Sunday, July 5, 2020

Sunday Reflection: No fighting!

Donkey - Wikipedia
Today's reflection is brought to you by
Zechariah 9: 9-10 and Matthew 11:29-30.

You invite us to rejoice,
O God,
to shout our joy
because you
are the source
of all that is good,
triumphant and victorious!

You are also humble enough
to take our human form
and ride upon a donkey.

Even in such humility
you have the power
to cut off the chariots
and war horses,
commanding peace and justice.

Your reign extends over all the earth
when we listen to the beauty,
goodness and truth
that you have placed
in our hearts and souls.

All we need to do
is to come to you,
absorb your gentleness and humbleness,
and find rest
from our burdens.

Give our war-bent leaders wisdom
to follow your way of peace,
and heal the divisions
within us and our world.

Help us to reach for your gentleness
every day of our lives.


* * * * * * *

How often we hear the line about our king coming to us, humble and riding on a donkey, usually in the liturgies connected to Christ the King or Palm Sunday, other times as well. But it was the idea of a king on a donkey, cutting off chariots and warhorses that arrested my thoughts this morning. My mind was filled with a Monty-Python-esque image of a king tearing around on a little donkey (a small king with a large crown and a flying Superman cape), outracing the armies marching to battle, leaving them standing stock still, dumbfounded by the aura of peace and strength surrounding him. A comical image, perhaps, but what if it could be real?

I've never been fond of the idea of God as king. Kings are impersonal in their inaccessibility. But this image of a little guy on a donkey rather than a magnificent steed works for me. If only we had a leader down at our level, who could stop us all in our tracks, preventing us from engaging in the words and deeds of violence that arise from our own woundedness. One who, like a loving parent, could say, "no fighting!" soothe our internal insurrections, and bring us to peaceful harmony with all those around us, whether they be powerful CEOs or the people who pick bottles in the back alley.

The fact of the matter is that the God of peace is always there for each and every one of us, encouraging us to find the compassion within us, and working to heal our hurts. But we need to be aware and to cooperate, to see God's presence in all those around us, and to remember that God loves us and is present to us all equally. 

We only need to ask for help to do it, and it begins.

Today, I pray for our world leaders as we struggle through this pandemic, that they may act with humility and justice, and ride donkeys rather than war horses. 

I also ask God's help for the Brisson family, who are mourning the loss of their 23-year-old daughter and sister, Izzy. May all who reach out in compassion and support help them to find peace and rest from their twin burdens of sorrow and grief...


Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Canada Day Book Review: From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle

From the AshesI am a proud Canadian. I am so happy to live in this country we call Canada, but I also can't deny its shadow sides.

When I was small, my best friend was a wonderful girl of Indigenous origin who had been taken from her parents at the age of three in what we now call the Sixties Scoop, which is something of a misnomer for events that took place from the 50s right through to the late 90s (and probably even the present day) in some cases.

My friend, Noreen, and I didn't give much thought to cultural genocide as we played together, running loose all over our small town in Saskatchewan. I had no idea that my happy childhood was her main source of happiness at that time, a respite from life with a white foster family where different kinds of abuse deeply affected her and her sister.

For most of my life, Canada Day has meant celebrations of our country's goodness, beauty, and grandeur, some of which I was blessed to see on family summer vacations in the mountains or on the coasts of British Columbia. I was always proud of our country's peacekeeping track record, its welcome of immigrants and refugees, including those from the Underground Railroad for black settlers from the US, and other sources of struggle overseas, its resultant multiculturalism, and its efforts to stand up for justice in world conflicts.

Of course, as time has passed, social media has brought a wider awareness of the many places where Canada has fallen short of its professed high ideals, and as I have matured, I it has become impossible to wear rose-coloured glasses when it comes to my country. Since reconnecting with Noreen a few years ago thanks to Facebook, when I put on my red and white Canada Day t-shirt (sporting our anthem's lyrics), I hesitate for a moment and think of all those people for whom the concept of Canada as our home and native land causes deep hurt.

This year, in the light of events since the end of May, I am thinking especially of all our people of colour who have experienced racism at the hands of white settlers and their descendants, people just like me who have forgotten that this land wasn't ours to begin with.

The good thing is that Canada is generally a wonderful place, full of many opportunities and freedoms for those who manage to come and live here. My family of origin, descended from Russian-German farmers, has lived in Treaty 6 territory for well over 100 years, and we have reaped many benefits over time.

The terrible thing is that most of the people we unwittingly displaced have not fared so well.

So even as I celebrate Canadians' good fortune in living in this wonderful land called Canada, I am thinking of those who have experienced its darknesses in the forms of family breakdown, deprivation, poverty, racism, addictions, and abuse. To that end, I'm reading From the Ashes: My Story of Being Metis, Homeless, and Finding My Way, the story of Jesse Thistle, a man who, with his two brothers, was a victim of the Sixties Scoop.

From the Ashes is one of this year's Canada Reads book, and more than an eye-opener. Gritty and honest, told in heartbreaking poetry and prose, it has made me cry on more than one occasion. As I read, I can't help but put myself in the place of Jesse, asking myself how I would have reacted in the situations he found himself in, realizing the huge struggles that arose from the loss of his parental relationships and systemic racism. His story has made me more determined than ever to work for reconciliation and justice for our Indigenous family members and for all who are treated unfairly by the descendants of white settlers.

I can't recommend this book enough. If you have been wondering about your place in recent anti-racism events since the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, it's worth making an effort toward self-education and a deeper understanding of the Canadians who have been treated even worse over the centuries than our black community members, who are relative newcomers. It's worth rethinking our place in Canada, remembering that we are all equal in God's eyes, and thus, should be in Canadian society, too. There is so much healing required.

On this rather sodden, dark, and rainy Canada Day in Edmonton, I will finish Jesse Thistle's book, and encourage all my readers to read it, too. In addition, I pledge to continue volunteering in capacities that connect me to my Indigenous brothers and sisters and other people of colour, and to look for more such opportunities for friendship and connection.

It is only through rebuilding our country's self-understanding through relationships, reconciliation, and justice efforts that we can truly be proud Canadians -- together.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Sunday Reflection: Forever I will sing

Today's reflection is brought to you by
Psalm 89.

Even when singing is not allowed,
I sing of your love in my head,
O God,
and will forever.

When I am far enough from others, 
my mouth cannot help but make music
to proclaim your faithfulness to me.

Your love is clearly seen
in the necklaces of diamond galaxies
with which you festoon our skies,
galaxies that took billions of years to form,
billions of years of your faithfulness.

I am blessed,
who see and celebrate your love,
who walk in its light and beauty,
who recognize your face
in all that you have made.

I rejoice in your creation
and celebrate your goodness.

You are my strength in these challenging days.

I don't know your plan,
but I trust,
I praise,
I sing of your love for all your creatures.

We belong to you,
Holy one,
and entrust our future
to your care.

Help us to care for each other,
to be your hands and feet, 
to bring to fruition
the common good
on this,
your earth 
and our common home.


* * * * * * *

Lately, in these pandemic times, I have been finding it hard to find God's presence in the struggles we face. We are in the middle of what I would call a "wake-up call," yet many of us refuse to wake up. The huge push to "get back to normal" is causing a second wave of the virus in many parts of the world, and here in North America, the insistence on personal freedom over the common good means that many people are ignoring the precautions (like simply wearing a mask) that can make a difference for so many others.

If we can't work together on reducing the effects of this virus, how will we work together to handle other serious challenges like climate change and leveling the playing field for the poor of our planet, who seem to bear the brunt of global catastrophes?

Even as I wring my hands over our world's difficulties, I know who is in charge. The force in the universe that brought everything to be, the force that sustains all things right down to the breath in my lungs and the beat of my heart, is still here, still with us, still waiting for us to do the right things. So we continue, in hope, and I find my comfort in singing.

Here's another of my favourite Taizé chants, sung in Portuguese. Today I raise it for the people of Brazil, India, Russia and the US who are experiencing the highest numbers of covid cases these days. I sing it for all those who pretend that there is no virus, or that it will have no impact on their lives. I have posted the English lyrics below, if you would prefer to sing them. Or join me in singing the Portuguese:

Cantarei ao Senhor enquanto viver;
louvarei o meu Deus enquanto existir.
Nele en contro a minha allegria.
Nele en contro a minha allegria.

I will sing to the Lord my whole life long.
I will worship my God as long as I live.
For the Lord brings joy to his people.
For the Lord brings joy to his people.

Saturday, June 13, 2020