'A picture can paint a thousand words', so the well-known idiom expresses. Photos and images have a way of powerfully conveying the injustices of conflict in a way which words often fall short. The Associated Press photo of Kim Phuc, running down the road, her body burnt by napalm, changed how many perceived the Vietnam war over 40 years ago. The current invasion of Ukraine occurs in an age where there is no shortage of images, many of which are carried daily on our news stations and social media. The number of powerful pictures and film footage depicting the atrocities of this invasion grows daily to the point where we may be in danger of becoming desensitised to their content.
My heart was captivated by the film earlier in the week of a Russian soldier who was given food and a hot drink by Ukrainian civilians, and then allowed to call his mum. Out of all the images and film footage, this one gave me hope.
In these days of pandemic, war and political turbulence, hope can seem to be in short supply. At times it appears that the divine absence is more evident than the divine presence, yet there is hope. Julian of Norwich once said, 'it is a characteristic of God to overcome evil with good.'
It will not have escaped your attention that this week has seen the start of Lent. The season of Lent has been described by some as 'a time to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary; to be surprised by God's mercy when we least expect it.'
The image of a Russian soldier being given food, drink and allowed to ring his mother, fills me with the hope that the goodness of God can indeed defeat evil. It reminds me that God's presence can be found even in the most unlikely of situations and circumstances.
Hope is a theological virtue far more profound than mere optimism; simply saying 'it will all be alright in the end' is ungrounded optimism and, dare I say, a very blinkered view of the world. Hanging on to the promise highlighted last week by the Archbishop of Canterbury, that Jesus has overcome the world, is hope. It means that when the world cries, 'where is your God in all the turmoil and heartache in Ukraine?' our answer can be, 'in the images of the Russian soldier being given care and sustenance.'
True hope is not a passive gift, as Teresa White identifies in her book 'Hope and the nearness of God', but an action where we each commit effort and determination to obtain that which we hope for. If we hope for peace, we must live peacefully. If we hope for the love of Christ to transcend this horrible conflict, then we need to demonstrate the love of Christ in our everyday lives.
The hope of Lent lies very much in what God does, and allowing ourselves to be transformed as we are drawn closer to Jesus, the cross and ultimately new life. Lent is a time for welcoming God again into our lives, allowing Him to 'make His dwelling' among us, and through the Spirit, opening our eyes to the signs of hope that we can so easily miss. Perhaps it reminds us to be the hope too. Our world, at this time perhaps more than ever before, needs hope.
I'd like to conclude with a prayer from Teresa White's 2022 Lent book 'Hope and the nearness of God’ (you can read the review in the latest edition of MOSAIC).
O God, during this time of Lent remind us of your nearness. Teach us to discern signs of hope in the reality of today. Open our eyes to see bridges of hope leading to the dreams of tomorrow. Open our ears to hear the melody of hope piping its constant song: goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate. Open our hearts, fill them with the energy of your Spirit, that we may begin each day, confident in your care for us and for the whole world of creation. Lord, be with us, in your love, be with us. All I hope is in you. Amen.
CEO, Rural Ministries