This Canada Day, events such as the discovery of the children’s burial sites at the Kamloops Indian Residential School bring us to a more sombre reflection on the spiritual landscape of our country. My recent book, Northern Light: A Canadian Prayer Book, traces spiritual patterns across the Canadian Landscape using prayers, reflections and photographs. One of these patterns is the awareness that as a settler, I am to understand my place in Creation. I am to listen to the wisdom of our elder people and attend to their songs and stories of the flow of life that sustains us.
This listening leads to contrition. In Purple Loosestrife, I identify with the Eurasian plant that is colonizing ditches and wetlands, displacing Marsh Marigold, Blue Flag, and Cardinal Flower.
I dwell here as another settler species, profligate and gaudy, careless in my colonization.
In my arrogance I brought you here like communion in a pyx.
Blind to the wisdom and grace of this sacred place.
“I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.’”
Is this confession sufficient? No.
My eyes are still as murky as the swamp water in which I stand.
Creator God, lead me home.
Purple Loosestrife, South Lancaster, Ontario (excerpt)
Alongside this ambiguity about my place in this land, I hold a sense of wonder as I contemplate its beauty, intricacy, and force. In this reflection, my thoughts begin in a September grain field and spread across the country.
Have you heard God’s song softly rattling September wheat?
Drumming on the roof of a summer storm? Trilling from the beaks of the white-throated sparrows?
Have you felt the sacred symphony of spring colour?
The weight of Pacific rollers crashing on the rocks? The empty white cold of a tundra night?
Have you touched the divine tenderness of an emerging maple leaf?
A milkweed’s seedpod ready to dance with the wind?
Water in a mountain brook rushing to give life to a thirsty world?
Have You Heard God’s Song? (excerpt)
Outside the shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré a statue shows St. Anne holding Our Blessed Mother both wearing tiaras decorated with Maple leaves. I took my lead from this statue to reimagine scriptural and traditional moments in our Canadian context. If Christ walked this land, where would he go?
To the vineyards of Niagara?
To haul lobster traps off Cape Breton?
To calm the raging Pacific waves crashing on Haida Gwaii? To bless the Prairie wheat fields?
To be tempted from the top of the CN Tower?
If Christ Walked across This Land (excerpt)
Our religious imagination brings faith into our Canadian context, so that I can reimagine the country as homes for our saints or as a Gothic Cathedral.
St. Peter sits on a rock contemplating his locksmith shop in Bonavista.
St. Paul crosses the country on a train, sharing his wisdom at every stop.
St. John writes his gospel as the bald eagles soar overhead on Salt Spring Island.
St. Jerome translates the Bible into Latin with a lion curled at his feet in Calgary’s Central Library. St. Patrick walks among the green fields of Prince Edward Island talking grace to all who will listen.
The Saints Are Among Us (excerpt)
Let us enter by the western door,
through the Coastal ranges, between soaring spires.
Let us genuflect in the Prairie nave
and proceed up the Trans-Canada aisle
to pray in the left-hand transept under the Northern lights
to look south into the stained-glass Toronto towers
to the altar set between the chapels of St. Lawrence and St. Joseph to the Eastern apse of the Cape Breton Highlands and Gros Morne. God bless this sacred space
And consecrate all within to your service.
The Canadian Cathedral
Canada Day this year brings us to contemplate our place in the world. We look with contrition at our trespasses and thoughtlessness. We stand in wonder and gratitude at the manifestations of the Creator in creation. We open our hearts and imaginations to weave our scriptures and traditions into our landscapes.
Les Miller retired as Religious Education, Family Life and Equity Coordinator with the York Catholic District School Board and then taught with OISE (University of Toronto), York University and Niagara University. He has written or contributed to more than 20 books in the area of spirituality and Catholic education.