Meditation In A Time Of Social Isolation: Canada Day

Things I love about Canada, in no particular order:

  • Loons (I grew up in southern Pennsylvania. I had never heard a loon call until David took me up to the cottage on Georgian Bay. Now that call on a still lake by moonlight is the sound of the north to me.)
  • Lakes
  • Maple syrup (Caitlin swears maple syrup is not Canadian, but surely it is: it comes in “President’s Choice” bottles, after all.)
  • The Prime Minister – the Prime Minister! – paddling a canoe (and properly)
  • Beaver tail on the Rideau Canal in January
  • Kids playing ice hockey in the park; red cheeks and snow
  • Three-year-olds skating circles around me
  • Corner stores and greengrocers
  • People who walk to the corner store and greengrocer
  • People who walk
  • Grain elevators
  • Prairie summers: big skies, blue fields and the sweet smell of prairie grass on the air
  • French on cereal boxes
  • A people inclined to quietness
  • Healey Willan
  • Rohinton Mistry
  • This Hour Has 22 Minutes
  • Montreal
  • Faces of all colours under the sun

And this is just the beginning. Again and again—and perhaps never more than these last few months of coronavirus—I find myself simply glad to be just here.

O Canada! The gift is real.

But it is also not everything. It is not even, in fact, the first thing. We are sojourners here, and our real citizenship is in a different country.

Paul says it clearly: For us who know Jesus, who are baptised into Christ, “there is no Greek or Jew, no circumcision or uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all in all” (Col 3:11).

We name Jesus king – of our lives, and of the world. Jesus’s kingship issues a challenge to all national loyalties.

All these countries of the world, all the fascinating national cultures and languages and pastimes and quirks (“Eh!”): these are part of the world that is passing away. Though God has turned it to blessing, the division of the world into nations is just that: division. It is rooted, Genesis tells us, in the desire to turn away from God, to be god for ourselves.

In the beginning, “the whole earth had one language and the same words” (Gen 11:1) And then the people said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens.” Let us climb up to the throne of God; let the throne be ours. “So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth…Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth and scattered them abroad” (Gen 11:1-9).

These nations in which we live, in all their beauty, are a sign of division. But we are meant to be one. All the wars of all the ages witness to the worm at the heart of the rose.

Give thanks for your country. Pray and work for its wellbeing. But do not confuse it with the homeland.

There is only one homeland, and that is Jesus Christ. He comes to break down the dividing walls, so that we may in him – at last – be one.

It is a vision that goes back to Israel’s ancient prophets.

“They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more”.

(Isa 2:4)

And on the way to this peace, there is Israel.

Israel is the only nation made by God.

“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”

(Gen 12:1-3)

To become the father of God’s chosen people, Abraham had to leave his country on earth. He had to leave his people so that he could give birth to a people founded on God. Israel is the people who show forth God to the world, at whose centre moves the pillar of fire and the cloud, the presence of the living God.

Let my people go,” God said to Pharaoh through Moses – why? So that they may go into the wilderness to worship God.

Israel is put on this earth to be the place – the holy people – among whom the Shekinah dwells, the presence of the holy God, so that all the world might see, and come, one day, to worship Him.

Israel is the people that is blessed by God, the people to whom all the nations shall one day come to worship the Lord.

Balak learned this the hard way. We have been reading Numbers this week in the Daily Office; today the episode of Balaam the prophet, by no means an Israelite, yet given by God the word of blessing for Israel – and only for Israel. Summoned by Balak, King of Moab, to curse the Israelites as he musters for war against them, Balaam can only bless, again and again.

“Up, Balak, and listen:

Hear what I am charged to say…

God is not a mortal that he should lie…

The Lord their God is with them…

Behold a people rearing up like a lioness

(Num 23:18-19, 21)

Balak tells Balaam to try again, from over here; maybe the oracular view is better. And so Balaam prays again, and again he blesses.

How goodly are your tents, O Jacob,

Your dwelling-places, Israel…

[Israel’s] seed shall be like great water…

And his kingdom lifted high.

(Num 24: 5, 7)

Balak tears his hair out – “I summoned you to denounce my enemies, and three times you have blessed them!… Off with you!” I was going to make you great, Balak King of Moab says to Balaam the man of God, but you sure blew that.

And Balaam utters his last oracle:

“I see him but not now;

I behold him but not near:

A star shall come forth out of Jacob,

A comet arise from Israel.”

(Num 24:17)

Dominion, the homage of Moab and all the nations of the earth, shall be his.

Balaam’s star has come. Out of Israel the star has come, Jesus the Messiah, to guide the peoples home. Lifted up on the cross, he draws all nations to himself.

It is God’s answer to our self-scattering, God’s answer to our longing, the longing of all peoples to find, in him and with each other, their heart’s home.

All nations are passing away. It is Christ who stands, rising there in Israel in his cross and in his empty tomb, rising over the world to bring us home.

“We praise thee, O God: we acknowledge thee to be the Lord. All the earth doth worship thee, the father everlasting.”

We, out of the nations, sing these words in the Te Deum, of a Sunday. Our song is a preview of the song of the last day, when all the earth shall worship Jesus Christ our Lord; when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, and all the earth shall make Christ their heart’s home.

Celebrate Canada today. But give your heart to Jesus Christ. He waits to bring you home.

Catherine Sider Hamilton

Catherine Sider Hamilton

Catherine Sider Hamilton is Priest-in-Charge of St. Matthew's Riverdale, and Professor of New Testament and New Testament Greek (part-time) at Wycliffe College. She has served also as Chaplain at Havergal College and Associate Priest at Grace Church on-the-Hill and St. John the Baptist, Norway (Toronto). She enjoys singing around the piano with her kids, her husband's Indian food, all things Italian -- and above all her two little grandchildren. Catherine and David live in Greektown. She blogs occasionally on feasts and fasts at feastfastferia.wordpress.com.