How Do Your Children Say Awe?


The final frontier!

How many of you can complete that?

I was about 8 years old when I first saw Star Trek… that would be the original series back in the 60s.

I only saw it when we visited my grandparents who lived close to the Manitoba/US border… they picked up two American stations… we only had CBC where we lived.

I was captivated by the series and then, as I got older, I saw the movies and subsequent series.

In fact, had a deeply spiritual question arise for me while I watched an episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

One of the characters, Chakotay, was a native American and part of his peoples’ spiritual practice was to mark the first anniversary of a death with a ritual, which included going to the gravesite of the deceased.

Chakotay’s father had died shortly before he arrived on the spaceship for what was supposed to be a short voyage.

Of course, events conspired against them, and they found themselves far from earth, on the other side of the galaxy, with no way of getting back any time soon and yet Chakotay still had this ritual to perform.

So he takes what he needs for the ritual and goes out in one of the shuttlecraft to perform this ritual in private.

Picture this, he is 70,000 light years from Earth and he starts with something like, “O Great Spirit… “

I honestly don’t remember what else he said, because my first reaction was, “He’s too far away; God’s never going to hear him.”

And then I began to wonder, “Just what did I believe about God and God’s presence?”

Is God confined to our space and time?

I still don’t really have an answer for that.

I was equally as captivated by the pictures/postings/tweets International Space Station Commander Chris Hadfield sent out across the vastness of space.

I remember being filled with awe each time I looked at one.

Earth hanging there….

Or the pictures of the various landscapes as the space station orbited around earth.
Halifax and surrounding area

Those words from Genesis often came to mind: And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so.

Now, don’t misunderstand me, I don’t believe that God created the world in 6 days; that God created the world, yes, but not in 6 days.

And so, there is this total awe, this sense of something so vast that we can’t only comprehend a tiny portion of it.

I am filled with the wonder and reverence each time I look up at the night sky, especially if I am out of the city.

I am filled with that sense that Robert Browning expressed, ‘God’s in his heaven, all is right with the world.’ (PAUSE)

And then I go to bed… and get up… and read the morning paper… or open up my facebook feed and see this:

Picture of toddler on the beach

And I am no longer filled with awe and wonder… I am heart broken and feel a sense of shame and helplessness.

I am sorry if it shocks you to have that picture up there.

It should shock you!

It is shocking!

And hearbreaking.

I know that the news is not designed for good news… and I am pretty good at seeing the positive in the world, recognizing that countless untold and unmentioned acts of kindness and hope take place every day in this city and each community.

But that outlook on life has been severely tested this week.

And part of me wanted to stay in my own little bubble.

But that’s not what we are called to do as people of faith.

So, I looked at the photos… I read the news stories and commentaries, I listened to what our church and political leaders have to say… I read my Bible…

We, as Canadians, have prided ourselves on welcoming refugees… and that has been true at different times in our history.

In past refugee crises, Canada has responded swiftly and assertively. From the aftermath of World War II, through crises in Hungary in 1956, Chile in 1973, and Southeast Asia in the late 1970s, Canadians responded generously, receiving on each of those occasions tens of thousands of refugees into our communities.

We welcomed 50,000 Vietnamese ‘Boat People’ in 1979-80.

We took in 5000 refugees from Kosovo with only seventy-two hours notice.

Compare that to the FOUR YEARS it is currently taking the federal government to process Syrian refugees from Egypt who have family or a community group waiting to take care of them in Canada. (Chronicle Herald – September 5th, 2015)

All of us here, unless we are of First Nations heritage, are the result of immigration.

We are the heirs of our ancestors’ quest for a better life.

My mother’s family is of Mennonite background; they fled religious persecution in 18th century Europe for a life in Manitoba.

With a name like MacDonald, you know where my father’s ancestors came from.

I don’t know if they were part of the clearing of the highlands in Scotland during the wars that took place with the English.

But in both cases, my ancestors left their ‘home and native’ land, bound for another.

Chris Hadfield said that on his speaking tour after his stint on the international Space Station, no matter where he was, people he met wanted to see pictures of their home city or town.

Home has a powerful hold on us… so imagine the desperation when forced to leave it.

This is a picture of a refugee camp in Jordan… is this a place people would call home?

So, in the midst of our pretty easy lives, what can we do?

We can hide our collective heads in the sand…

Or we can speak up and speak out for justice, for peace.

Here are four things you can do today:

1. Speak or write to your local MP and the federal government

2. Become a private sponsor – perhaps not on your own, but with other groups of people. Why couldn’t Spryfield sponsor a family? Or Halifax Presbytery? From what I have read, it costs about $25,000 for a family of four for a year.

3. Donate to groups dedicated to bringing refugees to Canada

4. Donate directly to an aid organization working on the ground, such as the United Church that has had a Syrian appeal going on for 2 years now.

Those are things that ALL Canadians can do.

What are we called to do as followers of Jesus?

We are called to do those things… and more…

Do you remember the story of Mary, Joseph and Jesus as refugees in Egypt?

Do you remember Matthew 25 and the words Jesus spoke, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me?”

That picture of that little boy, lifeless on the beach is seared into our eyeballs.

Syria and its problems might be half a world away…. But does that mean we should disregard it?

Remember the picture of the earth hanging there in space… there are no artificial lines that mark territory, no lines that set people apart from one another.

We are all one humanity, different colours etc. but those are all artificial differences as humanity expanded and evolved.

All of our outward differences: skin and eye and hair colour, account for just 2% of our DNA.

98% of our DNA is identical.

So the heavens and the earth and Syria and all parts of the world are about how we as a society want to live and be with each other.

This Chris Hadfield quote has become important to me:

“Decide in your heart of hearts what really excites and challenges you,
and start moving your life in that direction. Every decision you make, from what you eat to what you do with your time tonight turns you into who you are tomorrow, and the day after that. Look at who you want to be, and start sculpting yourself into that person.”

Who do we want to be and how are we going to get there?

We can be the people God first envisioned us to be.

We can call upon our leaders and talk about the kind of community we want to belong to.

Both the local community and the global community.

Despair and gloom or awe and wonder.

I guarantee you that if we decide to do nothing, to ignore it because this situation does not personally affect us, we will be filled with despair and gloom and an every growing sense of hopelessness.

But if we do something… something as simple as writing a letter to the editor or contributing to the emergency appeal

And we can pray… because praying is not doing nothing… prayer is opening ourselves to God and recognizing that God is part of every person… and so there are no disposable people…

Awe and wonder are a part of this world just as much as despair.

I choose to live turning again and again towards the heavens, not to ignore the earth, but to remind myself that God is.

And each kindness offered, each challenge brought forth, each peaceful encounter is God with us.

As it is written in the Talmud, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

Thanks be to God, amen.

Catherine MacDonald 2015


2 thoughts on “How Do Your Children Say Awe?

  1. I well remember when the Kosovo refugees came to Canada and being part of a group of 5 from our church who sponsored one family. We were fortunate to have the whole church behind us and look at what we achieved as one small church community. I am still in touch with the family today and remember standing proudly when they became Canadian Citizens.

    Just think what could happen if even 1% of the Canadian population stepped up and helped with this current crisis. Think of the many families that could be helped.

    • I remember that too Kathy, although I think it was just as I left Cole Harbour-Woodside to attend AST and be involved in preaching out in Milford, so I don’t have any memories of the family themselves. Just the preparations we were making.

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