What Does It Mean to Bear Witness?

Praying for Ukraine

An reflection by Sr Lynne, fcJ, first appeared at FCJ Sisters Blog

The world is watching in shock as the terrible events in Ukraine unfold before us on our screens. The news scrolls around with images of desperation, fear, resistance and defiance, we seek the moments of light and courage and resilience as we hear stories of children singing in basements, citizens welcoming refugees into their homes and ordinary men and women standing against armoured convoys as they refuse to be cowed. All the while we bear witness to this dreadful suffering and to the unfolding humanitarian disaster. Wondering what we can do we seek the little ways we can participate – through donations, expressions of solidarity, and political action.

Last week I listened to Thought for the Day presented by Vishvapani – a Buddhist – he speaks of the horrified anxiety that causes us to scroll through the news in the hope that it can make a difference. He went on to speak of another Buddhist principal, the value of bearing witness with wholehearted attention.

This wholehearted attention makes some sense to me, expressing the need to be present and not turn our face away. We are invited to allow ourselves to know the reality and not be overwhelmed. We are invited to stay with the people of Ukraine in the only way that is possible for us at the moment. It is not an inactive presence but one that changes us, forms us, informs our perspective, shapes our action, moves us to compassion.

In our spirituality, we Faithful Companions of Jesus speak of the women who stood at the foot of the cross of Jesus, witnessing to his suffering and death and remaining with him to become the first witnesses to the resurrection. These women are not helpless but attentive, unable to prevent the suffering perhaps, but still strongly sharing their love through the attentive action of bearing witness. Today we see the Cross present daily on our screens, we choose to remain present to bear witness and to be changed.


Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash