A Pattern of Remembering, A Pattern of Reminding
We are a people called and gathered and washed.
We stand on sacred ground.
We acknowledge that the land on which we gather is Treaty 6 territory and a traditional meeting ground for many Indigenous peoples.
The territory on which the Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta is located provided a traveling route and home to the Cree, Blackfoot, and Métis, as it did for the Nakoda, Tsui T’ina, Chipewyan, and other Indigenous peoples. Their spiritual and practical relationships to the land create a rich heritage for all who gather here.
Karl, Else, Karl’s caregiver Kelsie, and I arrived home late last night from Camrose, in Alberta, Canada, where I presented these last several days at the Convention of the Synod of Alberta and the Territories.
We love these people, as an aside.
So twice, the above words were read; once in the chapel, and once in the main gathering hall, at each of the inaugural events in these two separate places of communal gathering.
I found it to be a stunning, humbling acknowledgment of the history of these spaces and places, for without this publicly read paragraph, worship and decisions and gathering and thinking and conversing would go down with no recognition of this land’s sacred past and present meaning, and its meaning-and-memory-laden past would remain forgotten.
The Synod has come to see that those who loved and love this place as theirs, who mourn its loss, who remember it, are due these words as an act of repentance and respect.
My family and I had never experienced this sort of publicly expressed humility before, nor this sort of publicly expressed acknowledgement that a place has history.
Just a few weeks ago, as daughter Else and I were driving down to Duluth, we drove by—as we do almost every time we buzz to Duluth and back—the site of a tragic accident that occurred several months ago.
I sighed, and told her that as much as I miss Regensburg, Germany, where we lived for five years and where the accident occurred, I have been thankful many times over that we left when we did. I didn’t and still don’t think that I could bear going by the site of the accident that claimed so much.
But, I said, other people do, and don’t even know that at that site, a life was taken and countless lives were changed.
Just, I said, as streams of people will drive up and down the North Shore right on by the site that claimed a different life and changed so many others.
We talked, then, on the way to her school, about how every day, we all walk and drive and work and go to school where, sometime in the past, something happened that mattered to somebody.
And generally, we are fairly oblivious to the stories that the places could tell, could they speak.
The same thing happens with dates.
On June 19th, tomorrow, the accident occurred in 2004 which killed my husband and gave Karl the brain injury.
That year, the next day, June 20th, was Father’s Day.
Two days after that, June 22, is the anniversary of my late husband’s and my ordination.
And June 23rd was my late husband’s birthday.
So compressed in a handful of days is more than a handful of history; grievous and joyous.
And I’m mulling these days and these events, along with passed-over land and history and stories, compressed in a 20+ hour drive, as we coursed through Alberta, and Saskatchewan, and North Dakota, and Minnesota, land itself with countless buried and forgotten histories and stories, some of which include that of both sides of my family.
Taken all together, I’ve been reminded that every place and every day has meaning to someone.
Be they occasions of deep grief, deep joy, or simply the familiar knowledge of a place one calls home, no moment and no place is untouched by the sacred memories created then and there.
The Synod Convention’s intentional acknowledgment of place, of story, of loss, and of remembrance struck me powerfully.
It’s a spiritual practice, among other things.
And it left me wondering whether one could, on a daily basis, and in an interpersonal basis, be similarly as mindful of significant unheard stories that occurred in the places and in the people whom we encounter.
That is, how often do worship and decisions and gathering and thinking and conversing go down with no recognition of the sacred past and present meaning of that place and for those people, and how often does their meaning-and-memory-laden past remain tragically forgotten?
I can’t help but imagine that, to use Wendell Berry’s phrase, ‘a pattern of reminding,’ let alone a habit of remembering, might offer opportunities for compassion, for humility, for inquiry, for repentance, for renewal, and for connection, not just to the present, but to the past; a reminder that we all, and that all is, is connected, is sacred, and is worthy of being told and heard.
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Contact Anna at firstname.lastname@example.org to visit about personal or congregational consultations, as well as to speak about booking her to present at your next event.
She also runs The Spent Dandelion Theological Retreat Center, where you can come to Retreat, Reflect, and Restore at her North Shore home. Visit www.spentdandelion.com to learn more!