By Rev. Joan Kessler
Finding words and organizing my thoughts for today’s reflection have largely eluded me this past week. Like you, I have been preoccupied with many things related to the war Russia has launched with its invasion of Ukraine. We read the headlines, and we see the effects of war… bombed out buildings, train stations packed with Ukrainians on the move, families fleeing to Poland and being separated as some refuse to leave, and others seek safety. It is like something out of a World War II movie but it’s real life. It's hard to imagine the experience… of journeying to the unknown, of leaving behind your life and everything that gave meaning and having to leave your home on a moment’s notice and no time to think what one would take.
More than one million Ukrainians have been forced from their homes over the past 10 days. Saturday’s Globe and Mail asked those crossing into Poland what was the one item they carried with them that was too precious to leave behind. The double page spread contained pictures and brief captions of ordinary things that were located and packed on a moment’s notice. There was a family’s puppy, a laptop, family birth and death certificates, Harry Potter books, and a handful of childhood pictures. But it was one woman’s response to the query of what she brought with her that struck me. Her picture displayed her Ukrainian passport. She said she madly flung basic necessities into her bags: warm clothes for her children, medicine, and documents. She told of leaving two pets behind, a parrot and a hamster. The bare basics were all she brought and she said, “we just have God.”
Was there optimism, was there hope in her words? We can imagine the deep grief and fear that pushed their journey out of Ukraine towards Poland. They have left with nothing and no assurance of what they will find in Poland… will this be their new home? And yet, her faith, “we just have God”, is perhaps a comfort to her going forward.
Unknown journeys… where do they take us this Lenten season?
Our reading from the first testament can be heard as a justification for taking over land that belongs to others… or it can be a reminder that life’s journey is not always one that we choose. The Israelites were a displaced people, oppressed by foreign rulers, plundered and taken into exile for generations. And now they stand at the border of the land that has been promised them. They long for a homeland and place of belonging. But it is not that simple. The land belongs to another people. We shouldn’t use passages such as this to ever justify occupation. But the challenge for me in this text is where were the Israelites to go? How are they to be a sovereign people once again? Moses reminds them to give their first fruits as an act of gratitude to the God who delivered them from bondage and brought them through an unknown and difficult journey to this what they have come to know as the promised land. And they are to always remember to give thanks… that during the festival times of their year, they are to remember their ancestors’ escape from the bondage of the Egyptians and offer the first fruits of their harvests as symbols of thanksgiving to God for all they have. But this is far from the end of their difficult journeys. They will continue to be a people who will battle with others over a homeland.
A place to belong… this is something we here at home are considering too as we begin to imagine as COVID restrictions are relaxed and we can return to our building once again. And some of you have told me the importance of having practices that foster and nurture a sense of belonging, of being at home with our beliefs, our questions and wonderings, our spirituality.
At the AGM last Sunday, we approved our budget and financial statement. But we also began to move into our future… we approved some exciting initiatives that we hope will spark a time of renewal for us as a community. We decided to enter the discernment process around becoming an Affirming congregation within the United Church of Canada. We are inviting interested individuals to be part of a team that ensures the issues of Truth and Reconciliation at the forefront of what we do through learning and engagement opportunities. We are also wondering about purchasing a labyrinth mat which contains not a maze but a sacred mindful path to walk that speaks to our desire to have spiritual practices but also is an invitation to those in our community who are looking for community and fostering meaning in their lives.
I hope Wendell Berry’s Peace For the Wild Things was a balm for you this morning as you head into your week. We know what it is to be surrounded with despair these days of 2022. Being mindful when weariness comes upon you and going outside to connect and ground yourself with nature is a foundational practice for each one of us whether we describe ourselves as religious or spiritual. May our reflection on our readings today lead us to places of life. What ownership and control of places and things do we need to relinquish these coming days and weeks of Lent as we clear space for the renewal that longs to begin breaking through in us, both as individuals and members to one another? May we travel this wilderness way together. Amen.