Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Deafening Anguish vs mournful quiet

I'm taking a break from blogging about Easter -lots to say about it apparently!- to write a short blog about an even shorter experience I had tonight. Another wake - bringing the total to 15 since I've been here.Don't worry..I don't go to all of them!!- but this time, a very different experience. I've never been at a wake when they first 'received the body' into the Church, where it stays for 3 days -2 wake days and one funeral day-. I usualy only go to one of the wakes, which take place after the body arrives at the Church. Tonight, was different.
I wouldn't have thought anything special would happen for this, so I stayed home while Doug went to the Church..but after almost half an hour, he still hadn't returned, so I assumed he was busy with setting up. That's when  I went down to check in on him. I took two steps towards the Church, heard loud drumming inside, and dashed back to the house for my the end, I didn't end up taking a picture of the drummers, because I felt that would be too touristy...but boy was I tempted. So instead of a picture, you get my description of the scene (-;

  I actually had a personal connection to the deceased: A 29 year old father of 5 named Robert Cooper. I answered the phone at  the rectory when his mother called us to ask that we  add him to the prayers of the faithful, in the 'prayers for the sick and hospitalized' section. The next Monday, I found out he was the nephew of Ms Theresa, the Principal of the Junior school where I teach. I've been checking in with her almost every day about Robert's condition. There seemed to be much hope around his recovery, so his death was a little surprising to everyone -he was hospitalized after a fall which left him unconscious and near death  for a short period of  time. He regained consciousness recently, but was completely paralyzed...I'm not sure what's happened to aggravate the situation.-

  In the end, I did not stay long at the Church, for it was not a real wake with prayers and was a very private family moment...but like I said...tremendously spiritual drumming and chanting filled the Church and drew me in. It was intense. I've described this kind of singing recently in an an email as a very moving experience.I had the privilige to be at a funeral in February where they sang the Honor Song. I still have goose bumps thinking about that...but tonight's experience  was even more intense. There was something incredibly emotional about the drumming. It was rhythmic and engaging, but at the same time, accompanied by the exquisite wailing of the 6 men who all banged on this one single drum at the same time -so with 6 different drum hammers...sticks..whatever you would call it.- It was entrancing, but also deeply anguished. This double quality in their song was best captured at one point as one of the young girls present in the Church was skipping to the beat of the drums with all her youthful effervescence..and when they stopped drumming, all you could hear the was the quiet, mournful sobs of the family, whose mourning was only punctuated even more poignantly by the drumming which picked up again a few seconds later. It almost seemed as if the drummers were saying  "dont' you worry Coopers...we'll mourn with you in our deafening anguish, but we won't interrupt your sacred silence too long...just long enough for you to remember that a whole community mourns with you".

 I swear if I am ever missioned here again, the moment one of my friends in the community passes away and that song is played, I'll freeking loose it. Their sacred songs carry so much with them, it's no wonder they've had such a huge impact on me!! My emotional response to these events is a comfort of sorts, because I am frustrated that I can't go up to people to hug them in their grief. I'm amazed as I witness  how this community supports each other, but am heart broken that I can't take part in it...but I guess, if I weep with them, then I am partaking in the communal grief. That's something that unites me to them, even though they may not see it that way!!

I ask you all to pray for the Cooper family, and for the people of Wiki!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

A journey of discovery

 There are many factors that get in the way of my seeing much of the rest of Manitoulin Island outside of our weekly visits to Anderson Lake - not having a license being the main one, but we're also pretty busy here most of the time, so that cuts down on potential traveling time!!-.  So, you can understand that I was rather looking forward to spending a day or 2 with Fr Jim Kelly, who has parishes in 4 other locations on the Island (M'Chiging, Gore Bay, Mindamoya and Sheshawaning. ) a few weekends ago. Besides the fact that I knew I'd get along with Jim amazingly well, I was eager to see some other parts of this beautiful Island, but also to visit other parishes. As attached as I am to Wiki, I needed to experience how other parishes live their faith on Manitoulin Island.
  And I got to do just that on this particular Saturday afternoon and Sunday, though there was much more in store for me that I had imagined.  First off, Jim was a brilliant guide!! He and I were driving from Anderson lake where we had spent the day helping out at a ministries weekend, and he kept taking detours and stopping in places so that I could see the hidden treasures of this Island. The most wonderful site for me was in the La Cloche Mountains.  This mountain range gets this particular name -The Bells- because
according to Wikipedia "the hills were warning bells, used by local first Nations  for signaling. These "Bell Rocks" could be heard for a considerable distance when struck, and accordingly when  the French voyageurs  explored the area they named it 'la Cloche'."  Well...on this particular day, Fr Jim took me to a site where we could find one of these bell rocks. We went into a quarry, and after a few minutes of driving, got to a spot where we could see and hear an example of this very special rock..if you banged it, it was as if you were banging a sheet of metal (or...I guess...a big bell!!). It was rather fascinating. And the mystery to me is that there were no other rocks around it that have that same property, though there are said to be quite a few of them in this mountain range that do. I had heard many legends about these bell rocks since I've been here, so it was nice to actually hear one!!

 Of course, driving around this area means is quite beautiful. The mountains cut across much of the Island and make for a very scenic drive. According to some people I spoke to, these are probably some of the oldest mountains in the world. Millions of years ago, they were probably as big as the Appalachians or the Rockies. Anyways, we drive up this very same route every week to go up to Anderson Lake -which is off the Island, in Espanola- and I never get bored of this route. The mountain range itself is part of 'Rainbow County' and as I recently learned, the reason for this name  is that the rock from the Mountain range is various colors of reddish brown, greyish light blue, and some could even argue yellow.It makes for a stunning site to see every time!

 The second reason that the experience was very moving for me was that Jim had asked me to speak at one of the parishes about my vocation. Now, I assumed  I'd only speak at this one parish only, but in the end, he asked me to do it at all 3 parishes. And true to character, I was very passionate and even emotional about this vocation of mine, to the point where I made a few people cry in all 3 congregations that I visited. Jim was very happy about the impact I had had on his parishioners, but mostly, I was just inspired to meet with people afterwards who came up to me and thanked me for sharing my experience with them. One father brought his teenaged daughter to come chat with me about my experience in Russia and with missionary work, as she was about to set out on a school trip to Latin America; One woman thanked me, saying that she had been praying that her teenaged son would be able to hear something inspirational coming from the Church as he was about to graduate from High school and probably needed a little inspiration -didn't think what I had to say was that inspiring, but she claims it was!-; In the last parish we visited, I met a school teacher from Scotland who was visiting her uncle who works for Development and Peace in Canada and who attends Church in this region. She was also very moved by my account and insisted that the Scottish Catholic Church needed Jesuits like Jim and myself to come infuse it with life.

 In a way, all of this was very humbling. I know I've got a gift with words and a passion when I get fired up by stuff...but I don't feel like I usually have much of an impact on people's lives, nor do I have public speaking skills. I speak from the heart...that doesn't mean I speak eloquently! But apparently, that alone is enough to achieve something in this world. Apparently, my vocation and the stories that shape it can inspire people today. Perhaps that's where the humility comes in!! See,the way I envisioned my vocation, my Jesuit life will be busy, but at the same time quiet...far from the limelight. I knew I'd be doing 'great things' for and with God, things like teaching kids, working for social justice, being a spiritual guide to people in need, becoming a writer who takes a critical look at the modern (nonspiritual)  world etc... but all of this, I expected would be done very quietly and discretely, in a little community, far from public attention. But then there are moments like these ones I experienced 2 weekends ago that force me to ask the question "if I do have that kind of impact on people, shouldn't I trust that God wants me to go out there and inspire people with my passion rather than become a self effacing Jesuit who works assiduously for a better world but stays away from being the center of attention??".

 Well, I don't know the full answer to that question yet. All I know is that this place has challenged my concept of what my 'Brother's Vocation' is going to be in so many ways, which only reminds me that, perhaps it would be good for me to stop assuming I know exactly what it is that I will do as a Jesuit, and start assuming that there is so much that I need to discover, about God, about the world, but most importantly, about myself. In the end, I am starting to understand one basic principle: I've always beaten myself up over the fact that there is so much 'basic knowledge' that I don't have -especially in the Sciences-, but what I should be doing instead is to accept that
a) there is a wonderful humility within that lack of knowledge that is edifying for many people, one that says "I have a great life experience that has given me much wisdom that I am so happy to share with others, but I also have so much still to learn". I can never let go of that.
b) In fact, the 'lacunes' in my education are not something to be ashamed of, but an opportunity to expose myself to new experiences, which I know I will cherish and embrace for the rest of my Jesuit vocation. I think that's  what's key here: I really don't know what lies ahead for me...but I do know that, no matter what I do, every day can be educational, if I allow God to work in me as he has been doing here!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Finding God in the Quiet moments.

Another death in the community last week, but this time a little more talked about, and the tragedy of it a little more pronounced than in most of the other cases. The story behind this death actually made it to the regional news on the CBC -probably one of the only times Wikwemikong was ever mentioned at the CBC level-.  Here are the facts as I know them : 2 years ago or so, a beloved member of the Wiki community (Clarence Lewis) was murdered by some young men who wanted his drugs (in this case, medicine, but there are people killed for the other kind of drugs here too!). One guy  pulled the trigger, but two others were considered as 'accessories' to the murder. The young men were eventually caught. The two 'accessories' men got 8 years, and the murderer got life in prison.
   This story alone was one that really shook the community...and not only because of the murder itself, but because of the young people who executed it. There is often a sense of despair that quietly reigns over the youth of Wiki, many of them uncertain if they have a future at all. Events like these only drive that point home even more painfully for this tight knit community. In Montreal and most cities, if we meet youth who are angsty because they feel they are without hope, we tell them to get over it. Here, everyone seems to understand that their hopelessness is not unfounded and they are incredibly sympathetic towards their youth and some go as far as to feel the same despair!
   Well this week, one of those fellows who was given 8 years in prison was actually killed in prison during a fight in the Kingston penitentiary. Many say he was framed, but that seems irrelevant now. Jordan Trudeau is the fellow's name.  I was kind of wondering how his funeral would be, considering what kind of activities he had been involved with, but many people I speak too seem to be as shaken up by his death as they were by Clarence's. The word 'tragedy' has been thrown around quite a lot. Mostly, I feel that people know that this is one tragic event too many witnessed in this community. I was actually asked to write a short homily for the prayer service. Although I did not attend the prayer service itself, I was at least able to contribute in my own special way!!

  So why am I not more depressed by the lives lived here? The injustices? The hopelessness of so many?
Because amidst all of that, there are the tender, quiet moments of God's light that radiate through even the darkest hours. Those moments often get drowned out by the loud despair that surrounds it, but they're there. Take for example Jordan's funeral. I wasn't there because of my teaching duties,but Doug says that the Church was jam packed with people ...and it was a beautiful ceremony. Some of the most beautiful singing he had ever heard. All of that was made even more poignant by a note that his young daughter left him "I am going to miss you so much. Please try to behave well in heaven. Don't do any bad things like you did here." As I've described in an earlier blog, that is how most funerals are here. Very beautiful...filled with gorgeous moments of peace, love and beauty.

 But there are days when I feel like those little quiet moments are all around me in Wiki. Maybe it's because I'm so open to finding them -not really searching for them, but yeah...conscious of their presence, and eager to receive them-. From the golden smile that my young friend Bernadette gives me every time she sees me, to the looks I get from my first graders when I tell them Bible stories (it's quite special experience to have all those big eyes filled with dreams and imagination fixed upon you!), to seeing my friend Marie Lou -a woman in her 70's or 80's- praying with a young father in the Church who came to ask her for prayers, to the millions of stories that I hear and don't hear that shape the lives of so many people here....the little moments. The moments that anyone from the outside would probably walk by and ignore. I can't ignore them. God is alive and present in all these moments ...and he feeds me through each one of them!