Listen to Lucy’s ‘Thought for the Day’ on BBC Radio 4 which was broadcast on Tuesday 8 March 2022.
BBC Radio 4’s Religion & Spirituality podcast providing reflections from a faith perspective on issues and people in the news.
Today, International Women’s Day, was founded by the German activist Clara Zetkin, a day when the situation of women, especially the inequalities they experience receive some focus and attention.
But the reason it’s this day 8th March is because of the women of St Petersburg in Russia. In 1917, women went on strike and took to the streets on this day demanding ‘Peace and Bread’.
If the women of Ukraine were able to leave the underground shelters they are in today, they might demand the same.
Today Russian and Ukrainian women find themselves on opposite sides of a brutal war. Any war polarises, separates, brutalises. It makes liars of truth-tellers, killers of pacifists: teachers, journalists, scientists become simply refugees.
Women across the world in Iraq, Myanmar/Burma, the Central African Republic, and many more places, know what it is to be shelled, assaulted, to be left, to have said goodbye for the last time.
Christian spiritual practice has a way of demanding I pay attention to this suffering by encouraging deep connection with it. It’s not about trying to assume some kind of false solidarity: that I as a woman somehow know what every other woman experiences: that would be foolish.
Of course the experience of Ukrainian women today is in some ways unimaginable. But Christian tradition says this in itself isn’t good enough. Declaring another woman’s experience just ‘unimagineable’ produces more separation, more assumptions of irreconcilable difference. But reconciliation is the core of Christian living.
And so, as one Russian orthodox monk teaches, part of a Christian commitment is to ‘keep your mind in hell and despair not’. Both of these halves are important. Don’t look away. Go to that hell in your imagination. At the same time, do not despair.
And so, alongside the practical donations and solidarity events, I commit to listen, to imagine, to pray. To insist to the woman of Ukraine that she remains a mysterious, precious soul, not a statistic, whose distress I have witnessed, whose voice I have heard. And that I will remain forever stricken, complicit in the knowledge that this cruelty is part of our shared humanity.
To the women of Ukraine, holding unfamiliar weapons, queuing at the border, shepherding your children and your elderly parents, bracing yourselves for the next siren, for the next shell: I am you. You are me.
There is no them. There is only us.