A year ago, I had the luxury of a three-month sabbatical. In addition to studying, I spent some time with a friend in the Nuxalk community of Bella Coola. Besides seeing an incredibly beautiful part of the province I hadn’t visited before, I was able to glimpse a little of the sustaining spirit of the Nuxalk people who have inhabited that valley for uncounted generations. While I was there, my friend and I participated in a suicide-awareness walk with students from the local school. I treasure a particular memory of watching four young men, arms around each other, walking together through the community – three younger boys, all wanting to be in physical contact with an older boy, a brother or cousin maybe, he willingly acquiescing; kibitzing, teasing a little, but mostly, obviously and intentionally being there for them.
I also remember the huge whiteboard on the front of the community hall where young people had written comments to encourage one another. In large letters was the Nuxalk word Iixsatimutilh, meaning, at least roughly – We are Medicine for each other. That’s what I saw in the casual, authentic connection between the four young men and between other groups of young people on the walk – people learning to be medicine for each other.
Two thousand years ago people noticed the same thing about a man called Jesus. “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” they asked his followers. Jesus replied, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” (Matthew 9:9-12)
Better yet, those who grow up nurtured and loved and respected are already well on the way to not getting sick in the first place. The preventative medicine we can be for one another may not cure a pandemic, but it can surely put us on the road to recovery. With infection rates of Covid-19 rising daily and drug poisoning deaths of over 170 a month in BC, with homeless encampments sprouting up in parks all over, it’s easy to see the need for strong medicine.
What do we need for this transformative way of thinking and being in relationship? Mary Jo Leddy, in her wonderful book Radical Gratitude, says: “In order to criticize the realities of our nation or culture we must be rooted in a beloved community…This could be a plot of land, but it can also be a set of streets, a neighbourhood, a place of worship, a community of commitment…here we find the courage to be critical of our culture, because we know how much we love it.” Can you imagine a place like that? I can. I saw it during the rally for Black Lives Matter at City Hall, at the vigil for Chantel Moore at the Legislature. I see it at churches distributing fresh fruit and vegetables on the street on a Monday evening, at the synagogue’s online panel on Racial Justice. I see it at cultural events at the mosque and in the signs promoting justice and right relationships in front of my home congregation. I see it at healing events at Songhees Wellness Centre, at the Gurdwara, at sweatlodges and potlatches and in my colleague offering smudging ceremony on the street in front of Our Place. As long as we choose to see one another as disposable, as “acceptable losses in the great cultural scheme of things” we will never understand the meaning of mercy or compassion. We are all in need of healing. And we can all be medicine for each other.
Rev. Julianne Kasmer is part of the Spiritual Care Team at Our Place Society.
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE
* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, Sept 18th 2020
Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash