Our little War College band has grown really quite close over the last few months, and honestly, it is a testament to just how greatly God has moved in our midst that we are all still together. In every group I’ve seen, there are always times of trail that tend to break you, and times that bring you together and make you; it’s just kind of part of living in community. I really should introduce you to mine, because this story will contain a lot of their names. The War College 2016/17 session is comprised of Meagan, Paula, Dave, David, Travis, Jacob and myself.
Last year David’s mum died. He barely knew her, he was fostered since he was a baby, but even so it rocked him pretty hard, and we all mourned with him as he tried to come to grips with the reality that his mum was gone. It had been an overwhelming time for him, coming to know someone he felt so rejected by. I’d been alongside David as he went to the hospital to say his goodbye to her, so I’d shared his pain thus far, but the funeral was going to be another matter entirely. As we gathered around him in prayer and support, David decided he wanted head home to the Boneparte Nation for the funeral, up in Cache Creek; just your casual 4-5 hour drive away. Thankfully Dave offered to drive him up to the funeral, and we all (minus Paula) took the opportunity to go and support David in his time of mourning. I had no idea what to expect at all; my experience with First Nations Peoples up until that point had really only been with those who have been a part of the War College or the 614 community. There’s also a very stark difference in the way that people in and around urban areas live, when compared to the way of life of those who live in small rural communities. I was quite unsure of myself, but eager at the same time to learn more about indigenous culture here in Canada.
We ended up making fairly good time on the trip up, travelling through some stunning scenery. Travelling up north for the first time I was enraptured by how picturesque the whole thing was; roads weaving through mountains that look like they have been carved by enormous hands. As we pulled into the reserve I was somewhat surprised at how old the place looked, but again, we’d just come from the city, where everything is generally made for ‘bigger and better’, rather than steeped in history and culture. We stood and sat by the fire as people trickled in, slowly filling the hall. As the funeral service began we went and took our seats. Whilst David went to sit with his family, the rest of us as a War College session naturally stuck together. Consequently, it so happened that the only three white people in the room were sitting together: myself, Dave and Meagan. Don’t get me wrong, I did not feel out of place or unwelcome at all, quite the opposite! All the people we met there were welcoming and embracing. I did, however, feel the gravity of the situation heavily; here amongst a wonderful First Nations community we’d been blessed with an invitation to a ceremony that would not otherwise be available for us to experience, had we not known David.
It was a wonderful service; I actually sat in wonder as the events unfolded before me. There were songs in English, but also in native language, words that told of the life of David’s mother, drums and other music, and a native farewell. It was incredibly moving. After the ceremony, we all walked across to the other side of the road in a solemn procession, following the casket to its final resting place. Tears were already welling in my eyes as I contemplated how incredible a blessing it was to be invited onto the sacred burial grounds of this nation, a people so long connected to the earth and to God in a unique and powerful way. We walked past many of the ancestors of those stood beside me, and in such a heavy, powerful moment I couldn’t help but contemplate how blindly I had been taught by those in my childhood community. I grew up knowing and seeing only white people, only knowing their culture and their ideas about the mechanics of life and the superiority complex that tends to come with dominating cultures. But to be in that moment of utter humility and resignation was a revelatory blessing.
Shortly we came to the place of burial, and there I was told that it was custom for the men present to assist in the burial, helping to replace the earth and honour the final resting place of the dead. I watched as the First Nations men took up shovels, calling in others as they grew weary. I was shocked, however, when one of the men beckoned to me, offering me a shovel to help with the burial. I couldn’t believe it. I already felt so small, so humbled to be simply observing this ceremony, but to be invited to be a part of it? Of course I would never refuse their hospitality, so I stepped up and joined in the effort, standing amongst a group of solemn men paying their final respects to their loved one.
It was then that I realised the absurdity of it all (and when I say absurd I mean illogical and unbelievable). I am an Australian, with English ancestors as far back as I can tell, white, a foreigner, on native lands among native people, sharing a solemn ceremony with people I barely know, and being given the honour of helping bury a member of their family. I know no other family or people who would be so gracious and open, especially in such a solemn time. I took a silent moment in prayer to thank God for what I had been a part of. The rest of the evening was fairly standard. We all ate and shared together, communing over the feast prepared, and then traveled all the way back to Vancouver to be swept up in our ‘hustle and bustle’ city lives.
Safe to say, though, that experience is now forever etched in my mind, and one I will be eternally grateful for. It should really come as no surprise that Christ was right there in the midst of mourning with us. His love and heart is with those who mourn, and he desires that we do the same. The ‘Man of Sorrows’ was well acquainted with suffering, and has promised not to leave to traverse it alone. Often I have seen people try and encounter Christ in the powerful, the prophetic and the miraculous; we don’t seem to remember just as well that to mourn is to be like Christ, too!
– “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”. Matt 5:4 –
– “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one – another”. Romans 12:15-16a
Grace and Peace