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Becoming People of the Land

The following is the last article in our series on Identity and Land. See Deanna Zantingh’s piece, “Uncovering the Truth: Land is Central” in January’s issue and Ellen Cook’s piece, “The Land Restores Identity” in February’s.

Image: Noah Falk

Both Deanna Zantingh and Ellen Cook’s recent articles in the Rupert’s Land News were food for a set of questions I’ve been living with this past year. I’ve been wondering if an urban person of faith, like myself, whose grandparents came to Winnipeg at the turn of the last century, could become a person of this land. By this, I don’t mean a citizen, or a property owner, or even just a lover of this land. For me, to be a person of the land means to be defined by, belong to, and consciously take part in this larger reality called “the land” into which I was born and call home. Why does this matter? And finally, how does my faith encourage or distract me from becoming a person of the land?

Our collective patterns of ecological destruction is a symptom of our divorce from the land. Not only are we eroding, polluting, and destroying the very foundations of life as we know it, I believe that we are harming our souls in the process. For at the heart of the mystery of the incarnation, is the inextricable linking of our physical and spiritual well-being. The “world” that “God so loved, that he gave his only Son…” is, I believe, all of God’s creation – all the creatures, all its history, and all its wondrous and intricate workings.

Just as the Copernican revolution required us to shift the earth from the centre of our cosmology into a planet orbiting around the sun, so our science today is challenging us to shift ourselves from the pinnacle of God’s creative evolutionary activity into one part or branch of the overall whole. We humans are a node in the interdependent web of life. We are called to tend, mend, and sustain right healthy relations among all God’s creation, but we are not at the centre of creation. Creation does not exist to serve our needs. Our “dominion,” our power, is be used as Christ’s ‒ in service for abundant life for all. To become a person of the land is inextricably joined to an ever evolving journey of faith.

What might a land-based faith journey look like? I imagine it would be characterized by the cultivation of practices of respect, gratitude, humility, wonder, joy, restraint. It would have four dimensions in constant dialogue with each other:

1. Learning about the land from naturalists, biologists, ecologists, conservationists, farmers, foresters, fishers (the list is long), but, most importantly, from those who know Taashikaywin and the ways of askiwipimatisiwin;

2. Walking, running, paddling, gardening, or simply resting in and spending time with the land;

3. Transforming our eating and consumption patterns, as Wendell Berry observed in “The Gift of Good Land”:

We cannot live harmlessly or strictly at our own expense; we depend upon other creatures and survive by their deaths. To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of creation. The point is, when we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament; when we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration… in such desecration, we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.

Cathy Campbell recently retired as the priest incumbent of St. Matthew’s Anglican Church and Vice-Chairperson of the WestEnd Commons. She has served parishes in Vancouver, been an academic at the University of Toronto and Cornell University, and is the author of “Stations of the Banquet: Faith Foundations for Food Justice” (2003).

4. Praying, both for the land and with the land – We must join our voices to those of the land, whether in praise (Psalm 98) or groaning (Romans 8). The land must be an integral part of our collective lives of prayer, reflected not just in our rhetoric and moral encouragement of each other, but also in our symbols and sacramental lives.

Perhaps when these dimensions are woven together, the separation between the outside and inside our church buildings, between our cosmology and our theology, between science and faith will shrink. Perhaps then we will find the path of reconciliation with the land and its original people and draw nearer to a time when we will see God’s will done on earth as in heaven.