The Canadian Vision David Watts 31 May 2003
The Canadian Vision is a reality that is just beginning to come into public consciousness.
Our cousins to the south speak of the American Dream. There may be regional, ethnic or historical differences in what they mean by that, but it has a common sense nonetheless.
When Martin Luther King said “I have a dream…,” he was adding to the tradition of Abraham Lincoln, to refugees from persecution, to those who set off for the West to found a new city and society. He was saying “I and my people want into that dream.”
In Canada we’d have to speak of “dreams” in the plural—we are too diverse for one size to fit all. Better still, we can talk of vision. Canada has been a destination for many on their vision quest.
One vision was the search which brought explorers looking for a trading passage to the far east.
After most explorers gave up the search by sea, voyageurs in canoes pursued the vision.
Ferrying furs from inland before freezeup each year, many envisaged a shorter way to tidewater.
Alexander Mackenzie found it: from Canada by land, 19 July 1793
Others followed and built an iron road between the oceans: The National Dream of the C.P.R.
Finding a passage, building a passage, being a passage in the world is a part of the Canadian Vision.
Another part of the Canadian Vision came from France: women and men who envisaged an outpost at the meeting of two great rivers in the new world, and came to build it.
France’s national consciousness had been born in the mind of a young woman who saw the state as more than a pawn in the game of politics. The women who came from France shared that view.
Ville Marie, the fort they founded at what is now Montreal was not a trading or military post.
It was a haven and a healing place for anyone in need: traders, voyagers and First Nations..
Many of those who thought they came to teach became friends and fellow citizens with first peoples and learned from them.
That kind of service, when Kanata was only a native word, is part of the Canadian Vision.
When we’re doing that—without thinking of ourselves—we’re being what we’re meant to be.
When we get caught up in debates defining our identity or building walls, we’re losing it.
These two pillars of the Canadian Vision—finding a passage and being of service—came to us from French and English explorers and settlers.
The third part of our Vision comes from our first nations. It is an inner, individualized spirituality that some of our neighbours, with their organized religions and outward fervour, cannot fathom.
Many Canadians’ spiritual life is highly personalized. Personal doesn’t mean the same as private. One of the denominations that’s been here two hundred years and founded three universities says:
“The person who could write us a creed has not been born, and both their parents are deceased.” This is a good description of Canadians’ spirituality.
It is more than a way of saying “Nobody can tell me what to believe!” It’s a recognition that
Faith is too subtle and human experience too varied to be reduced to a single inclusive formula.
The vision quests, sacred circles, sweat lodge, healing rituals and vigils practised by our first nations are becoming part of the practice of some traditional religious denominations in Canada.
These practices can make our experience of the Divine more intimate. They have precedents in many religious traditions.
Moses and Mohammed, Jesus and the Buddha, Krishna and Confucius spent as much time in meditation on rooftops and in the wilderness as they did in discourse in churches and shrines.
These practices of first peoples in Canada are also found with the first nations who live to the south of our border. But they seem to be becoming a greater part of the mainstream here.
Perhaps because we still have more areas of undeveloped wilderness, perhaps because Canada’s first peoples are a larger part of our total population, their influence is more strongly felt.
It is a mistake to conclude that Canadians are less spiritual than other peoples because we do not use religious language or symbols in public.
The ancient Hebrews were sometimes mistaken for atheists because they had no images.
Images, interpretations, creeds and concepts limit as much as they support. The Canadian Vision, collective in scope, interpersonal in implication, is intensely personal for each soul who shares it.
The Canadian Vision has three pillars:
There is the quest for the unfamiliar, to find a passage through the unknown, and to connect with what lies beyond. This is the legacy of the explorers, voyagers, pathfinders and network builders.
There is the quest to be of service, to better know and express ourselves in working with others –the path of many who came and stayed including Pilgrim Mothers and Mounted Police.
There is the quest for healing and harmony with creator, creation and one’s fellows—pursued by first peoples for millennia and now enriched by the traditions of peoples from around the world.
The Canadian Vision: connections and passages, a state that serves, a harmony of inner and outer space where we can know the Divine in all its splendour and diversity.