Every Child Matters
When I was on Vancouver Island this past weekend, I paid my respects at the memorial on the steps of the BC Legislature in Victoria commemorating the 215 indigenous children whose graves were recently discovered on the grounds of the Kamloops Residential School. Today, it was announced that 751 more unmarked graves were found at the Marieval Residential School in Saskatchewan.
We in the peace and justice community try to instill in others the truth that every human loss in any part of the world — from northern Iraq and DR Congo to Colombia and Burma, and everywhere in between — is equally tragic. We should pay attention to these lost lives just as relentlessly and mourn just as authentically. Many in my circle therefore rightly decry the silence of those whose myopic privilege atrophies their compassion for the oppressed in other parts of the world simply because their lives don’t intersect our own.
And yet, peace and justice is ultimately incarnational — it’s embodied, specific, local, connected to one’s own life context.
This is why Canada’s complicity in the genocide of First Nations peoples hits me so hard. The intersection of a church that scoffed at the Beatitudes with a government that has allowed me to become too comfortable is where the incarnation of justice passes through my own field of vision. I live as a settler on the ancestral, traditional, and unceded territory of the Ts'elxwéyeqw Tribe of the Stó:lō First Nations and Coast Salish Peoples in what we now call the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, Canada. I’m also a Christian. And I have young children of my own, though I have no reason to fear that they will ever be taken from me against my will or end up dead without anyone notifying me. For years, I lived a block away from St. Mary’s Residential School in Mission, BC, regularly passing by unmarked graves with my own children on our way to Heritage Park that now surrounds these graves. My own ancestors, the United Empire Loyalists of Upper Canada, were, according to indigenous writer, Chelsea Vowel, among the first to benefit from land surrender treaties after the year 1783 in contrast to treaties before this that focused mostly (though not always) on trade and security alliances. This is the context of the pain and suffering into which Christ enters in front of my own eyes, which means that the 215 graves of these indigenous children mark the location of Christ’s incarnational descent in the present to which I need to pay special attention.
Yet even after giving myself permission to feel these compounded tragedies in the pit of my stomach more so than other tragedies around the world, I struggle to identify the proper response. And the only thing I can muster at the moment is the sacramental response of confession and repentance as a way to avoid reasoning my way out of the need to take responsibility and take action. This is all I’ve got right now — confession and repentance wrought in the crucible of contemplation (however clumsily I stumble down this path).
When our default impulse is to constantly judge, analyze, measure, evaluate — anything to justify absolving ourselves of any responsibility and complicity or dilute the perception of our ongoing benefit — it’s important to eschew these impulses through the contemplation (theoria) of simply resting in true and full Being, the source of the shared existence of all humans — myself, you, those 215 indigenous children — to cultivate love as compassion for those from whose suffering I benefit. Lanza del Vasto observed that the knowledge of good and evil that the serpent promised Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden if they took the fruit before it was offered to them as Gift is precisely our discursive reason that has become a poor substitute for contemplation — i.e., the direct “knowledge” and apprehension of God through theoria. In our impatient attraction to shortcuts and with our egos always at the helm, it’s this discursive reason — our impoverished knowledge of good and evil in contrast to direct contemplation — that constantly compels us to judge, analyze, measure, and evaluate, whether to reinforce superficial divisions, to justify our dehumanization of First Nations peoples, or to get us out of the need to confess and repent.
Taken as a whole, these two dimensions of incarnational justice and direct contemplation by means of confession and repentance (metanoia — or the transformation of our nous) reflect the humanity and divinity of Christ, or the hypostatic union of the crucified One who trampled down death by his own death — through which “the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (Mt. 27:52–53).
Lord, have mercy.
 Chelsea Vowel, Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis & Inuit Issues in Canada (Winnipeg, MB: Highwater Press, 2016), 246–248.