So, I explained to my friend about residential schools – how the government, with the full complicity of churches had decided it had a responsibility to properly educate aboriginal children. And because educating children does not sound so bad – not to stranger unfamiliar with the history – I had to explain how officials would roll into First Nations communities and scoop up the kids, and take them away and sometimes they would never see their families again. How all this was done so that the “Indian”, as they said at the time, “could be trained out of them”. And how they were separated from their siblings, and beaten for speaking their own language, and how many were the victims of terrible abuse. And how the ripple effect of this horrible act is felt generations later. How Canada has only fairly recently come to grips with this shame.
I heard myself telling this story to someone who had not heard of it before, and when you do that, when you watch the shock on their faces that was a part of a recent Canadian history, and you hear your words barely touching how dark this deed was, you realize how little you understand it at all.
My friend didn’t. “But you mean, they just took the kids away from their parents? Imagine if someone came and just took our kids away.”
Perhaps I should not dwell so deeply in past things on this weekend, with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about to make its report public. This weekend is about recognizing the journey we have made, as a nation, toward acceptance and understanding. And the journey that the victims and their families have made toward forgiving their nation for a grievous injustice.
That we have even come this far, is truly a mystery, an act of grace beyond our understanding.
Trinity Sunday is the day when we ponder the mystery of God which we can never fully describe with words, or depict with art, or ponder with knowledge. The Trinity, for Christians, is the closest that we get: God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, individual understandings of the divine, that taken as a whole expands our image of God to encompass more than we can fathom. We might relate to the frustration of Nicodemus in his conversation with Jesus. We can hear how with every answer he gets, the puzzle just gets more complicated. Nicodemus wants to pin down Jesus; he wants an answer, he wants to be able to put some shape to God, but Jesus’ answers raise only more questions. But in fact Jesus is answering; Nicodemus just wants a more earthly answer, one bound by science or rationale, based on cause and effect, and those things we can touch. But Jesus says: “ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”
“But how can this be?” Nicodemus asks.
This of course, is the wrong question, or at least not a particularly useful one. What might we ask instead? The wind is a metaphor for the Holy Spirit which, as Jesus is saying, cannot be contained, and works in ways we cannot predict and cannot control. Our role is but to listen for the wind, as it blows through our lives, and try to heed what it is saying. It is wonderful line in the Gospel, for it suggests that what we control is how well we listen and act upon what we hear. What happens next is a mystery built upon the actions and reactions of those around us, who have also, we hope, been listening to the wind.
So Nicodemis, who understandably asks “how can this be?” has missed the point. What he should ask is: What is the sound that the wind is making? What is the Holy Spirit whispering to me?”
History is created from a series of actions by individuals, some which bring war, and others peace. As a nation, we still have much to correct. But can’t we also hear the rushing wind of the Holy Spirit at work in a moment like this; bringing forgiveness to evil, and grace to shame?
It is human nature to seek more understanding, more clarity: we are driven to understand God as fully as we can. But the answer will never satisfy; we will never solve it; it is the puzzle with no solution. That should not be unsettling; it feeds an awareness that we cannot control everything is this world, that we must accept that some things defy explanation, and rejoice in mystery. And trust that in the space between the lie we might want to live, and the truth we must face, the Holy Spirit is working through us, and around us, to bring us to a place of grace – if we but listen.