The recent discoveries in Canada of hundreds of unmarked graves of children has left the country gasping for air. The graves are all in close proximity to former residential state-sponsored religious schools whose purpose was to assimilate First Nations children into Euro-Canadian culture. These discoveries have shocked most Canadians and confirmed what many First Nations people have spoken of for years. (See, for instance, “An Indigenous children’s grave unearths Canada’s grim history,” CSMonitor.com, June 4, 2021.)
How does a country that in so many ways celebrates diversity find the courage and honesty to face such a dark part of its history, a history that continues to have a marked effect on survivors and later generations today?
According to Perry Bellegarde, former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, the country is progressing relative to reconciliation. And though First Nations stories are often heart-aching, many of those stories are being told with a spirit of joy and even humor, which has helped me and others feel our shared humanity and renew our empathy for each other.
While accurate history-telling is important to healing, my study and practice of Christian Science has helped me see that there are certain truths that exist beyond human history, which are invaluable to reconciliation. Jesus pointed to an underlying eternalness to existence when he said, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). This statement certainly indicates the timeless nature of the Christ, the true idea of God, which Jesus brought to light through his unique life. It can also be understood as a profound statement about the identity of all of us as God’s children, which Jesus proved in his many healings. From this perspective we can begin to grasp that each of us has always coexisted with our common Father-Mother God and with each other: before the founding of Quebec City by Samuel de Champlain in 1608; before Jacques Cartier arrived in the 1500s and started calling what would become Canada by that name; even before Vikings came to what several indigenous groups call Turtle Island (North America).
“Before” in Jesus’ statement can be understood to mean not chronologically, but metaphysically, spiritually. Beyond the reach of human history itself, each of us exists, has existed, and always will exist as the spiritual offspring of our heavenly Father-Mother, who is infinite Love – in peace and harmony with each other.
This was the reality of identity that Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, found in the Scriptures – that fundamentally, everyone’s identity is purely spiritual and free as the expression of eternal Love. She wrote, “Entirely separate from the belief and dream of material living, is the Life divine, revealing spiritual understanding and the consciousness of man’s dominion over the whole earth” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 14).
Acknowledging this truth of our pure spirituality, and being conscious of the God-given dominion that the Bible attributes to one and all as God’s children, doesn’t mean ignoring human history. But it does provide a strong basis for not being controlled by that history. As children of God, Love, we’re all capable of expressing the humility to learn from our individual and collective experiences, the discernment to cherish what is good in that history, the strength to find freedom from the mistakes and suffering of the past, and the ability to love our neighbors more freely.
Recently while walking downtown on a bright summer morning, I felt led to reach out to an older Inuit woman who seemed to be needing a bit of support (many Inuit come from northern Canada to my home city, Ottawa, to access health and educational services). In those brief moments, a feeling of brotherly love and affection filled my heart. I felt moved to say, with deep conviction, “God loves you and you are precious.” The woman grabbed my thumb, held it tightly, and said, “Thank you.”
In that simple exchange it felt to me that, beyond race and different life experiences, we were receiving a spiritual gift, glimpsing the higher reality of our shared existence in God. Though that moment was brief, the spirit of that divinely impelled love has lingered in my thought like a lilting melody, inspiring me. I doubt I’ll ever pass that spot again without thinking of that sweet experience.
Truly, brotherly, sisterly love is the only way to bring about lasting reconciliation and equality. Only love gives us the strength to change ourselves, which ripples out in the way we relate to others and can even impact policies and institutions. Happily, our true nature as spiritual brothers and sisters – each of us cradled eternally in the universal family of God – gives us the power to express that love with increasing consistency.