Today we celebrate Canada Day. I’ve always loved this holiday. I’ve celebrated it in many and various places, but perhaps one of the most memorable was last year’s festivity. For my readers with a little longer history with me, you may recall that last year I was in Norway at this time of the year, making my way with five other pilgrims from Dovre to Trondheim.
We were all Canadians, and I recall that at one point in the day, we dropped our packs, raised our voices and belted out “O Canada” in a Norwegian meadow on the side of a mountain. It was a memorable moment, touching even. In some ways, this moment recapitulated the enigmatic character of pilgrimage – in its various guises. People in pilgrimage studies have studied the why, the how, the where, the who and the when of pilgrimages. But to tell the truth, this pilgrimage was as much circumstantial as by design. The invitation just came at the right time, and my wife and I had enough interest, and the bank account gave us a thumbs up, and so we went.
But our going, at least my going, was something of an internal journey: some making sense of my DNA. Where is the locus of my people – or at least half of them. What did they leave behind? Why did they go? Did they ever want to return? Alas, so many of my questions remained unanswered, yet attenuated by the stubborn beauty of this land called Norway. We did learn of the difficult economic time at the end of the 19th Century that had ripple effects for many years. We learned of the impossibility of finding enough land for a house full of children. Of course, I also knew of the attractive – if not quiote honest – images being used on posters to encourage immigrants to the prairies. Pictures of buxom young women (blond of course) in front of acres and acres of wheat bordered by vineyards. Little did those young Norwegian men know that they would end up on a prairie in sod huts with land requiring back breaking work. And as for the young women? Some were lucky in love, but others not so much.
Immigration is hard work. Immigrants have to navigate how to fit in, what are appropriate social cues etc. And yet immigrants still come. They often hope to escape the very real possibility of death by war or interrogation or targeted hatred. In others cases, like that of my grand parents, they were simply looking for a place to call home. As we sang “O Canada” in that Norwegian dale, I knew that Norway was not my home, but I also recognized as a second generation Canadian that my people are fresh on the land, still learning what comes by second nature to the First Nations of this continent.
Canada Day is a day for Canadians to consider the gift it is to be hosted by generous First Nations, but it is more. It is an invitation to return hospitality to those coming from afar. It is good to be the stranger – even on a Norwegian mountainside – so that I, so that we, can practice the radical hospitality and infectious joy that marks the way of the One whose way I follow. Dear Canadians, take time this day to recall what brought your people to this place, and try to imagine the feelings of those wondering if they will ever fit in, and if so, how. Take some time today, or in the next few, to become what you have enjoyed: grace, hospitality, and an ease with the land. Happy Canada Day all!