Stories For A Sleepless Night

Church ceiling

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by Donna Sinclair

Like many others, I’ve had a few sleepless nights lately. Our neighbours to the south have democratically elected a mendacious, racist, misogynist as their next president. We now share a continent and an atmosphere with an extraordinarily powerful leader who believes that climate change is “an expensive hoax.” And he will shortly have his hands on the nuclear codes, despite his remark that he is “really good at war. I love war in a certain way. But only when we win.”

The two most frightening words above are “democratically elected.” Apparently a lot of Americans think this is just fine. And we live next door to them.

It’s a fearful time. But as people of faith we have stories – statements of hope, really — from other fraught times. While promises from the president-elect like, “I will get rid of gun-free zones on schools” may be echoing in our dreams, let’s not forget such remedies as long walks, wise friends, adequate doses of escapist literature, and – above all — encouraging memories.

I remember a moment from 1985, for example, when American government funding supported brutal repression in El Salvador and Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras. Colorado Congresswoman Pat Schroeder was talking to reporters in a Washington press room, while a rumpled group of Canadian and American church women, most of them nuns, sat at her feet. Schroeder gestured at the motley crew and said that while “the M-16 rifle” may be the symbol of America around the world, “this is the real America.”  The women had tried to make a peace pilgrimage to pray at an American airstrip in Honduras being readied for an invasion of Nicaragua. American embassy personnel in the capital, Tegucigalpa, had blocked them.  So, they had carried their protest to Washington. It was a cold December. The determined women surrounding Schroeder had packed for the tropics.  Someone had broken open a refugee bundle of blankets and clothing for them, while the congresswoman herself had opened her closets. The resulting mix of attire was memorable.

But the sharp insight Schroeder provided at that press conference was far more so: “There is another America.” For many years I have been sustained by her statement. Schroeder’s “other America” seeks equality, justice and peace, like people of faith anywhere in the world.

Another story, this one much closer to home. In 1989, a determined band of Northern Ontario farmers, environmentalists and First Nations members began fighting the Adams Mine Dump. This was an ambitious scheme to carry Toronto’s garbage north by rail to an abandoned mine near Kirkland Lake, Ontario. The mine had already filled with water. Filling it with garbage would have been one more insult to an area that traditionally had traded precious northern resources for ecological degradation. People in the north – including church members — became split between those who saw needed revenue and those who simply saw more damage. So one denomination sent letters to its Toronto-area congregations, asking for their prayers to heal this brokenness. Soon responses began to arrive: women’s groups, church members and congregations in the south demanded to know “what is going on in Northern Ontario?” Word spread, prayers were said, and solidarity grew in some of the very people whose garbage was the issue.

It was one small component in an array of sit-ins, creative protests, and blockades on the part of some extraordinarily imaginative activists. It took 11 years. But the garbage-by-rail initiative was finally defeated.

Churches are uniquely positioned to stand in solidarity with people in other regions, or in countries like the “other America.” Globalized for centuries before free trade was envisioned, churches reach across national borders. When the seemingly impregnable wall between East and West Germany collapsed in 1989, for instance, it had already been nibbled at metaphorically by civil societies and small groups meeting quietly in a country that forbade such assembly. German churches from both East and West played a crucial role.

Canadian churches have accumulated years of similar memories. We have offered sanctuary to refugees and draft dodgers, and hosted peace rallies. We have filled church gyms and basements to hear first-hand accounts of revolution and conflict from overseas missionaries. We have round danced at highway intersections with Idle No More. We have a history. We will know what to do when the time to support that other America arrives, I know this.

We just need to be alert for that moment. Like the American clergy, for example, who travelled this month to stand with the North Dakota Standing Rock Sioux against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Or those women in 1985, determined to bear witness at an airstrip built for conflict. It may be a simple matter of placing our bodies where the trouble is, or – even simpler – praying. Or writing letters.

We might need to be brave. But our collective memory banks are packed with stories of courage. Our scriptures and our creeds and our hymns tell us again and again not to be afraid, we are not alone, God is with us.  And so we will let go of our fear and sleep. Because when it is time to open our hearts, or write or pray or picket on behalf of the other America, we will need to be rested and ready.

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. Her most recent book is The Long View: An Elderwoman’s Book of Wisdom. She is also the author of 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, Christianity, community, Donna Sinclair, spirituality

Author:Wood Lake Publishing

At Wood Lake Publishing we are passionate about supporting and encouraging an emerging form of Christianity, which is rooted in ancient wisdom and attentive to the movement of spirit in our day. Visit us online at


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