Quebecers over the last 20 years have twice narrowly rejected separation from Canada. Though polls indicate that only a minority of Quebecers want another referendum such as those that were conducted in 1980 and 1995, the new premier of Quebec - a longtime sovereigntist - is promising a third one.
Notably, for the last seven years, the United Nations Development Programme has rated Canada as the country having the highest level of human progress. That Canadians are dealing with basic questions about their federation peacefully, democratically, and mostly politely, itself indicates a high quality of life.
These political developments have caused much soul-searching inside and outside Quebec. As a Canadian anglophone fluent in French, and who both loves Quebec and lives outside of it, I've done my share. The question of Canada's future has encouraged me to seek an understanding of myself that goes beyond language, history, and geography.
Perhaps, in their own way, other Canadians are doing the same. Basic to most people's sense of identity is their culture, of which language forms a vital part. But what if we shared a universal culture? A culture shaped not by history and geography but by one God, who is Spirit. Jesus saw beyond cultural limitations and mind-sets to what might be described as a spiritual culture. Though Jewish, he commended the faith of a Roman centurion as beyond that of any of his own countrymen. On another occasion, he taught in a parable how a Samaritan could show great compassion and neighborliness (Jews and Samaritans at that time didn't get along.) In all that he did, in all that he said, Jesus presented a higher, more universal concept of identity.
The author of the Bible's book of Colossians perceived this higher identity, which is based on Spirit. Calling it the "new self," the author writes: "Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!" (3:9-11)
Seeing identity as spiritual puts human cultures in a different perspective. We still value, cherish, appreciate, and - hopefully - preserve and contribute to them. But the rich tapestries of languages and cultures, both within countries and internationally, don't define us. Only God makes us who we are.
Being conscious of this higher identity releases people from dependence on their human culture or nationality for fulfillment. Rather, feeling fulfilled as the expression of divine Spirit, enables people to bring that awareness to human cultures to enrich and unite them. Cultivating a spiritual perspective contributes meaningfully to one's own culture and fosters better respect and appreciation for the cultures of others.
I'm comforted by the fact that no matter how Canada evolves, this universal perspective that embraces openness and appreciation of cultural diversity is more a part of me than geography, language, and history. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science and founder of the Monitor, wrote in her main work, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," "The material body and mind are temporal, but the real man is spiritual and eternal. The identity of the real man is not lost, but found through this explanation; for the conscious infinitude of existence and of all identity is thereby discerned and remains unchanged" (pg. 302).
Realizing more fully that identity is spiritual unites people and will naturally transform political structures to express that unity. In God's own way, I expect this will happen in Canada, and in the many other nations made up of different language and ethnic groups.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor