Dealing with our darkness

Renison College hosted two interesting forums – a wokshop on physician-assisted dying and a four-part series of Anglican-Muslim conversations entitled “Dealing with our darkness”.

By Sarah Best

Dr. Timothy Gianotti, Dr. Ingrid Mattson, Bishop Mark MacDonald and Dr. Darrol Bryant at Renison.

Dr. Timothy Gianotti, Dr. Ingrid Mattson, Bishop Mark MacDonald and Dr. Darrol Bryant at Renison.

It may seem counterintuitive to look deeper into darkness to find light, but this is exactly what religious communities are realizing they must do in order to reconcile with difficult pasts.

Discovering this light is what speakers Dr. Ingrid Mattson and Bishop Mark MacDonald discussed on September 30 at the first of a four-part series of events entitled “Dealing With Our Darkness: A Series of Anglican-Muslim Conversations” at the University of Waterloo.

The event was organized by Renison University College, and funded by the Anglican Foundation of Canada.

Though Dr. Mattson, the London and Windsor community chair in Islamic Studies at Huron College, and Bishop MacDonald, pastor to Indigenous Peoples in the Anglican Church of Canada, may appear at first to be coming from two fairly different faiths, their message is the same: self-reflection, both the individual and collective, is key. But this process is far from easy.

Dr. Wendy Fletcher, Renison’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor, commended everyone in attendance for the courage it takes to “open up the pages of our respective faith’s stories, and seek not only the bright pages… but those pages that are complicated, and fraught not only with peril but sometimes with horror.”

The page that Bishop MacDonald turned to was that of the Residential Schools, a painful wound in Canadian and Christian history still felt by indigenous people today.

As someone who grew up among Ojibwe people and is an Anglican, the Bishop believes that for the church “to simply say ‘we made a mistake’ doesn’t really cut it.”

Instead, Bishop MacDonald thinks that the church needs to better understand what actually happened in those residential schools, beyond just knowing the facts. The church “needs to understand more deeply what happened” – to recognize and accept its role in this dark past in order to move forward into a brighter future.

In a similar vein, Dr. Mattson spoke about the aftermath of 9/11, and the ways in which it changed the ways Muslims view themselves.

What Dr. Mattson said she feared even more than the resulting discrimination was the ways it might make Muslims think of themselves only as victims, “rather than people who, like all people, can engage in both good and evil.”

For Dr. Mattson, the act of externalizing evil, rather than acknowledging and attempting to understand it, “is the biggest threat to a sound spiritual state.”

Not all darkness is external; the oppressed are sometimes the oppressors. And it is only by forgiving ourselves, and forgiving others that we can move forwards.

Dr. Timothy Gianotti, a professor in Studies in Islam at Renison, who along with Dr. Darrol Bryant was one of the appointed responders for the event, concluded by asking the important question: what do we mean when we talk about darkness?

His answer was, simply put, fragmentation. The sense of “division and plurality” that comes from blaming others while ignoring our own troubled pasts and problematic presents. And as Dr. Bryant pointed out, it is only when we are able to transcend these divisions and be vulnerable in each other’s presence that interfaith dialogues such as this one can truly live up to their transformative potential, leading us out of darkness and into the light.

The series will continue on October 30, November 20, and December 11.

All events will be free and open to the public.

Sarah Best is an Honours Anthropology and English student at Wilfried Laurier University.