Are you a person who prays?
Are you praying for the Ukraine, its people, and its leaders? Good. They need it, obviously and desperately.
But are you also praying for Russia? Are you praying for Vladimir Putin and his advisors?
I can't speak for any other traditions of prayer, but for Christians our responsibility is crystal clear: In addition to other Biblical precedent, we have a direct command from Our Lord to love and pray for our enemies.
If that isn't good enough, consider that the Russian people didn't ask for this. If we rightly fear domination of the people of Ukraine by Putin and the Russian oligarchs, we know that the Russians have been living that life all along.
Our sanctions may convince Putin to withdraw his forces, or they may drive him into desperate actions and alliances that will come back to bite us hard. That's not clear yet. What is definite is that they have tanked the Russian economy, and the Russian people are heading into financial hardship of a kind that has passed out of the living memory of our own country.
If their suffering is not enough to convince you to pray for them, consider what happened in Germany after World War I, when the winners of that conflict made certain that the German economy would be completely devastated.
Have I convinced you to pray for the Russians? Now, how about President Putin? It is so easy to fear him, and to hate him!
For Christians, again the command is clear: we must love him, and pray for him. (We don't have to like him.) Regardless of how we feel about him, he is as valuable in the eyes of God as we are. And if, as we'd like to believe, he were less worthy of our prayers, that would only mean he needs them more.
But if that's not enough, we must pray for Putin for our own safety's sake. (Did you catch the nod to A Man for All Seasons?) He's a man in command of a large and powerful nation, with his finger on the nuclear button. We all know from experience how much damage the last two years of pandemic isolation have done to people's mental health. From all accounts, Putin has taken this isolation to an extreme. If he was unstable before, what of now?
What's more, in our collective response to his invasion of the Ukraine, we have been backing him into a corner with no way to save face. We seem determined to defeat him utterly and humiliate him, forgetting that cornered bears are exceedingly dangerous. Finding a win-win situation is not capitulation; it's wise diplomacy, and much more likely to lead to a lasting peace.
I don't know how this dangerous and tragic situation should properly be handled. I don't know if we are being Neville Chamberlains or if we are being driven by the fear of making his mistakes into making more disastrous mistakes of our own. I don't see a Winston Churchill on the horizon.
I do know that the one thing we can do is to pray. For the Ukraine, and for Russia. For NATO, for the European Union, and for all the world leaders who don't know what they're doing and are doing it very enthusiastically.