Shamrock, Cross and Eagle Feather – By Mardi Tindal

Theological Reflection – Sunday March 17, 2013

Mardi Tindal served as the 40th Moderator of The United Church of Canada, 2009-2012. She continues to write, speak and offer retreats for the healing of soul, community and creation (see marditindal.com). She is an accredited facilitator with Parker Palmer’s Center for Courage & Renewal, a Restorative Practices Facilitator, and a grateful spouse, mother and grandmother-to-be!

Photo by Fred Cattroll

Photo by Fred Cattroll

The Iona Community’s John Bell introduced me to what I think of as the most compelling part of St Patrick’s ministry.

According to John, the introduction of Christianity to Ireland was the least violent of any. Why? Because Patrick honoured existing spiritual wisdom in those he encountered. They already had a trinitarian worldview, represented by the shamrock. Patrick shared the story of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a way that both confirmed and enhanced their own sacred story with a compelling new one. Neither they nor Patrick saw any need to replace one another’s truths. They allowed each sacred story to be strengthened by the other.

I wonder how St. Patrick might have shared Good News in North America.

Canadian churches struggle with the reality of a very different story here. In 1986, we as The United Church of Canada offered our first words of apology for broken relationship with First Nations, with the Rt. Rev. Bob Smith beginning in this way:

Shamrock_leaf

“Long before my people journeyed to this land your people were here, and you received from your Elders an understanding of creation and of the Mystery that surrounds us all that was deep, and rich, and to be treasured.

We did not hear you when you shared your vision. In our zeal to tell you of the good news of Jesus Christ we were closed to the value of your spirituality.

We confused Western ways and culture with the depth and breadth and length and height of the gospel of Christ…”

Our 1998 apology to residential school students, their families and communities added, in part, “We seek God’s forgiveness and healing grace as we take steps toward building respectful, compassionate, and loving relationships…”

 

During my term as Moderator I represented our ongoing commitment to this healing path and learned especially from the courage and generosity of Aboriginal leaders.

An eagle feather is one of my most cherished gifts. It is a symbol of the sacred and of truth. In Ontario courts it may be used to swear an oath. The beauty of my feather comes not only from the eagle and its Creator, but from the one who gave it to me.

In October 2011 at the national Truth and Reconciliation event in Halifax, Lottie Mae Johnson, on behalf of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Survivors’ Committee, presented each of us as church leaders with an eagle feather – and a tearful hug. It was an act of remarkable grace.

Lottie Mae lives in Eskasoni, the largest MicMac community in the Maritimes. She is a survivor of the Shubenacadie Residential School and travels throughout the Atlantic region supporting survivors and gatherings for truth and reconciliation.

Her grace, courage and generosity are typical of what I have witnessed on this journey. My immediate thought when receiving this gift was that we didn’t deserve it – that we must do much more to redress our history before receiving this honour.

But that kind of thinking reflects a world view based on commodity and transaction, somewhat like the view Judas expresses in today’s lectionary Gospel passage (John 12:1-11). This view is challenged by a world view based on loving relationship. Mary pours out costly perfume to anoint Jesus’ feet because she is driven by love. She is compelled by God’s economy, and not by the world’s thinking. Mary’s extraordinary act of love still teaches us about the power of Christ to turn our hearts from stone. Lottie Mae’s extraordinary act of love teaches me more about the depth and breadth and length and height of the gospel of Christ

I wear a cross and carry an eagle feather, symbols of sacred truth among my people and Lottie Mae’s. I am humbled to carry them together with the hope that they – and we – will live into a new relationship whereby our sacred stories will strengthen one another.