By Margaret-Anne Enders —
This is an article about relationships and about our personal and collective work of building, maintaining, repairing, and honouring relationships. As one of the co-ordinators of the Women’s Spirituality Circle, I am blessed to have a job where relationships are the cornerstone of my work. Our Circle was formed just over a year ago when the Multiculturalism Program at the Canadian Mental Health Association worked together with Gendun Drubpa Buddhist Centre, St. Peter’s Anglican Church, the Women’s Contact Society, and the Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society to secure funding to do interfaith work in Williams Lake.
Our initial meetings saw a range of women—Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, First Nations, and spiritual seekers—joining to learn about one another’s traditions and to plan a large, multi-faith gathering. The Circle has grown to incorporate women of many other faiths and spiritual paths. The numbers are amazing for a community this size. At our gathering last March, 120 women came to learn, share, and be nurtured. Many commented on how much they appreciated the connection they felt with the other women over those two days. Relationships in the Circle are key. We focus on respectful listening and dialogue. We spend a great deal of time in gatherings sharing our experiences and learning about the experiences of others, their faith journeys, their histories, their “mountain-top” moments, and their times of darkness.
It is in this spirit of openness, curiosity, and caring that we recently approached the theme of reconciliation with First Nations people. It is timely. Last year the Truth and Reconciliation Commission held a week-long event in Williams Lake, offering First Nations people the opportunity to share their experiences of the Indian residential school system and be supported in the healing process. It also offered those of us who did not attend the schools an opportunity to listen to the stories, to catch a glimpse of the destruction wrought by the schools and the government’s policies, and to broaden our understanding of the many implications of such damage. However, not only did we see suffering, we saw courage and resilience in the face of great obstacles. They were difficult stories to listen to, but it is so essential that we listen.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission brought these experiences and issues into the mainstream consciousness, where they need to be. There is still a great deal of entrenched racism, both built into public and political systems, but also lodged in people’s hearts. One had only read the comments under Facebook posts and articles to see bitterness and blame towards First Nations people after the Fish Lake mine failed the environmental review and even after the Mt. Polley spill. Such comments often arise from the misconceptions that people have about First Nations people and the entitlements that they supposedly have. It is these misconceptions that get in the way of relationships. These are hard to change and hard to challenge.
For one thing, it feels unsettling. It is uncomfortable. Just hearing the stories of pain, suffering, isolation, helplessness, and hopelessness is difficult in itself, but there is the further step of taking responsibility. Setting aside the debate about how much responsibility we should or should not take for the law generations back that required all First Nations children to attend residential schools, we can look at our responsibility for going forward as a just society from now on. That is a responsibility that each of us needs to claim. That will only happen through relationships. And we cannot build those relationships if we don’t listen.
For non-First Nations to shift their views of the history and experiences of First Nations people requires first an opening of the ears. “Yes, but” is a common response to the topic of residential schools anthe ongoing intergenerational impacts (“Yes, but those schools closed long ago,” “Yes, but many First Nations are thankful for the good education they received,” “Yes, but bad things have happened to me too”). It is those “yes, buts” that stop the stories before they can sink down to the heart, where they can really upset that apple cart that believes that Canada is a country where there is fairness and justice for all. And once the cart starts to teeter and those beliefs are questioned, it is difficult to find solid ground. It is uncomfortable and unsettling because the question then arises: how do we fix this problem? The discomfort continues as there is no right answer and no easy answer, and no answer that we can come up with on our own.
The answer is in the process of building and maintaining, nurturing, and appreciating relationships with First Nations people. The answer is in continuing to listen to the difficult stories and the uplifting stories; the answer is in sitting with and being honest about the discomfort; the answer is in advocating for change in policies and attitudes; and, the answer is in healing the rifts and pain that we find in our own hearts.
The Women’s Spirituality Circle chose this theme because the journey of reconciliation with First Nations people is a spiritual issue. Wholeness within and wholeness without are inextricably linked. Our society will not thrive until we all can thrive. Our spirits cannot be whole until there is justice and healing for all spirits. Let’s set aside those “yes, buts,” embrace the discomfort, and enter into the richness of relationship. It is time.
The Women’s Spirituality Circle is a group of women in and around Williams Lake that are engaged in respectful dialogue and learning about the spiritual traditions and practices that offer us meaning, direction, and hope.
• We come from different backgrounds and find spiritual nurture in various places, such as temples, churches, nature, and through community.
• We are supported by many faith organizations and community agencies.
• We seek to create a safe and welcoming place for sharing our own journeys, for learning about the spiritual journeys of others.
• We aspire to build a movement that reduces attitudes and incidences of racism, violence, and intolerance in our world by nurturing and supporting peaceful relationships in our community.
In her work with the Multicultural Program at CMHA, as well as in her life as a parent, partner, faithful seeker, left-leaning Christian, paddler, and gardener, Margaret-Anne Enders is thrilled to catch glimpses of the Divine in both the ordinary and the extraordinary. To find out more about the Women’s Spirituality Circle, call her at (250)305-4426 or visit www.womenspiritualitycircle.wordpress.com. We’re also on Facebook at Women’s Spirituality Circle in Williams Lake.