Fifty Years and Five Reasons for Hope

Garden Sculpture

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By Donna Sinclair

A few days ago we held a garden party to celebrate our fiftieth wedding anniversary. We weeded a lot beforehand. Things looked pretty good; perennial geraniums blooming in several colours, astilbe likewise, daylilies, clematis, hosta, rudbeckia. We had invited lots of people, maybe a hundred, from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm. Come and sit in the garden, we said. Drink coffee. Or tea. There will be butter tarts.

Party day. After three weeks of deep drought, it began to rain at exactly 11:00 am and stopped at 3:00 pm. Everyone crowded into the house. (They came and went in self-imposed shifts.) It was fine. Guests looked out the window and admired the garden, colours richly heightened by the wet; they hugged old friends, laughed and talked.

Afterwards, I considered what the garden gods, or the universe, was telling us. Possibly that rain in a dry spell is more important than a party, a sentiment with which I agree. Possibly that when plans go astray and all looks lost, some things are better than before.

There’s been a lot of that in the decades since we walked nervously down the aisle of a small town church. Things getting better, I mean. While no one can compete with me at catastrophizing – I study books on climate change to hone my skills – it is also true that in that time the Berlin Wall came down, apartheid was dismantled in South Africa, and the last Indian Residential School was closed in Canada. It’s a long, long way still to reconciliation in each case. But even while humankind marches the planet into its sixth and maybe last great extinction – grieving as we go – some things offer hope.

One: Grassroots groups are now as plentiful and resilient as – well – grass. While our watershed is threatened by a dilbit-carrying pipeline, our community of activists standing up to Big Oil is cheerful and determined. We meet in our church parlour to plot a new kind of resurrection, one that takes place before the death of a river, not after. We put up billboards, put on cabarets, and put out leaflets. We talk to any group that will listen. We write letters. We appear before panels. (Next up: the National Energy Board.) There are millions like us, all over the world, saving rainforests and farmland, fighting fracking, protesting all manner of unthinking exploitation. We may not win. Who knows.  But fifty years ago, we didn’t even exist.

Two: The normally crab-like and sideways movement of social progress has suddenly speeded up. Jim and I got married when only heterosexual couples could do so, and GLBTQ persons who taught school or served as clergy or fought for their country did so securely and irrevocably closeted. Not so now. Now, the prime minister marches, joyously, in Toronto’s Pride parade and a rainbow flag hangs in our church sanctuary — as it does in many others. There’s a vast way to go. Orlando happened, and still happens, all over the world. But fifty years ago we would not have flung open our church doors as we did for a vigil for its victims, and mourned, and challenged each other to demand justice, and meant it.

Three: Christians in North America are opening at last to what we were too arrogant to learn 500 years ago: that the earth herself is holy and our Mother. That water is sacred, and must be protected. That humans do not have dominion; in fact, the land equally shelters and nurtures all species, large and small, two-footed or four-footed or finned or feathered.  That living with respect in Creation is the creed by which we must live if we are to have any hope at all. Now, in our congregation, the Prayers of the People always include prayers for the water when they are offered by a First Nations member, and the rest of us listen and pray and learn. The journey to a truly North American spirituality has just begun. There is a long long road ahead. But fifty years ago, the attempt to destroy First Nations spirituality represented by the residential schools was unacknowledged and unrepented. The road to reconciliation did not exist.

Four: When Jim and I took our newly-married selves to our first congregation, in Northern Quebec, it was understood that my work was to support his. He was the minister and I was the minister’s wife (no longer a secondary school teacher whose students learned to love Shakespeare.) Neither of us thought to question this, nor did anyone in our mining-town congregation. But over the years, the church discovered the priesthood of all believers, I retrieved my self-esteem, and my innately feminist spouse stopped having to bear all the spiritual projections in our household. We learned, in fact, that ministry belongs to all people of faith, not just those who are ordained. We learned that we can experience God’s presence directly as well as through an intermediary, and we dreamed, and interpreted, many dreams. Our marriage, and our faith, is richer for it. Fifty years ago, most ministers were male, most of their spouses were female, there were no meditation groups in the church parlour, no labyrinths in the gym, and using the phrase “inclusive language” would have resulted in a blank stare. It’s better now.

Five: The fruits of fifty years together are complex and elegant and overwhelmingly precious: children, grandchildren, a garden, two interesting vocations, dear friends, (including each other) and purpose. And one thing more, that I am hesitant to claim, but — unless I do so – cannot put to use. We are old enough now to be elders. We are old enough to have seen all these changes and more. Most of all, we have a vision long enough to see the dreadful trajectory of climate change and contamination that stalks us, the result of humanity’s own fierce genius for invention. But elders seek out hope, rather than despair. Because we have not so much to lose, (who, after all, can fire us?) it is our responsibility to speak truth to power. It is our job to demand governments and institutions and leaders do better. And that, after all these years, is what we do.

A journalist for more than 30 years, Donna Sinclair is an award-winning writer who has traveled widely in Canada, Africa, Central America, Britain, and Eastern Europe. She is the author of The Long View, The Spirituality of Bread, The Spirituality of Gardening, A Woman’s Book of Days, A Woman’s Book of Days 2, and numerous other titles. Donna lives with her husband Jim in North Bay, Ontario.

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Categories: Christian Life, Donna Sinclair, environment, Gardening, spirituality

Author:Wood Lake Publishing

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3 Comments on “Fifty Years and Five Reasons for Hope”

  1. July 11, 2016 at 10:51 pm #

    Congratulations, Donna and spouse, for 50 years of loving friendship and partnership. My spouse and I are heading for the 60th, so I know what richness those long years can bring. I met you at a book signing at the one good book store in North Bay when I was visiting my daughter. I like your reasons for hope. The human species may not prevail, yet there are many loving and active threads in the web of life which may bring some hope to life and beauty on this planet. Meanwhile we work for the best outcome regardless. Blessings for another decade or two in your marriage.

  2. Ambury Stuart
    July 22, 2016 at 12:22 pm #

    Since I have just come from the 50th anniversary reunion of my high school graduation class, I am also thinking of how things were different 50 years ago. This is a wonderfully hopeful article that can help us face present challenges with fresh courage. Thanks Donna.

  3. July 25, 2016 at 12:50 am #

    Thanks Lynne, Ambury, for the blessings, comments, conversation! And hope.

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