Moderator Mardi’s Blog: Witnessing the future

Thanks to all those of you who sent along comments about my Thanksgiving article as it appeared in the Calgary Herald (among other places) and my opinion piece about the Truth & Reconciliation Commission as it appeared in the national edition of Metro News last week. If you missed it, you can check out the Vancouver edition.

On the day this second article was published, I was at Rideau Hall to mark the beginning of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) hearings, with Residential School survivors including Alvin Dixon, Chair of our United Church of Canada’s Residential Schools Steering Committee; other Aboriginal leaders; other church leaders, including James V. Scott and David MacDonald, representing the United Church’s efforts in relation to the work of the Commission; and government leaders, together joining The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, and the three Commissioners of the TRC: Justice Murray Sinclair, Chief Wilton Littlechild, and Marie Wilson. Marie Wilson is a formidable member of the Commission and a member of Yellowknife United Church. She spoke eloquently at last August’s General Council meeting. In this photo, she is introducing me to the Governor General. It was a great privilege to represent you as United Church members, committed to the long road of truth-telling.

Photo by Fred Cattroll

It was a moving day—a poignant reminder that this work belongs to all of us as Canadians and that we are called to witness the future as we bear witness to the past. As the Governor General said, “When the present does not recognize the wrongs of the past, the future takes its revenge.” The Governor General has herself agreed to the remarkable work of serving as Honourary Witness to the work of the Commission. The power of witnessing to truth—as we do as people of faith at times such as baptisms and weddings—was emphasized as a spiritual act.

The Commission will seek out the stories of all those connected to the schools who are still alive, from the students and teachers to the managers and janitors, as well as the officials who planned and carried out the whole enterprise. TRC Chair Justice Murray Sinclair emphasized the importance of having the spiritual support necessary to go through the heart-wrenching work of listening deeply to others’ souls and to our own souls through this truth-telling process. From my own experience, I would say that the painful and often unwelcome gift of allowing my own heart to be broken open with another is what has, eventually, enabled us to take heart together.

We will all need to tend to the practical and spiritual challenges of engaging in this process over the next five years. My hope is that we as church will invite and provide warm hospitality to the work of the TRC, and that we will listen to the children—many of whom are now older adults, still waiting for the stories of their childhood to be truly heard.

Last Thursday, children were front and centre speaking of the pain of their forebears. They were among the most eloquent of all, truly witnessing to the future. They also ran freely in the reception hall following the ceremony, delighting the Governor General and all the rest of us “with sounds and laughter” in a freedom that was not allowed for too many of their forebears.

As I add the Remembering the Children Prayer to my own daily prayer practice, I invite you to consider doing the same. It appears below.

And would you also ponder with me Commissioner Marie Wilson’s question to us last Thursday:

What will a thousand acts of reconciliation look like—beginning with one?

And will you reflect with me on the painful and often unwelcome gift of allowing our hearts to be broken open as truth is spoken, thereby making the gift of taking heart together possible?

I invite you to share your stories of truth-telling and reconciliation here—and elsewhere—and I thank you.

Remembering the Children Prayer
God of our Ancestors,
who holds the spirits of our grandmothers and grandfathers
and the spirits of our grandchildren,
Remembering the Children,
we now pledge ourselves to speak the Truth,
and with our hearts and our souls
to act upon the Truth we have heard
of the injustices lived,
of the sufferings inflicted,
of the tears cried,
of the misguided intentions imposed,
and of the power of prejudice and racism
which were allowed to smother the sounds and laughter of
the forgotten children.
Hear our cries of lament
for what was allowed to happen, and for what will never be.
In speaking and hearing and acting upon the Truth
may we as individuals and as a nation
meet the hope of a new beginning.
Great Creator God
who desires that all creation live in harmony and peace,
Remembering the Children
we dare to dream of a Path of Reconciliation
where apology from the heart leads to healing of the heart
and the chance of restoring the circle,
where justice walks with all,
where respect leads to true partnership,
where the power to change comes from each heart.
Hear our prayer of hope,
and guide this country of Canada
on a new and different path. Amen