A reflection by Christopher Pappas for the National Indigenous Day of Prayer
14 billion years and one second ago, give or take a few million years, there was nothing. There was no time, no gravity, no matter, no energy only what might be called a singularity, an instance of infinite density and temperature where the laws of physics don’t exist.
Then, the Big Bang and vast amounts of everything expanded outward from this point. High energy and temperature, hurtling outward creating the cosmos, as it continues to expand. Billions and billions of stars, galaxies, gravity along with light, energy and all sorts of things beyond our comprehension: black holes, white holes, quarks along with planets eventually form as the cosmos continues expanding.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.”
It is through this primal act of creation that we learn of the nature of the cosmos and also of the One who brought it into existence. All life, all creation came into being through the Logos, which is often translated from Greek as Word, but is more accurately described as God active in creation, revelation and redemption.
“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Theologians have referred to God breathing, speaking, singing creation into existence and it is through that song of creation that we owe our existence and the fullness of life. The Song that sang us into existence is a mystery of self-sacrificial Love on which rests the foundation of the Earth and us on it as we speed through space with our solar system and galaxy. Creation occurs through a song of love.Light. Radiation, gravity, and sound are all different frequencies of energy thus creation was really a song.
John’s Gospel proclaims to us the origins of creation, sung into existence by the Word. Through this creative act God makes us all with the life, breath, song and light of God. Therefore all of creation shares at its core a commonality that cannot be taken away. This means that all people, have in their very nature the connections that bind us together into one family with similar hopes, dreams and wishes. We are created by that song of love and that song ties us together and pulls us more powerfully than any siren’s song back into a relationship of love with God and with each other.
Because of this, regardless of our race, creed, ethnicity, or culture or gender identification or sexual orientation we share a commonality and a common attraction to those things that are good and of God and God’s kingdom.
When we come together with others and engage, listen and share, those commonalities between us connect and transform us in ways I can only describe as a mystery. A mystery that serves God’s purpose of healing, reconciliation and re-creation bringing the World as it Is one more step closer to the World as it Should Be. In those moments we hear the song and we join in the symphony singing our own parts.
About 20 years ago on a chill Spring evening I received a call that one of my vestry members was dying in the hospital in Stony Plain and asked for me. He was agitated and his wife said he kept saying he needed me to come. He and I had a good relationship and spent many times conversing about life and our world views. We spoke of the two cultures we came from, mine Greek and his Cree and the similarities we saw. As I drove down the rural highway thoughts buzzed in my head. What would I do, what would I say? How could I help? My mind kept wandering through the conversations we had over the years and I kept hearing the Orthodox hymn of resurrection, Christos Anesti welling up into my consciousness. 45 minutes later I entered his room and greeted his family. They said he was very agitated and not really with it. So I sat by the bed and looked at him. He opened his eyes and looked at me expectantly. I then knew what I had to do. I held his hand and I sang…Christos Anesti ek necron, Thanato Thanaton patisas kai tis en tis mnimasi zoin..charisamenos. Christ is risen from the dead, having destroyed Death by [his own] death and having given the gift of life to those in the graves. I repeated the for about 5 minutes and as I did he stared into my eyes, nodded and smiled, mouthed thank you and leaned back relaxed. As I went to leave, his wife came over and asked “How did you know he was waiting for you to sing him over to death?” How did I know? I had a feeling, a sense? Because I took the time over the years to engage with him, to enter into his sacred story and allow him into mine. We sat together as brothers and shared in common humanity, seeing where our lives intersected, where God had woven the common thread. And when the veil was thin, I was able to hear the notes of the song that binds us all together and to sing it to him in turn. I still carry his medicine bag and the eagle that he left to me and when I look at them I can still hear the music.
In May of 1917, 18 year old Henry Larocque and Daniel Joshua enlisted in the Canadian armed forces, like so many other young men of their time to fight on behalf of Canada in the First World War. They became a part of the 138th battalion, a precursor unit of the South Alberta Light Horse regiment. Where Pvts. Larouque and Joshua differed from most of the others soldiers is that they were members of the Samson Cree and Louis Bull First Nations and were exempt from military service. When they enlisted they became, enfranchised, which meant under the Indian Act they lost their Treaty rights and status. They lost all the benefits of the treaty and the Reserve lost a portion of land to the Federal government. Enfranchisement was the most common of the legal processes by which Indigenous peoples lost their Indian Status under the Indian Act and there were understandably relatively few such enfranchisements over the years. An indigenous enlistee would return from war and with no home to go back to and they would not receive the same assistance as White soldiers under the War Veterans Allowance Act.
So why did Privates Henry Larocque and Daniel Joshua, voluntarily enlist in the Canadian Army? Why would they give up their treaty rights? Why would they enter into service for a culture who strove to eradicate their culture, disburse the remnants of their ancestral lands and eliminate their cultural identity? Why would they voluntarily give up their livelihood, connections and their home?
On a cold, snowy Saturday, last November at the Samson Cree cemetery, about 10 km down a snow covered dirt road. 80 members, elders and chiefs of the Ermineskin Cree Nation, Samson Cree Nation, Louis Bull First Nation, and the Montana First Nation were present along with Treaty 6 Grand Chief and 40 members of the SALH for a service of repatriation and remembrance for Pvts. Daniel Joshua and Henry Larouque who had been “lost” by their unit 100+ years ago. A half tent with a wood fire provided partial covering from the blowing snow with smudging for those who entered. Following a pipe ceremony, a ceremony of repatriation and remembrance took place that involved drumming, singing, prayers and salutes. It combined the Military, Indigenous and Anglican traditions and was very important to all three parties as a time not just a repatriation but also a time of apologies, healing, reconciliation and renewal of broken relationships.
After I led the prayers I was the thanked by an older man who identified himself as one of Pvt. Joshua’s relatives. We spoke and I asked “Did he in fact lose his treaty rights by enlisting?” He replied, “yes the laws were a bit stringent then and he did in fact lose them.” He continued, “but he thought the values and ideals…the freedoms that Canada was fighting for were worth more than anything else and that’s why he enlisted.” Pvts Daniel Joshua and Henry Larouque were both killed in service in 1917 and on Nov 9, 2019 they were repatriated, remembered and honoured for the first time. We acknowledged their sacrifice, admitted that they had been forgotten and their service unrecognized and heard a piece of the song we hadn’t heard before.
Pvts. Joshua & Larouque chose Kingdom values over the earthly values and the repercussions of they choices resonated today. Change, restoration and new things are what God is working in the world.
Through their actions Pvts. Joshua and Larouque became agents of change in God’s new creation. They heard the song and joined in and the effects manifested today. How we conduct our lives and business today matters to God, even if we fall short of divine will and expectation. The seeds that we plant can have temporal, spatial effects that create ripples of interconnections. When we step forward and recognize the greater good to which we all belong our voices join the symphony of the song.
God is engaged in a radical transformations of the world. We may not know how God will transform the universe but we do know that it is in God’s power to do so. Each church, every disciple is able to…indeed is invited into the work of this transformation by patterning our lives and our actions on those of Jesus. Love, mercy, healing wholeness, reconciliation, peace, respecting the dignity of every human, safeguarding creation, fighting systems of injustice. We do this one act at a time. No matter how small or insignificant it may seem, each of these is another note in the song of creation. Come let us join the song!