Sometimes to understand myself more deeply it is beneficial to be in a relationship of mutual trust with someone else. Through a friendship I discover, not only another person, but also more about myself. In marriage my spouse offers a mirror to see myself—my actions, my motivations, my beliefs—more clearly. Mostly I’m happy with what I see (and fortunately for me, so is she!) but sometimes I’m not. Sometimes the mirror is more truthful than is comfortable.
I find the same dynamic exists in my church and spiritual life; through relationships with others I get to discover my own tradition more deeply. Years ago I had a friend who was a Buddhist monk. Conversations with him about the life of the spirit were deeply enriching. By learning about his practice of meditation, for example, I came to understand more fully what scripture means by “prayer without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). In another example, it was through conversation with Jewish teachers that I was challenged to confront more fully the truth of Luther’s antisemitism – a look in the mirror that was not all the way comfortable.
But the truth—as sometimes revealed to us by faithful dialogue partners—will set us free, as Jesus promised (Jn 8:32). He was talking to people who told him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone.” But of course this was manifestly untrue! The people of Israel at various points in their history had been slaves in Egypt; oppressed by Philistines, Arameans, and others; in bondage in Babylon; and under the yolk of the Seleucids. At the time of Jesus Israel was occupied by Rome. To acknowledge these truths was unwanted and painful to Jesus’ listeners, but important for wholeness of intellectual, spiritual, and moral life. “The truth will set you free.”
At this time of national reflection on an often painful history shared by the Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples of this land (September 30 being our National Day for Truth and Reconciliation), I am very pleased that Hope has decided to embark on our own journey of reconciliation with our Indigenous neighbours of Treaty Seven territory. Led by members of our congregation in collaboration with Indigenous leaders, we have the opportunity to enter in to a relationship that promises to not only enrich our congregational life through deeper understanding of our neighbours, but also reveal ourselves more deeply to ourselves. How do Indigenous teachings on creation connect with our own understandings of a God who created everything in the universe and called it good (Gen 1)? How does the powerful insistence of contemporary Indigenous leaders to tell the truth about their history, especially with regards to residential schools, connect with Jesus’ teachings on welcoming, sheltering, and protecting children (Mk 10:14)? What do our Indigenous neighbours, who have been through so much in their history and still talk about reconciliation have to teach us about our own confession that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” (2 Cor 5:19)? I look forward to exploring these questions in the learning times of the coming year.