Reflection: September 10

Published on Sep 20th, 2017 by Rev. David Boyd | 0
Reflection: September 10

         Part of my sabbatical in 2005, as some of you will remember, was spent as a volunteer with the Iona Community in Scotland. I spent two months living in community with folk, and while there were some internal problems when I was there, I valued my time as a volunteer. Nearing the end of my time at Iona, I remember a couple of glorious sunny days; this was perhaps mid-June and the sun shone brightly. The days were long and the skies were clear and there was little wind. The light of evenings (or early mornings) is always most dramatic, and it was just such the case that evening on Iona. I was behind the Abbey looking back toward the Island of Mull, the large island from which you gain access to Iona. The cliffs and hills of Mull turn pink in the light of the evening. It was a beautiful sight.

         As I was pondering the Island of Mull and the beauty of the moment, one of the few other Canadians working at Iona at the time strolled by and stopped. We stood for a few moments in silence looking at the pink hills of Mull and then she said, “Isn’t this the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen?” I turned to her, paused a moment and said, “Well, it is certainly one of the most beautiful places.” She wasn’t satisfied with that and looked at me and said, “No, it is the most beautiful place in the world.” I said again that I thought it was one of many beautiful places; she just looked at me sadly, shook her head, and walked away.

         You have no doubt heard—perhaps from me or Irene or Christine—that there are what the Celtic folk call “thin places.” A thin place is a place where the veil between this life and the eternal, unseen life is very thin. Iona is considered a thin place. A thin place is where we are reminded that we live in God’s world.

         There are many spiritual places in the world, and of course this is a very subjective thing. While I do believe that some places have some kind of inherent spirituality about them, I also believe thin places exist wherever we are when we bring an awareness of our connection to the land and to the fact that the land opens us to a broader view of life and the world.

When thinking about the human-created and sacred places and architecture of the earth—Mayan ruins, Machu Pichu, the Pyramids, standing stone circles throughout the British Isles, ancient tells in the Middle East, artifacts in China, ancient ruins in Africa—Canada doesn’t often get a mention. And yet, the first peoples of this land have lived here for thousands of years, using wood and treading on the land softly. Haida memorial poles don’t last as long as something made of stone. But artifacts exist and the presence of 1st peoples are all about us in Canada. All of these places where we make meaning and find hope are thin places.

         Richard Wagamese has written and spoken about our connection to the land and the importance of being rooted. He is the Ojibway writer and elder from NW Ontario who died earlier this year. Rediscovering his roots in his culture and the connection to the land enabled Richard to find healing in his own life and to write about the path to healing for others. In one of his books—and I don’t remember which one—he spoke about overcoming our hostility to the land and recovering the very ancient and cross-cultural sense of coming from the land—being formed from the dust and the clay of the earth—and then returning to the land, to dust, when we die—earth to earth, ashes to ashes and dust to dust we say at the grave.

         Hostility to the land comes from fear and fear tears at the very fabric of our humanity as individuals within a collective society. Some of those fears are based in experiences of the wildness of the natural world, as we have witnessed in our own backyard this summer and are now hearing in many places around the globe—huge storms in the Caribbean as well as huge Monsoons in Asia. What I object to in the reporting of these events is that these storms and natural events are personified and given a moral impetus, like they are a living thing. We are told that Mother Nature is punishing us with a storm or a forest fire. We hear about angry attacks from wild animals.

         This instilling fear occurred at the General Council I attended in Thunder Bay in 2006 of all places; at the morning announcements, we were told that a mother bear and two cubs were in the area of Lakehead University (where we were meeting). We were warned, in what I thought was a fear-filled announcement to walk in groups, make noise and so forth. The Very Rev Stan MacKay, past Moderator of the Church and a 1st Nations leader, rose somewhat later on that same day on a point of personal privilege, and reminded us gently that we were in the bear’s territory and that fear of the natural world leads us to feel rootless and restless and separate from the gift of life God has given. It was a very important reminder to not let fear over-ride our sense of the sacred land, and to be aware that living life everywhere carries risk. We get ourselves into trouble when we think—with arrogance—that everywhere is our domain as human beings, and that life therefore should be under our control.

         Returning to Matthew’s Gospel for a moment, I’ve long loved this teaching from Jesus about 2 or 3 gathered together. It is a teaching about sacred presence, about land, and a reminder that when we are open to the gifts of life and Spirit, God is in the midst of that gathered community… the presence of Christ is real and palpable. This is the presence of the One who opens us to life and the possibilities that exist to be in community, to overcome fear with love, to take the risks to confront the powers that tear down. And the presence of the One who gives life is here in this thin place, or the thin place where someone sits vigil with someone dying, or the thin place in a grove of trees or at the top of a mountain, or the thin place of planting one’s feet in the ground and proclaiming, “Here am I.”

         The land is in us and we are in the land and our rootedness empowers us to heal and be healed, to know that we are not alone, to know that life is good and sacred, to know that even in the midst of tragedy and storm, we are held and accompanied.

May the land be firm under your feet and may you feel your roots in God’s love for the world. AMEN.

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