by Rev. Joan Kessler
When I decided upon Storm as my theme for this week’s service, I set out as I always do, to find some centering words. And this search opened up to me the way storms and weather phenomenon are used as literary devices. And when I googled quotes related to the storms of life, I was awash in rather corny sayings and less than helpful advice. I suspect you are already guessing my reaction to most of these sayings… it was a real struggle to find a statement that might relate to what this message is really about today. So I wasn’t going to use: “If you want to see the sunshine, you have to weather the storm”. And I really wasn’t going to use the one that pontificated: “When weathering the storms of life, please remember two things: It could be worse and It will get better.” Words like this might seems cheerful and optimistic to the one who offers, but not necessarily to the one who is experiencing crisis or depression or anxiety.
The storms of life do indeed blow into our lives from time to time… and some experience suffering beyond belief and comprehension. Finding the place of inner calm and peace can allude us. And I am curious about what you do when life feels like its out of control or it’s broken into a million pieces, scattered across the floor… this got me to considering my own practices that I do on a consistent basis… I would share with you that my morning yoga practice is one of the most sustaining and grounding things I take in my day… the simple flow connects my mind, body and spirit into one and sit with silence and pray and listen for God’s still and small voice that is made known to me throughout my day. I also do the dishes… there is something about putting one’s hands in hot soapy water and wiping away the food, all gifts I had blessing of partaking of. Washing the dishes is a reset for me… I do a mindless task that produces something valuable… I dry the dishes and put them away so I can begin again.
Finding and keeping inner calm takes work, it’s about setting an intention. Our world is so full of so many things that are angry and violent and we are in the midst of a lot of storms that are tossing us about… COVID and polarities a virus has created… confronting racism at all levels and systems of society… and we are experiencing the darkness of Canadian history around Indigenous Residential Schools, what took place in those institutions and the revelation of the Kamloops 215+… plus has been added because Indigenous communities know there are many more burial sites of their children, unmarked and undocumented. On this eve of National Indigenous Peoples Day, I want to share with you Wally Bearhead’s words about what this has meant to him and his people:
It’s time to talk again, because even after (the Kamloops discovery), there’s a problem, and it seems to be building.
Near Brandon, MB, over 100 more children have been found on residential school grounds. This is again, not surprising to me or my community, because we know we have missing family. We have advocated for years for help to find them. But even though it’s not surprising – it still reignites trauma. And while that trauma is being experienced, we are subject to hateful genocide deniers and apologists, people asking what they can do, performative acts without substance, and political grandstanding.
First off, the deniers/apologists. Not surprisingly also racist in the ones I’ve been directed to. There have always been people who can’t see outside their own head in society, what concerns me is they are given voice to spread their hate. And in cases closer to home, invited to write and promote curriculum and policies that continue what the Indian Act, the Residential Schools, the 60s scoop, pass system and everything else today.
Then there’s the people who feel that in addition to having to continually fight for our existence, that we also need to be responsible for explaining it. Non-Indigenous folk who seem genuinely concerned about #215children, as if the TRC, UNDRIP, and Commission on MMIWG hasn’t already established these things already. Testimonies given, statements made, stories shared.
“What can we do?” is asked repeatedly, as they seek to absolve their guilt in me. I point. The Calls to Action, UNDRIP, Calls to Justice, numerous agreements, treaties, legal precedent cases. It’s already out there. If anyone cares to read it.
No. Instead let’s make a tweet, wear a colored shirt, talk about what a shame it is. This is a cycle where the guilt felt by one group is fixed by checking a specific box on a list. I am not surprised that it is usually demonstrated by people who have a history of tithes.
And these acts are good. Great even. But if it’s all that is done, it is performative only. We’ve seen the performances over and over and over again. We’re tired of them. You may like a show, but you cannot have an intimate and personal relationship with it. Politicians tweets and speeches mean nothing if they are still fighting Indigenous kids in court, willing to publically dismiss government employees who write racist curriculum, not coming to the table for meetings instead sending underlings of the underlings instead.
You can wear the shirts. Bring awareness, though I would hope by now everyone would be aware. But unless you’re willing to spend time to educate yourself so you can educate the racists in your family, and continue to ignore systemic racism, you’re not actually helping. It’s not the past. It’s my parents, my grandparents, my entire community. It is now and it continues though it changes its form. These graves will continue to be found while we continue to fight for the same things so many take for granted. And my worry will be that people will see it in the news in the not so distant future, shrug, sadly say, “Another one,” and then flip to the sports section. Because we’re used to being erased when we’re no longer something to be fashionable to speak about. Because when it’s not affecting you, the ones you love, and the entirety of your existence, it’s ignorable. When we’re brought up it’s because you have a grand idea of what my community can do to solve it’s problems! AS if your ancestors and predecessors didn’t create those problems. What’s more is that if I suggest how your community address it’s own problems, I’m trying to impose my culture on yours.
So, I am in the anger stage of my grief. Clearly. Another angry native man. Add me to the list. But I hope you’re angry too, and I hope you’re willing to do something about it.
These hard words come from a broken-hearted place and Wally is just fed up with it all. The storm of missing children who attended residential schools over nearly a century of Canadian history continues to build. We can be quick with our solutions… but I think what is needed here from us is to be present to this grief, to listen and to learn more about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work and its 94 Calls to Action. And to vow that history does not repeat itself.
Returning to our story from Mark… it’s not about Jesus having some sort of superpowers over the weather… I hear his words to the disciples, Peace. Be Still and not to the weather at hand. God is in the storm and through the other side… this message is not about praying enough or being good enough to get a pass life’s struggles. It is about living into right relationship with all our relations. There isn’t some divine will being imposed or insisting on its own way. For me it is about the Spirit that goes with us through the storm and calls us to find inner calm and work towards peace and justice for all. We are being invited to the work of reconciliation. The one saying I did find about storms is perhaps somewhat fitting I leave you with today…When someone is going through a storm, your silent presence is more powerful than a million empty words. May it be so.