Mountain-top Moments and the Valleys of Reconciliation: Reflections on Matthew 17:1-9 – by Marcie Gibson
Mountain-top Moments and the Valleys of Reconciliation: Reflections on Matthew 17:1-9
Spirited Reflection – Sunday, March 2, 2014
Marcie Gibson is a young diaconal minister, in ministry with Kahnawake United Church on Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, near Montréal, Québec. She has been involved in various social justice concerns over the years, and attended the April 2013 TRC event in Montréal as a volunteer.
Justice Murray Sinclair states, “Reconciliation is about forging and maintaining respectful relationships. There are no shortcuts.” As finishing touches are underway for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s seventh and final National Event in Edmonton, on March 27-30, 2014 (www.trc.ca), i am reflecting on the theological wisdom of such TRC events.
For many people, the TRC events are mountain-top moments: deeply sacred time set aside from the crowd and the disparaging eyes of everyday life. These are times when revered prophets and wise elders who have passed on are named and honoured, and their stories are told in concert with those of the present. These are opportunities for truth to be revealed, for transformation of those who speak and those who listen and witness. Though still set in the midst of a post-colonial empire, there are opportunities for deep connections to be made among those who share in this sacred time.
In these moments, as truths are spoken, and participants have human to human interactions, reconciliation seems both momentous and possible. Unfortunately, there is sometimes a rush to assume that, in the difficult speaking and listening alone, the work has been complete. There are gratuitous pats on the back, and an all-too-easy switch to building monuments of memory. Like Peter’s offer to build dwellings for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah we skirt the messy work of living out reconciliation in the everyday. There are no shortcuts. Like the transfiguration, the TRC is not an end in and of itself on the mountaintop, but a series of revelations in the long and lived valley of reconciliation. “While Peter was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved … listen to him!” (Matt 17:5) I imagine the exasperation in God’s voice. ‘Just stop your fussing and listen!’ It is not enough to listen only to the prophetic story; we must listen for the wisdom of how to act beyond the mountain, and some of this is much more complicated. It is not enough to speak or listen to survivors’ stories of residential schools, and then pretend we have reconciliation all figured out. It is in this speaking and listening that deeper speaking and listening can begin.
Reconciliation is not just about coming to understanding and justice for what happened during the time of residential schools, but how we repair broken covenantal relationships today. Reconciliation involves talking about colonial theologies and colonial relationships to the land, about criminalization and access to capital, about treaties and inter-nation-al covenants, about sacred medicines and sacraments, and about how the structures of one’s ancestral language shape cosmology and culture and social relationships. Reconciliation involves addressing intergenerational trauma and childcare, and access to community-governed, culturally-relevant education today – unlike what is imposed in the proposed First Nations Education Act. The FNEA, some have said, is Canada’s attempt to finish what the residential schools began – a cultural genocide through external, federally-controlled, culturally-whitewashed compulsory children’s education (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NB2SjmhrMvQ&feature=youtu.be). Reconciliation involves listening to those most affected, historically and currently, and listening for this direction again and again, in order to shape meaningful acts of reconciliation and solidarity.
The TRC events are historic and important opportunities for truth-telling, witnessing, learning, forging and maintaining respectful relationships through human to human interactions. It is my hope that as many peoples on Turtle Island will participate as are able and feel called to do – whether by attending in person or through social media. May it transform us in all the positive ways that sacred time can do, and may it equip us further for the long and lived valley of reconciliation in which we all walk together.