In Psalm 62, there is a very small Hebrew word that appears 6 times. In the remaining 149 psalms, this word only appears 18 more times. This word is translated as only or alone, such as In God Alone. Here used in a Restrictive way. Only in God my soul finds rest. But it can also be translated as Indeed – In God Indeed. In a more affirmative way. God Alone and God indeed is my rock, in God alone – in God indeed – is where my soul finds rest. This is to know exactly, precisely and definitively to whom we entrust our lives and where we find our solace. We do this by allowing God’s vision for humanity shape and inform our vision for humanity. The challenge is how do we know if it is God’s vision or our own?
It seemed to me that this was the theme throughout my week, in my work activities and in the news – a theme of unity and finding our common humanity with others who may be different from ourselves.
There are a number of us here at Mt Seymour who are participating in an Indigenous Book Study. Our first book was Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese. Our current book is Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga, and our next book is 21 things you may not know about the Indian Act by Bob Joseph. On Tuesday night we had a discussion about Seven Fallen Feathers, which is a book about seven Indigenous high school students who died in Thunder Bay, Ontario, over the span of eleven years. They were hundreds of kilometres away from their families, forced to leave home because there was no adequate high school on their reserves. Five were found dead in the rivers surrounding Lake Superior. For me, when I first read this book almost two years ago now, it really highlighted for me some Indigenous issues that I just had not been aware of to the extent that they exist. I had thought of myself as a fairly aware person, with a lot of room for learning and growing, but in general, fairly aware of issues. But this book for me really highlighted a few things, which then caused me to see other news stories in different ways. It reminded me that my status in life, my education, my privilege, can prevent me from seeing and can allow me to not see – or even ignore (I would hope – unintentionally) – things that are hard to see.
After I graduated from the Vancouver School of Theology, in 1998, I moved to Ontario. In 2000 I was living in Hanover Ontario, whose nearest town, about 6 minutes drive away, was Walkerton. Walkerton was the town where both my daughters were born, and we would often visit. Walkerton was put on the map and became a household name that year – and you may even remember hearing about the Town of Walkerton. It was in the news in May 2000 because of E.coli in their water system. It was a big national front-page story. Over 1000 people got sick, and seven people died. It received immediate national attention. Walkerton was under a boil-water advisory from May to December, until the problem was identified and fixed. This was a big deal, and it was very traumatic for many of my friends and colleagues who lived and worked in Walkerton.
So when I read in Seven Fallen Feathers about all the First Nations communities who have lived under boil water advisories for sometimes years and years, it felt like such a contrast to my experience living through what happened in Walkerton. It does not get the national attention or national response that it deserves.
One other thing that the book made me aware of was lack of access to education in many Indigenous communities. I knew of the horrendous legacy of Residential Schools, but I also knew that the last one had closed its doors 25 years ago. But in this book, it talked about how students have to leave their communities and move to Thunder Bay, sometimes hundreds of kilometres away from home, to go to school. The school there is not a residential school – because the students are boarded with families in the city, but to me, it almost seemed like a new way of doing residential school, without calling it that.
There were also many ways that the book highlighted to me the systemic differences. Someone in our book study the other night reflected on how differently the story of a missing child would have unfolded, had it been her child or my child, who had gone missing, and not an Indigenous child.
I am a little bit heartened to know that since 2015, 95 of the long-term drinking water advisories in Indigenous communities have been resolved. But the government goal was that they would all be lifted by March 2021. And 61 still remain. This leaves me feeling conflicted within myself because I don’t want to let myself off the hook by thinking well, look at all the good that has happened in the last 5 years, because that glosses over the fact that there are still 61 communities who have long term boil water advisories. We know better! This is Canada – things should not be like this.
I think the privilege and status that I live with – that I live in communities where I it wouldn’t take even one year to fix such a problem – tempts me to stop at the place where I see the progress as a good thing, and prevents me from going to the harder place of seeing the underlying problem of why in our beautiful country of Canada, these things could still happen. Prevents me from seeing and noticing our common humanity.
As I watched parts of the inauguration this week, I had this Psalm in my mind and all the talk of unity and bringing differences together had me imagining God’s vision for us and for our world. What is it to trust in God alone, whose love is ever reaching and without the limits that we in our humanness sometimes are tempted to put on that love.
If you didn’t get a chance to see Amanda Gorman recite her poem at the inauguration, you should watch it, it was pretty incredible. I particularly appreciated this part as I reflected on seeing past our differences to live out God’s vision:
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside
We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another
We seek harm to none and harmony for all
The benediction by the Rev Dr. Silvester Beaman followed her poem, and again picked up this same theme. He said a few times “In you we discover our common humanity.”
He said: “In our common humanity we will seek out the wounded and bind their wounds. We will seek healing from those who are sick and diseased. We will mourn our dead. We will befriend the lonely, the least and the left out. We will share our abundance with those who are hungry. We will do justly to the oppressed.” “In discovering our humanity, we will seek the good in and for all our neighbours.”
This – is what it is to trust in God alone. To trust in God indeed. To see God’s vision for our world, a vision of ever reaching love, a vision of seeing the common humanity, a vision where our differences in status or privilege do not mean that we don’t get clean water or education, a vision where missing children or missing women remains a front-page story until it is no more, a vision where the good and basic human needs of ALL people are met, a vision where love wins. May our lives be transformed through prayer and action, as we seek to live out God’s vision for humanity, as we trust in God, indeed.
Thanks be to God Alone, in whom my soul finds rests, who is holding my life.