people are still calling for prayers for freedom and democracy to prevail over tyranny and injustice. There is great hope that the corruption that characterized the government under former President Viktor Yanukovych will take a turn toward greater participation of the people and greater freedoms.
As I’ve traveled throughout countries with corrupt governments, I’ve seen how corruption fragments a country. There is a great need for people to unite toward a commitment to peace. Fear and isolation breed apathy and resignation, yet I’ve seen hope kept alive by one person’s refusal to give in to fear or participate in dishonest activity. And this one action inspires others to do the same.
In the Nyeri district in Kenya between 2002 and 2007, the Kenyan leader and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Wangari Maathai, tried to bring the members of the Tetu Constituency together to work toward economic prosperity for their district. She became known for her efforts to engage the people in the governance of the region, including in decisionmaking about the finances. She was committed to transparency in the way she governed, and called for other members of parliament to do the same. Yet these efforts to help enable local people to participate more actively in government without corruption are still too rare in many parts of the world.
In praying for peace in Ukraine and elsewhere, it has been helpful for me to remember that prayer does not bring something to a situation that isn’t already there. Prayers for peace are not miracles of a settling outside influence, but the transforming power of goodness that is already present. This power has its source in God. God’s power and love exist everywhere and are available to all in any situation. As thought focuses on this divine influence of Love and Truth, evidence of goodness and peace becomes apparent, and is then multiplied in one’s experience.
For about six years, I taught alpine ski lessons to young children in an area where some of them may have had Olympic aspirations like Matsotska’s. One of the earliest lessons taught to the kids was for them to look where they wanted to go. If their eyes were leading toward the edge of the hill near the trees they were afraid of hitting, that is where their skis would go. When skiing in the trees, we told them to look at the spaces, not at the obstacles. This resulted in taking the focus off the fear and looking toward where they wanted to be going. Matsotska’s stand for peace is a good example of someone looking where she wanted to go.
This works in a similar way with peace, my friends who are professional peace builders tell me. As the founder of The Christian Science Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy, stated, she endeavored to keep the “high goal always before her thoughts...” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 426). This leads us in the direction of our expectations. In the same book she also wrote, “We must look where we would walk, and we must act as possessing all power from Him in whom we have our being” (p. 264).
Letting those who are struggling know that we stand with them in spiritual solidarity and that they are not alone in their fight is taking a stand for peace. Looking where we want to go means envisioning a world where basic human rights are respected and individual freedoms are not suppressed. This is my hope for Ukraine.