This article also appears in the September 2019 issue of the Diocesan Post.
As we welcome September to our islands and inlets, I am struck by how quickly the land changes before my eyes, and how such a change stirs something within me, as well.
On Sunday mornings, we often pray for God’s creation—for the sea, the sky, the trees, and creatures — but I believe that our well-intentioned prayers sometimes neglect to address our relationship with creation. That relationship is two-fold: we are stewards of the land, but the land is a steward of us, as well.
In May and June of this year, The Rev. Ruth Dantzer, The Ven. Clara Plamondon, Martha McGinnis and I were invited to audit a course called “Land as Life” at Vancouver Island University, bearing witness on behalf of the diocese. My participation will no doubt chart a new path for me personally and for the diocese, hopefully. The format of this course was as a journey on the land, bookended by academic days in the classroom. We started by engaging with First Nations languages and exploring the cultural contexts of our journey. Throughout the week, we were greeted and hosted by Elders at the Somena Big House in Duncan, at various locations on Penelakut Island, at the Cowichan Fish Hatchery, and on the sea in Cowichan Bay. All our teachers demonstrated a wealth of knowledge that can only be carried by those who have lived lives connected with the land.
The Elders built personal relationships with us as students, and in that role, helped us to shape a new relationship with the land that we, as settlers, have so often overlooked. This kind of learning was the deep kind that changes the shape of a person from the inside out; it gives the student a new language to draw upon.
When we speak as a church about reconciliation, we most often mean in direct relation to the Anglican church’s past partisanship to the residential school system, and how in our current lives as Christians, we must reconcile our past wrongdoings and, as invited, support the spiritual restoration of the Indigenous peoples on these islands and beyond. However, what if one of the pieces we’ve been missing is that our relationship to the land must also be a core value that is brought to the conversation? “Land as life” means no longer seeing nature (creation) as a commodity for us to shape, but as a life that can and should shape us as we live on this planet in a good way. It is just as important that we reconcile with the land as we do with its peoples.
I learned in this course that, as settlers, we still have an opportunity in our generation to change. We must first learn to listen, and in that, wait for the right time to speak. As you move through your days this September, I encourage you to listen to what the land is telling you. The ocean is still just warm enough to wade in and the fields are bursting with harvest—how do you witness your community play and experience these rhythms? And, as a church, how do we listen to the land and the ocean as it leads us through Pentecost toward Advent? Can you feel how our liturgical calendar reflects the rhythm of seasons?
The season of Pentecost asks us to listen. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to Jesus’s followers “like a strong wind” and spoke to them in their own languages so that all could hear the message. Perhaps we can understand this in a new way. I invite you to listen more deeply to the land this Pentecost. Is the wind carrying a message?
But when to speak, then? Well, this September, the diocese will be participating in the Season of Creation from September 1 to October 4. Christians around the world are invited to pay attention to praying and caring for God’s creation. You may see this season reflected in the liturgy on Sunday mornings as one example of this intention. By embracing this global movement, we can explore how we might reconcile with the land. That might mean a season spent in deeper prayer, a hands-on project or advocacy. I encourage you to gather your community and listen to how the land guides you this season.
I am excited to support all the individual and parish projects that have the potential to transform how we understand ourselves and our broader relationships. As you come together, I encourage you to listen to the land and ask yourself, “What is the land saying to me when I listen?”