random reflections about this retreat experience...

With the affirmation that Louie is recovering well - and now at home with his loving momma and poppa - I felt I could reschedule the long overdue final retreat of my sabbatical commitment. I am at a lovely, quiet and contemplative Franciscan Pilgrim Prayer House in Ottawa, CA that is just what the doctor ordered. Here are some seemingly random reflections on what I've experienced to date:

+ The drive from MA to Ontario was shaped by rain, rain and more rain. The ground in Northern NY State is saturated with flooding already taking place. The streams and rivers were ragging in wild torrents and it will only go from bad to worse as more rain falls and more snow melts. My usual GPS did not work so I had to use the Google Maps app on my IPhone which took me through places along Route 12 and 26 I had never seen. It was an adventure of sorts because this system only shows you 50 miles of the map at a time so I had NO idea where I was for most of the sojourn. 

+ After about six hours of travel I wound up at the Seaway/Three Nations Bridge Crossing. This is in the middle of freakin' NO where and it was a bit trying to get into my beloved Canada. Call it the new reality of POTUS 45 or the beginning of a martial law like culture across all nations but these border guards were not excited to see me coming. The first had no idea what a Franciscan Prayer House was - and really was not at all interested in finding out. So I had to "park under the canopy and present my credentials to one of the immigration officers inside." They were pretty damn suspicious too. Granted, I'm a long haired Christian showing up in the the boonies on my way to a time of contemplation. Pretty dangerous, ok? Well, these two rascals didn't know much about retreat centers either. But they did know about the ambiguity of Canadian immigration law and were very interesting in exploring my cell phone and computer for hate mail, child pornography and other contraband that might inhibit me from entering this wonderful country.

So they confiscated my electronic devices - which the immigration laws in Canada might allow - demanded passwords and then searched my car. There was no one else around but me and the immigration officers prompting both an earlier start for my prayers and the realization that I was experiencing what so many of those I love from other lands face all the time: suspicion, judgment and intimidation. 

In time, all they discovered was a 35 year old copy of the Book of Common Prayer, a novel by Peter Matthiessen about the Holocaust and pictures of Louie and the wider family.  As one officer handed my belongings back he said, "Sir, I thought you should know that as we searched your car we found these..." I had no idea what he was showing me so he said, "They are marijuana seeds... I know (presumably from reading my emails or collected sermons on the lap top) that these aren't yours. They are too old. See how red they are? But you should know because this happens in rental vehicles all the time." I almost puked with anxiety but kept it together. He concluded, "Thank you for your time, sir, have a nice visit to Canada." All I could think was: welcome to the brave, new world...

+ The rain and fog outside of Ottawa was fierce so this slowed me down and delayed my arrival. During this extended drive I listened to CBC where they dedicated two full hours to the newly appointed commission re: Missing and Murdered First Nation Girls and Women. It was a riveting broadcast about a long-standing problem. And it was on the national radio station.  Not NPR or Pacifica or something Amy Goodman produced: national Canadian radio. 

Two thoughts struck me as I listened that stand in bold contrast to my own homeland. First, Canada is openly wrestling with its violent and racist past while the US is trying to bury our original sin. The veneer of British gentility is obvious in this pursuit but the progressive players know that British/
Canadian white racism was and is every bit as vicious and brutal as that known in America. The big difference is that Canada is trying, albeit in complicated and often incomplete ways that are challenged time and again, to come to terms with their sins against Native Peoples. As one commissioner put it: when we are told that "it is time to put this behind us and move on, I ask: why don't you move on from memorializing our war dead? Or your relatives journey as immigrants? We don't move on because we must remember - and change. And it begins by hearing the horrifying stories of what we did and where we came from over the past 150 years." 

Second, given the Trump regime - and Attorney General Sessions - we are living to the polar opposite of Canada's journey. The US is now actively engaged in denying past wounds around race and violence. We are committed to intimidating and marginalizing those who are courageous enough to tell their stories out loud and in public. And we are in a race to turn back social history to a time when white power was supreme. I am not idealizing my neighbors to the North, just noting the very different trajectory of our cultures in 2017. It was a sobering leg of my journey.

Once I arrived - after 7+ hours in the car - I needed to walk. My host was gracious and got me settled and then I walked for a few hours around the Market in the light rain. I stopped into a pub for a brew. I took in the sights of repair in this part of the city after a snow filled winter. And I started to let go of my anxieties in all their forms and nuances. Today was walkabout time - nothing serious - and I'm headed out to a lovely wine bar for jazz, salad and a bit of chill out. Tomorrow I'll write for Holy Week and then visit my friends at L'Arche Ottawa for music therapy and supper. Friday will be more prayer and writing and a time in the Glebe neighborhood. I give thanks to God for all that has taken place and for the rest and safety to go deeper.


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