A Message from the President of Pacific Mountain Regional Council, the United Church of Canada.
To the Members and Friends of Pacific Mountain Regional Council.
On this cool windy early autumn day, my heart turns toward the settler traditions of Thanksgiving, in which I was raised. My first images of the feast of gratitude come from early childhood, and school-room photos of the New England Pilgrims gathered around a great wooden table, inside the wooden rampart of a fort. Women wear hooded bonnets, men in big black boots and black buckled hats, and they’re all beaming with colonial pride. A large wild turkey, roasted to perfection, sits in the middle of that great table brimming with apples, corn, pumpkin and the bounty of harvest. And the local parson is at hand to offer the blessing. At the top of the rampart, young men are stationed, muskets at the ready, warding off any threat, perceived or real. As I think about it now, it’s the epitome of square peg and round hole, in the days when white European standards attempted to model gratitude to Indigenous people who lived their whole lives in gratitude to the Creator.
As I prepare for this weekend’s Thanksgiving feasts, I wonder who else will search for the same foods to adorn their tables. I wonder how many of us will celebrate the bounty of harvest, when I hunch very few of us know what it is to surrender to the unpredictability of creation in order to grow the food that sustains our bodies. I know there are some who have thrown a little caution to the wind and have become urban or suburban farmers, but should our community gardens fail, for most of us Save On Foods, or the local markets are still just around the corner. I can imagine that we will offer a blessing over the food lovingly prepared, and at some level, wish for a wall to ward off any threat, perceived or otherwise – just for the day. What is still true? While most of us set aside one day of thanksgiving, where we come to understand the vulnerability of gratitude, our Indigenous relations live lives of gratitude everyday; grateful to the Creator for providing everything needed for life.
All religious traditions, and cultures have their customs centered on the seasons of seedtime and harvest. Religious traditions and cultures connect to the circle of life, with words of gratitude for the faithfulness of creation and the Creator. And for the most part, all religious traditions and cultures are called to do more than say thank you. We are called to share the bounty so that no one goes hungry or is forgotten.
On Thursday, September 30, during Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, hundreds of people poured onto the grass at Pier Park in New Westminster, where I live and work on the traditional lands of the QayQayt First Nation. We were there to witness and participate in a Healing Pipe Ceremony offered by the Spirit of The Children Society. Two Indigenous Chiefs, two city mayors, one provincial cabinet minister, one national member of parliament took part in the event, speaking to a large crowd, huddled under tents in the pouring rain. The drum called us to gather. The pipe ceremony called us to pray, (they actually used the word pray and no one was offended), and to release the spirits of the children who never returned home from Residential Schools.
While the why question has been asked – why it took so long for such a day to happen – the Indigenous leaders of the Spirit of the Children Society had only one word. It was a prayer; thank-you. And they shared as much food as they had prepared for as many who wanted to stay. They are dealing with the intergenerational trauma of residential schools, and yet they thanked us for coming, and being with them in their story-telling. Then they shared food out of their bounty.
Before there can be reconciliation, there needs to be truth-telling. And then there is feasting. I’m told this is the indigenous way. I wonder if that’s because a life lived in perpetual gratitude, rather than one weekend a year, produces humility and respect, measured in generosity.
Beautiful people of Pacific Mountain Regional Council, my prayer is that your lives are richly blessed in the coming days.
My prayer is that you may come to know that all your days are blessed, that you may be rooted and grounded in love, so that you may be a blessing to others, for the mending of God’s creation. My prayer is that from the teachings of all our Indigenous relations, we learn that this is not just one day or one weekend, but that our lives are opportunities for prayers of gratitude, lived, accompanied by an outpouring of radical generosity.
Happy Thanksgiving, my beloveds! In Christ, Rev. S. Blair Odney
Image: Blair Odney