Random Ramblings on “The Word”

How many thoughts do you let slip by without taking note of in a day?

Today as I drove to get my coffee at Starbucks I was wondering about John 1:1 and why the author would choose to call Jesus "the word," and why it was so significant that we understand that the word was with God and was God from the beginning. Why the word? Personifying a spoken word is so similar to the personifications found in Greek mythology: God's spoken, breathed word, a person in the trinity. In Greek Mythology, Prometheus forms humanity out of clay and Athena (personification of wisdom) breathes life into man. Is every breath of God an act of creation? Did the beginning (which alludes to the material world, since there is no beginning or end in eternity) emerge from a simple spoken word? Jesus is the alpha and the omega. It is significant to understand that the Word, Jesus, is directly associated with the mortal and material universe–its beginning and its end is attended to by the spoken, living Word of God. This is difficult to grasp!

Then, as I passed by a church whose sign read: "Walmart isn't the only place to find saving," I wondered how on earth Christianity has been so successful despite its poor use of language! Why do we try to speak to the unchurched world around us using churchy, subcultural terms like "salvation" and exhibiting poorly worded signs? It is a good thing that Jesus is the living, breathing communication of God! Isn't it truly brilliant that God chose to communicate with a living, breathing word! How much more universal can you get? This language, the living breathing word of God, overcomes cultural and language barriers, as well as barriers created by the poor use of one's own language in trying to communicate what God has done for us.

Written and spoken words…how inadequate to express thought…yet, in the beginning was a thought expressed in words…that created…ex nihilo…this universe. Are we anything but a narrative created by our creator God? In the beginning the word was with God, and the word was God. …hmmm so much to ponder in that one verse.

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Mothers and Childless Mothers–Happy Mother’s Day!

As I watched our minister navigate his way through the minefield of Mother’s Day, trying to ensure all those women who couldn’t, didn’t, or don’t have children were included in the special honours attributed to Mothers, I began to think about how one might approach the celebration of Mother’s Day without all of the anxiety and tension over making sure nobody feels left out, or ensuring that one is not highlighting someone’s feelings of loss or regret over not having children.

If you’ve ever been to the Cornwall Center in Regina, you will have noticed a large statue of three larger-than-life, buxom women. Two of the women are each holding a child, but one sits without a child. It occurred to me as over the years I’ve watched my children drawn to touch and see this particular statue every time they passed it, that while one woman sits empty handed, and the other two have children, that in fact all three women are mothers. The facial expressions of all three women reveal their mothering hearts and burdens. The one who does not hold a child was of the most interest to my children; they often crawled into her lap.

Even though this woman sits without a child, she is still a mother, a childless mother, and a mother to all of the children she chooses to embrace, or to those who embrace her. Some women can’t or don’t want to have children of their own, yet they are still mothers; they still carry the heart and the cares of a mother. They still look out for and care for children: nieces, nephews, neighbourhood children, students, godchildren, or children of friends. They are important to the needs of children for acceptance in a larger community than their home. When I was a child one woman I knew, whose children were either grown up or didn’t exist, would invite my cousin and me over for sleepovers. She treated us so special, making interesting foods for us to try, and talking with us like we were grown ups. We loved her for it. We would comb her hair sometimes and give her the kind of love and care that only children can. She was an important part of my upbringing. In the late 1970s she passed away, close to Mother’s Day, and the flowers I had purchased for my mom went to her funeral. On Mother’s Day I also remember her.

“It takes a community to raise a child.” It isn’t only the responsibility of parents to raise children. We women are all mothers, all bearing a heart that cares for the children.

Pretentious

One of the most effective silencers of people and their opinions is to label them in the negative. Thus the political correctness regime, that labelled certain opinions as "politically incorrect," has silenced what seems the majority of Canadians on many current issues. The Anti-Oppressive movement within Education tells us that labels are bad. We shouldn't label people. Yet, during our class discussion the other day, my opinion was labelled "pretentious" and I was silenced…almost.

Of great value to contemporary Education is the exploration/subversion of our white, privileged, patriarchal assumptions, including the assumptions that formed our great canon of literature. One of my beliefs about "great" literature is that it is great because it has universal appeal, aspects that delight, amaze, or can be identified with by all people, regardless of race, gender, or time. Why else is Homer's Odyssey still widely read and appreciated, 2500 years, and a multitude of cultures after it was first written down? We are all human, (all who read anyway, lest I fail to represent animals, creation, and spiritual identities) and we have commonality in our humanity. However, the "sacred" question of post-colonial academics is: "Who has been written out of this text?" In other words, who is not represented in this story, poem, etcetera? While this is a good question to explore when addressing history (whose story), or even when addressing the canon, I don't find this a beneficial question to ask of a piece of literature. First, it is impossible to represent or include all people groups when I sit down to write a poem, a personal expression of my experience of life. Second, the fact that I can enjoy a poem written by a person from another time, gender, or culture, even though my time, gender, or culture has not been represented suggests that there is some element of literature that can be identified with by people of all times and cultures. If this is true, can anyone, then, really be written out of a text? I think the answer is "no," because great literature is great because it appeals to, informs, and expresses common human experience.

The real question that should be addressed is whether what we believe to be universal is in fact universal, or is it just cultural? Had my professor been less interested in silencing an alternate point of view, and more interested in searching out truth, this would have been a good discussion.

Thoughts about Dust

Dust By Arthur Slade

Response by Shuana Niessen

The shock of rural decline, of seeing small-town Saskatchewan pillars like curling rinks, schools, family farms, and bars crumbling into nothingness, and blowing away like so much “dust in the wind,” makes stories like Arthur Slade’s Dust, and other supernatural stories, all the more relevant to the psychological, political, social, ideological, and narrative needs of Saskatchewan people. How do we respond to the disintegration of rural life? Where do we find a substantial narrative to replace the illusion of the colonial “great uninhabited land” narrative? Must our narrative structures become dust,
so we can be re-created by a great inhabited (not uninhabited) land?

 

I enjoyed Dust's rural 1930s Saskatchewan setting with its familiar sights and sounds, such as: prairie grasses and insects, crickets singing, flying grasshoppers, fields, grain elevators, the Hotel on Main Street, the train track, the Chinese Laundry, the Pool Hall, the Mounties, and references to Fort Walsh and the whiskey traders. This book gives plenty of opportunities to discuss life and history of Saskatchewan in the “dirty 30s” with students. Interesting, too, is that the threat of extinction that the 1930s drought posed for farming communities, is a threat today even though we are not facing drought, or economic depression.

 

Another enjoyable aspect of this book is the abundant use of figurative language. Slade uses many similes and metaphors, comparing events and ideas to prairie life and land. By using metaphors and similes, Slade creates an identification with the prairie landscape. Through metaphor, the external world is drawn inward, forming a relationship between the characters, the land, and the audience. Is identification and metaphoric harmony with the land important to finding a substantial post-colonial identity?

 

Dreams and reality are important themes throughout the novel. Abram, the soulless magician, exploits the dreams and hopes of the community by promising that he can produce rain. By doing so, he blinds them to his real agenda, which is to kidnap children, harvest their souls, and exchange their souls for one of his own. Robert, the main character, is able to see through Abram’s illusions because he is in a liminal space between boyhood and manhood. He is old enough to remain detached from the illusions, and also young enough to believe in them.

 

Of course, good and evil become important themes. Images of light and dark, and sun and shadow are spattered throughout the novel. The reader can sympathize with Abram because he doesn’t have a soul; thus, cannot experience the flight of imagination, emotion, dreams, or gain entrance to the spirit world. However, Abram has chosen to steal, kill, enslave, and deceive in order to gain a soul. Abram is not successful; good triumphs over evil. In contrast, despite the personal risk of being put under the spell of Abram's stronger magic, Robert uses his magical power to save and release the souls of the kidnapped children, and becomes a hero. This demonstrates how sacrifice of one’s self is what makes a hero, not sacrificing others to save yourself. Abram’s sulphurous smell, the image of the thousands of people whom Abram has destroyed over the ages, and his deceptive, illusionary power to enslave, leads the reader to believe that Abram is the devil incarnate, and deserving of the disastrous outcome of the story.

 

Like Abram, the colonial assimilation strategies of the past, which robbed people of their souls, must be defeated. Our narrative heroes must be those who are willing to sacrifice themselves, and use their power to empower others. Only by acknowledging the truth and pain of the past, and by giving back the ability to dream and to imagine, can a new substantial narrative be born.

 

 

On Motherhood

On Motherhood

By Shuana Niessen

My honey-oak, windsor-back rocking chair sits empty in the backroom–an old, dusty memory. It’s a beautiful chair which, for me, symbolizes  motherhood–The sacrifices made in my chair have elevated it to the status of sacred.

Hold on. What kind of sappy drivel is this? Why is it so difficult to write about motherhood without becoming sentimental, emotional, and ‘Hallmarkish’? How does one write about the most wonderful, most awful, most creative, most banal, most exciting, most boring, most joyous, most depressing, most overwhelming, most tedious experience ever braved? (Something like this sentence!) Babies are born every day! We are all the sons or daughters of someone. Why do I think I need to write about this everyday experience as though it is a divine aspiration?

Still, there is nothing banal about a life, a person! Each birth is a remarkable miracle resulting in an altogether new and original individual. Repetition doesn’t exist in motherhood. The experiences of being a mother and undergoing motherhood are different each time. Why do you think people say, “Here’s the new mommy!” of the woman who has just given birth to her fifth child? So, becoming and being a mother, no matter how many women have experienced it, is an entirely novel moment and experience.

Sacrifices are the substance of motherhood. For 9 months you sacrifice your own body to the process of creating an “other’s” body. You swell from 115 pounds to 200 pounds, all the while smearing cocoa butter over your ballooning stomach, trying to abate the stretch marks that unzip the skin as it accommodates the growing phenomenon inside. You decline from the status of a healthy young woman to someone else, whose blood must be sampled at random, who must visit the doctor every few weeks to be probed and poked. When the time comes to reclaim your body, and you give birth, the body you receive back is drastically different than the one you originally occupied. Your ribs have expanded to harmonize with baby’s need to stretch. Your waist line is now a waist square, not to mention the sagging skin and scars which map the journey of growth, like rings in a tree.

When that perfect bundle arrives in your arms and looks lovingly and longingly into the face of his or her one true love–mother–oops, there I go again. When the screaming, blue faced, ten and a half pound, thrashing, demanding infant is placed into your drooping, weary arms, when you feel like you’ve just barely survived the most traumatic episode of your life, and you haven’t another drop of energy to give to this small creature who … what’s this? Black, slimy liquid all over.“Oh, look! That’s his first bowel movement!” exclaims the chatty nurse, who, for the last four hours, has recounted every worst birthing episode she has ever witnessed, while you laboured to produce this…this…personification of pure joy.“How wonderful that he has managed to have a bowel movement, already!”

Then, after giving birth, when you think the worst is behind you, you realize that sleep–something you previously took for granted–is now the most precious, sought after, and rare gifts in life. Who knew that infants don’t really know about sleeping at night, or sleeping at all?  You spend endless, sleepless nights rocking the child through feedings, illnesses, teething, and nightmares.

After two to three years, when he or she starts to sleep through the night, and you are sure the worst part is over, the beautiful toddler begins to throw his or her weight around.  Little tiny children have remarkably adult sized wills. You frantically search for the instruction manual that must have come with this monster, I mean beautiful, precious child, but somehow you’ve misplaced it, along with your sense of self.  However, you, again, rise to the challenge. You sacrifice your need to pamper and spoil and begin to set, fiercely and relentlessly resisted boundaries. You sacrifice your need to feel like the “good guy” and ensure consequences are set and enforced when your little tyke exhibits inappropriate behavior.

Yes, motherhood is composed of many, many sacrifices.  And just when you think you’ve got it down, the children are all grown up, and you think there are no more sacrifices to be made, you realize that you are now required to start sacrificing your need to mother. Life is so ironic. Still, even with the sleepless nights, the long lists of tedious tasks, and the endless emotional demands of motherhood, you start to develop a sense of awe.  You feel awe for the child who so eagerly learns to do things for herself, for the generosity in his milk-toothed smile, for the wide-eyed look of wonder at the colourful butterfly or the fuzzy, wiggly worm, for the purest form of love in her eyes when she looks to you, her anchor, her mother.  You tenderly grasp his tiny hands to help him find his way to maturity, past dangers, into relationships, beyond failures and obstacles, into independence and competence, and beyond his need of you, his mom.  When the tiny hands disappear, you long for the days when your children were small enough to crawl into your lap, lugging a huge, favourite story behind them, and cuddling into a soft, powdery blanket, while, together, you read and rock to the rhythm of Mother Goose, in your favourite chair.