Anne M. Smith-Nochasak:
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"We build a little box and there we place the marvelous limitless author of the universe....
But really, there is no god in that box...."
We sat in a meeting that day, and you said that the word “God” hurt you, raising memories of the residential schools and all they did in the name of God.
You may not have attended the residential school, but you carry the burden. I may not have perpetrated the residential school system, but I carry the shame.
Your words have echoed in my mind, and these words have been growing inside me until this day, when they spill out onto my computer screen. Will this bring you healing? No. Nevertheless, these words must come out, for my sake.
Your pain disturbs me, and so it should. But it must also move me to action, or I have failed.
The bodies of the lost children are surfacing. We are indignant on your behalf. We don orange, attend Gatherings, and write inspiring posts on social media to prove our commitment.
Later, we will return to our cocoons, still righteous, still indignant, but a little weary of it all. We will click “like” and “caring” on your posts, but we will move on. We will seek the next social trauma and focus our energy on that for a while.
The word “God” beats against your senses. That is our shame. We read the Gospels – the euangellion, the good news. We are thrilled by the teachings of this itinerant preacher/carpenter, and we claim them as our own. We build rituals and institutions to administer the teachings. We build a little box and there we place the marvelous limitless author of the universe. We summon this being to do our bidding, invoking him with formula and chant. We demand that he bless our actions, and we claim his voice.
Poor god locked in a box.
But really, there is no god in that box. He does not rise up to our whim, blessing our desires and changing the world to suit us. No, the True One sweeps open our hearts, causing us to fall to our knees before the wonders of creation. This is the One who moves us to rejoice. I like to think of this One as author, for he weaves our stories together, our stories spinning out like dreams. He never forces the ending. He respects his own laws.
So, where was this One while your children were in agony? He was there beside them, and he felt every nail, every thorn piercing his own heart as yours is pierced this day still, and he remains in agony beside you until the end.
Jesus gathered the little children close and blessed them. Yes, I am sure he felt their innocence and trust, but remember in Jesus’ time, children were a marginalized people, and he reached out and embraced all marginalized people. Jesus had a knack for celebrating and embracing others and somehow we have lost that. He did not strive to change people – he usually just asked them to follow him. I have seen the children following the dancers, mimicking and learning as they go. Thus we should follow him. I think Jesus would have been delighted if he could have attended a Gathering. He would have smiled there.
The hollow box saddens me. Why did we force you to accept it? Why would we want it in the first place?
The prophet Zephaniah seems to know your story.
At that time I will deal
with all who oppressed you.
I will rescue the lame;
I will gather the exiles.
I will give them praise and honor
in every land where they have suffered shame.
The lost children of the residential schools were exiled; they suffered shame. And now they are being borne home, given honour and praise. Is this the Kairos, the appointed time foretold? And those of us who knelt and grappled and twisted the life-affirming words of Jesus into a sterile box with splinters are not after all the ones who will be uplifted? For as we uplift, so shall we be uplifted.
Is this the Kairos and now you come forward from your exile, where you were driven to the margins of the land, of the streets, and of the heart? Is this your time?
Will the word “God” become glorious on your tongue? When the word is pronounced, will it call into the moment all the Great Titles, especially the ultimate title by which you call him, Creator?
When we hear the word “God”, will we recognize each other as children of the Earth? Will we embrace the welcome that you have offered again and again and it will be so?
Is this, the early days of Truth and Reconciliation, your Kairos, and shall we dance with joy for you?
We have been present at your crucifixion, but if the Author of the Universe weaves us into your story, perhaps we shall celebrate with you in your resurrection.
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As a species, we love to predict and plan. We love to dream a future in which our lives will be rich and whole. We are troubled by our mortality, and yearn to describe what lies beyond our death. Invariably, we will be happy and we will be in charge.
One of the joys of being a Euro-Canadian child in the 1950’s was inspecting the presents under the Christmas tree each December. We had many relatives, and therefore the presents extended over the floor. Mysterious objects were lifted, flexed, and shaken. We poked and prodded and predicted; this one might be an artist’s sketch pad, or a treasure map, or a beautiful painting of a wild horse galloping over the prairies – not the school notebooks that it probably contained.
As a species, we love to predict and plan. We love to dream a future in which our lives will be rich and whole. We are troubled by our mortality, and yearn to describe what lies beyond our death. Invariably, we will be happy and we will be in charge. Those who disagree with us will probably not fare so well. This is by no means a new attitude. In the upheavals of the Middle Ages, there were many movements pointing to a future in which the good (us) would be vindicated, and the evil (all those who disagreed with us) would come to ruin. Norman Cohn covers such movements in The Pursuit of the Millennium. In our own time of upheaval, we would do well to reflect.
Many of us look forward to a Resurrection of the Dead, but none of us knows what is inside that package. Is it at the end of time? Is it a change experienced in the heart right now? Is it both? Is it just a dream? What did it mean to the followers of Jesus: Was it a physical event that affirmed their faith or was it, as Rudolf Bultmann suggested, a spiritual realization of the meaning of his ministry and death? We flex that package and try to guess what it contains.
When my son went missing on the north Labrador coast a few years ago, a friend told me not to worry, that my mother was in heaven watching over him. My first thought was “You mean this doesn’t end? When I die, I will sit perched on the edge of heaven, viewing my descendants plunging into danger, forever and ever? And everyone will expect me to pull off a miracle?” If my mother had been watching over my son, then she first should have kept his Satellite phone dry, because he was fine but his phone was not.
I was relieved to read that, biblically anyway, one typically rests with one’s ancestors in death, like King David . One does not watch grandchildren battling the waves and then try to control the storm for them. One does not spend eternity in a grand family reunion – I have enough trouble handling an afternoon at such events. I would rather spend eternity nurturing the crops, tending the livestock, and canoeing the shorelines. Especially shorelines like Rachel’s Wasaya Cove. I fashion an eternity that is pleasing to me.
For the Indigenous peoples, the spirit vibrates in the universe, and all creation is connected. They knew these things before they were written down. They lived these things and knew them in their hearts.
I read Genesis, and I learn how the Ruach (the Breath, the Spirit) moved over the waters, how it called forth all creation, how it breathed life into the first beings. There is raw creative power in those moments, but moved as we are, we try to force them into a box. We set boundaries; we develop residential school systems.
I like to think that my body will return to the earth, and the breath (that is, spirit) that moved in me in this life will return to that same marvellous breath that moves through the universe, that breathes life into the universe. I cannot say how it will unfold, but the Author of the Universe is both infinite and intimate. Whatever unfolds, it will be right.
I fashion an eternity that is pleasing to me. When I rip open the package on Christmas morning, it might be school notebooks. However, I can solve math problems in those notebooks, or jot notes for a remarkable novel.
I will take whatever Resurrection I get.
Next time, I want to focus on Zephaniah, who reminds us that the Author of the Universe will deal with the oppressors, and give praise and honour to those who have suffered shame. As we look forward to growing together in Truth and Reconciliation, dare we hope that the day of uplifting has begun, for those who have been crucified?