By Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt
Shoes. Children’s shoes. Empty Children’s shoes.
Empty children’s shoes placed with reverence in front of Parliament buildings in Ottawa, the Legislative Assembly in Toronto, at the entrances of church buildings, or on the steps of former residential schools; the image of empty children’s shoes has become seared into our collective memory of 2021.
Flames, floods, landslides, tornadoes and typhoons tearing up landscapes or swallowing up communities in their path; the devastation left in their wake becomes a reminder of the power and the force of nature which has been impacted by human activity through the years.
The loss of life and the loss of property may be seen as nature’s response to the desire of humanity to increase wealth and stimulate the economies of nations over time. The devastation of our natural world has reached proportions few dreamed of years ago, and are not limited to any one place, but may be seen in different locations throughout our global village. The visual images of disaster after disaster are emotionally numbing in their regularity, whatever news source you utilize.
As the calendar years transition, ongoing concerns of injustice continue to claim their priority in our own nation, province, diocese and in our own lives. Different voices will be raised, each claiming that their issue should be given the attention that they feel it deserves. The value of each concern is not debatable.
The question that arises is how it is possible to respond and make a difference. The challenge is before each individual, each community of faith, and each community as to how we decide where to put our time, our talents and our other resources to make a tangible difference and to where we choose to focus our energy.
All of us continue to face challenges which we may feel are beyond our control. Over the last couple of years, the reality of dealing with the COVID crisis has turned our personal and collective worlds upside down. Our world, no matter how small or how wide that circle is drawn, has been altered in ways beyond our imagining. The impact of the restrictions that we have had (and of necessity must continue) to live with, continue to be the subject of ongoing scrutiny. We are learning more and more about our own strengths and weaknesses as we address the ever unfolding unknown.
I confess to you that I have found that the discovery of stories which offer a glimmer of hope is a challenge. Like so many people, spending time in front of a screen, either on my computer or sitting in front of the family TV is not the perfect solution. Invariably, the first few stories of the nightly news which are given priority have the pandemic as their focus. Emotionally, physically, and spiritually, the times we live in are wearing.
Into this atmosphere of uncertainty, I discovered a story that I found to be particularly moving. As an act of pure escapism, I enjoy watching the folks who step on the stage of ”America’s Got Talent”. I appreciate the way in which individuals of all ages put their best efforts into seeking the affirmation of a panel of judges.
One night I watched a slight woman step on stage. Her stage name as a singer is “Nightbirde”. The original song she offered was a story of her recent life story. She shared the reality of her ongoing battle with cancer attacking her lungs, spine and liver.
At the time of the recording of the show she said that she had a two percent chance of recovery. She said, “It’s important that everyone knows that I am so much more than the bad things that are happening to me”. After her heartfelt song, she offered another insight which I found to be even more compelling based on her life experience.
“You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy.”
As people of faith, we are not immune from having to deal with the challenges referenced in this reflection. At the same time, we are also mindful of the promise of Jesus. The words of Our Lord are words we depend on. They are words that are part of what is known as the Great Commission. Jesus simply says, ”I will be with you always…” (Matthew 28:20).
The tangible presence of our Lord is experienced through our community worship when we are nurtured by Word and Sacrament. The reality of our Lord’s love for us is also experienced through the actions and caring presence of people who are a part of our lives. There is a consistency to the love of God which surpasses any of the other things which impact our lives. A prayer which may be offered within the Order for Compline summarizes our petitions:
“Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the silent hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world, may repose upon thy eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (BCP page 727)
Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt has retired from full time parish ministry, but continues to offer priestly ministry in the Diocese.