Psalm 23 and Wisteria: a chance for new beginnings or right relationships? – by Carmen Lansdowne
Spirited Reflection – March 30, 2014
The Rev. Carmen Lansdowne is a doctoral candidate at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. She is currently completing her dissertation entitled: “Bearing Witness: Wearing a broken indigene heart on the sleeve of Missio Dei.” She works at Galileo Learning in Oakland, CA where she lives with her partner, their two children, and a lively labradoodle.
I believe that wisteria is my favorite time of year. I have been fortunate to live in California and Japan – two places where wisteria are in full bloom around the start of Lent. Lent also happens to be my favorite time of year. I was pleased to learn, after some brief research, that one of the (many) symbolic meanings of the wisteria is ‘releasing burdens.’
I find that there is perfect synergy between this new knowledge of my favorite flower’s meaning and what I am striving for this Lent. My Lenten practice in 2014 is to harness gratitude – a task that seems insurmountable unless you make room for grace by relieving your burdens. I have many burdens to lay down this year.
As a First Nations theologian who is also an ordained minister, I have spent most of the last decade working tirelessly for the church in different capacities. Most notably by pursuing a PhD in theology where I would have the opportunity to confront the crucial questions of what the history of euro-north American interaction with First Nations over the past centuries meant for mission and the church. Some in the church cautioned me not to sound, “like an ‘Angry Indian’.” And for many years I have tried to do that. I have tried to harness hope and the ways in which the Christian narrative allows for new life and rebirth and forgiveness. Lately my anger avoidance hasn’t been working. I don’t know if it’s the rise of Idle No More and the multiple voices demanding justice for the missing Native Sisters, the voices demanding accountability from the Governments’ dangerous toying with our natural environment by ignoring the science pointing to the potential hazards of the Enbridge Pipeline, or the societal racist backlash to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I feel very much lost – and for the first time in many years (and exactly when I should be most productive in finishing my dissertation!) – I feel lost and voiceless. I have not been able to write. I felt very much lost and in the shadow of death. I do trust that the God of my understanding will bring me through this dark valley and that I am not (however lonely I might feel at times) facing any of this alone. Yet that hasn’t made it any easier on a day-to-day basis.
There are multiple reasons that I have been in this stuck or burdened place. But I realized recently that one of the biggest is that I am angry with the church. I am angry when I see continued failure to live out its promise to become intercultural in a way that holds meaning for the lives of First Nations communities. I feel angry that invitations come from First Nations to the church to do things differently, but because it’s outside of process or doesn’t fit neatly into some box, the invitation (if it is even recognized as such by the societally dominant in the church) is turned down.
I realized I am very, very angry. And I have spent so much of this academic theological journey trying NOT to seem angry, it’s not surprising I became voiceless and lost.
But then this year’s wisteria happened. And Lent happened. And not intentionally, but by the grace of God, I chose to practice gratitude and to work at laying down my burdens before I could even acknowledge what they were. Just naming that I am, and may continue to be, angry is a form of laying down a burden. Processing through this I realized something about justice and faith: you can’t just skip Lent to get to Easter.
In many ways, this is what I have been trying to do all this time. I have been trying to get to the good news of Easter without acknowledging that the church is very much still in a desert time. There are things for which First Nations should still be angry. Not just angry about historical events, but also every day normality in Canadian life. What I am grateful for today is that I have finally acknowledged this anger. I realize it is not just me that is lost and wandering when it comes to First Nations and right relationships. It is all of us. Perhaps God is leading me somewhere after all. For as the Psalmist says: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.”