Spirit Quest


Mother's Day 1939

A mother's spiritual awakening

Confirming that she was not alone

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

She had time on her hands. It was good to be alone with her thoughts. She walked slowly along the edge of the woods behind the barn taking in all that was so strange but that which now was hers, something she found hard to accept. She felt a sense of ambivalence. She was aware of how far she was from her former home across the sea. With the growing hostility between Britain and Germany the link with her family was like an elastic band almost stretched to the breaking point.  War seemed inevitable and with that, of course, would come a total separation. For how long was anybody’s guess. That Hitler would be vanquished was a certainty.

Her thoughts were often with her mother, her sister, and her brother, and their families. She wished that they too might have emigrated to Canada.  How wonderful it would have been to have them all nearby sharing the hardships as well as the freedoms offered by this new land. Certainly her brother-in-law Max, a man skilled with his hands, would have been far handier on this pioneer farm than her intellectual husband, though he too was learning.  

She walked on, and at length came upon an opening among the trees that looked as though it might have contained a narrow farm road.  From directly behind the barn it entered the woods, no more than two ruts, and even these were overgrown with weeds while the space between them was well on the way to  returning to the bush from which it had originally been cut. She decided to follow this trail. Occasionally the ruts turned to muddy puddles and she had to resort to stomping through the brush along the side.  But she was curious about the destination, where it might lead. She felt herself drawn, to explore.

The road mother was following took a slight turn to avoid some willows that formed the edge of a swamp, or slough, as the locals called it. We were constantly amused  that roads in this country never seemed to confront obstacles but went  around them. Why not, after all there seemed to be unlimited space about. Then the road opened into what must have been a clearing some years ago, now filled with tall weeds and low brush and ringed with willows.

She stopped and looked. The road  dead-ended.  She was puzzled by white objects she glimpsed in the tall grass. Advancing a few steps further she saw a good many more and recognized them to be weather-beaten bones.  There was a whole carcass lying there, the ribcage of a large animal, a cow or a horse perhaps.

It felt awesome in this macabre mortuary. Then she spied a skull. She had never seen one before. Obviously the road she had been following had been used to transport dead animals into the woods to be left to rot. Now all that remained were whitened remnants of life.

“Is that all there is to life when it is past,” she thought, “we also share this mortality.”

Mother was not sure about her beliefs. From a scientific point of view she saw no evidence of an after-life, only whitened bones and even these will someday crumble into dust. If religion, the belief in a God and a life beyond, could make people decent and responsible then fine and good, but should we really need such primitive rationale? Surely humankind can rise above such superstition to become humane. Thus reasoned mother as she stood among the piles of bones. But on the other hand  she also remembered the SS brutality, those brown shirted thugs that we had seen smashing batons into protesting crowds, the horror of concentration camps that we had been fortunate to avoid. The very thought of father caught in their hands could still make mother shudder.

But there was another thought or perhaps it was only a feeling that presented itself; had she not experienced something unusual, well, perhaps spiritual, at St. Vitus cathedral  in Prague less than a year ago when not only November weather had darkened the sky?  The future also had seemed bleak. Her early Catholic upbringing had planted some seeds of spirituality or was it superstitions, that had lain dormant deep inside her. There were times when they gave slight signs of life, “intimations of immortality” perhaps.

Suddenly she glimpsed something crimson, like a burning ember. There among the grass and scrub, it glowed. It seemed to have discovered her almost as she discovered it. Had this fiery eye seen her as she came through the woods, perhaps had spied her a long time before and drawn her to itself?

The red eye held her and she held her breath. They confronted each other, the red eye challenging her to draw near. A lump formed in her throat.  She was aware of her aloneness in this valley of dry bones. Slowly she advanced across the clearing and then recognized what it was that bound her in this spell.

A scream formed in her throat, pressed out and rang among the trees and bones.  The Tiger Lily growing straight and tall between the piles of skulls and ribs dared to announce life among the dead.  The scream was long as the pressures of the anxieties and stresses piled up over the months of uncertainty and waiting  were vented.  Her arms at first flung in the air came slowly down, embraced her chest. Her scream diminished into sobs. Her eyes gushed tears that blurred the crimson glowing flower.

She did not kneel to pray or utter invocations, intercessions or words of confession. They were all there, unspoken, yet most real and clear in this Epiphany.

Many years later mother confided this story to me. The event had been a turning point in her life, a spiritual awakening, an experience that confirmed for her that she was not alone”.

•      •      •

The above is an excerpt from my book Uprooted and Transplanted(Ginger Press 2000). Springtime often brings this event to my mind. 

I find the historic creeds of the church, the Nicene or the Apostles creed, hard to recite. However, some years ago the United Church of Canada produced a “creedal statement,” to distinguish it from those ancient affirmations. It begins with the words:  “We are not alone, we live in God’s world.” This is a creed to which I can readily subscribe. Some might say that that is merely wishful thinking and they may be right — I do not want to be alone in a meaningless world. 

Springtime awakens this faith in me even as the Tiger Lily among the dry bones of that abandoned farm in northern Saskatchewan spoke of life and hope and yes, a love that conquers hate and fear. The statement ends with these words:

“In life, in death, in life after death, we are not alone, thanks be to God.”

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