All Across Turtle Island

A year ago I was in Shillong, India, teaching some marvelous students, seeing some remarkable sight, and learning so very much. This year I’m not in Shillong, but warmed by memories of my time there. My not being there, however, doesn’t mean I haven’t been doing the aforementioned activities. It seems that life is rich and sure to bless as we open our eyes. Of course, I know that people go through unbearably difficult days, days that deserve lament. This, too, is a part of life but hopefully not the whole of it.

Some days are gift. Yesterday was such a day. I made my way to the Conestoga Pow Wow held at the Conestoga College complex. I go most years, although I missed last year because I was away. When I entered I was told I could go left or right, which was a bit disorienting because in the past there was only one direction to go. But this year, the Pow Wow had grown so large that they had a separate arena for vendors aside from the arena dedicated to the drums and dancing. I quickly scouted out the vendors before going into the drumming and dancing arena.

As I entered the sound of the big drums just electrified me. The drumbeat has sometimes been described as the heartbeat of mother earth. It certainly felt as though I was close to the heart of the earth: strong, warm, enlivening, inspiring, justice-demanding: the list of words to describe this sound cannot be exhausted. Drums are considered to be animate for many folk who are Indigenous to North America, sometimes called Turtle Island. I can understand why. The sound was life. The dancers were, I think, carried by the energy, by the soul of the drums.

I had occasion to catch up with some friends at the Pow Wow, wise people who I deeply admire. I am always warmed by their willingness to spend some time with me, sharing their insights and helping me to understand just a little bit more of the way of Turtle Island. And I had opportunity to visit with some young folk who I know from my life at the university, strong Indigenous voices who paint the world right, who converse with the earth and lead us into right relations with our mother, who study and teach, dance and sing, fight and write for the good of all creation. My afternoon just filled me with so much hope. Canada is a long way from where we need to be in our nation to nations conversations. But the conversation partners are ready to talk, passionate about a future lived out in a good way.

I came away from my afternoon at the Pow Wow so very thankful to the Creator for making this possible for me. I do not take these interactions for granted. Life itself bids us come and learn how to be, how to listen, how to smile. I saw so many smiles yesterday. I can only hope that one day we will see more smiles on the faces of people all across Turtle Island, faces glowing in their knowing that everything is related, and all life matters because it comes from the Source of life. We are but a speck in the universe, and knowing that sets us free to be humble and hopeful.

Dance me a Prayer

Yesterday I spent my Sunday morning at Trinity Lutheran, New Hamburg. The good folk there invited me to speak on the topic of “evil” in the adult education hour, after the Anchor service at 9:30 am. It was a delightful morning. Pastor André spoke winsomely of the passion narrative, making reference to the Greek text in order to reframe the story for us and thereby giving occasion for my heart to be strangely warmed. Pastor Anne presided at Holy Communion. It is always a treat to hear again her voice. I closed my eyes and experienced transport of a sort as she chanted me into a different place, a different time. We sang one of my favourite Lenten hymns: Go to Dark Gethsemane. The journey had just begun.

With coffee in hand I moved over to the education room, where I had opportunity to chat with 30 or 40 people on the topic of evil. It was a rich experience, indeed, as I heard the stories that sustain people, as well as the questions that plague them. We spoke for a time on the topic of evil, and its character as both a philosophical quagmire and an existential pit. We spoke of evil’s irrational character, which seems to preclude making sense of it.

People asked me probing questions, and together we endeavored to imagine a Christian response to evil – looking to lament and a struggle against injustice to assist us in such times and places. People spoke so openly of their trials – it was really very moving. One elderly woman spoke of her strategy for dealing with the dark days that descend upon her from time to time. She told me, she told us all that when a heavy, claustrophobic cloud descends upon her, she pulls out her favourite dancing music and dances – all by herself in her room – despite the fact that she can hardly walk. She can dance herself out of the darkness in vexing moments. It was beautiful to hear her talk of her strategy and the hope she embodies in dancing. It struck me that her dance is her prayer of lament, of faith, of life.

On this, the beginning of Holy Week, we could do worse than imagine ways to dance together through the multifarious modes of darkness that descend upon us here and there, now and then. This elderly dancer spoke to us of the relief that comes as we allow our body to speak what our heart feels. I don’t know about the others, but I came away a little richer yesterday as I was afforded that curious opportunity to be a co-learner as well as a co-teacher.

My prayer for us, Lenten pilgrims all, is that we may take advantage of this week to discern how to dance a prayer through the darkness: from dark Gethsemane to the darker cross and tomb, and then at the last into the glorious splendor of life.