It’s the simplest things, sometimes.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is September 30, a day also known as Orange Shirt Day. Most Canadians know the story told by Phyllis Webstad about how, when she was a child, she went to a residential school. Her Granny had bought a new orange shirt for her and when she arrived at the school it was taken from her and never returned. The story has become a symbol for all that was taken by the residential school system: culture, traditions, language, families, childhoods, lives. It’s become an inspiration for the sharing of stories and for honouring the experiences of survivors and those who didn’t, their families and their communities, and acknowledging the impact the tragedy has. Every child matters.
A shirt. It was just a simple shirt. Except it wasn’t, it was a precious gift from her Granny who was the centre of her life. It was a connection to the life she knew and loved, a connection broken when it was taken away. And it was just the first of many things to be taken away. Now the orange shirt, and its story, are a sign of the beginning of telling the stories, of sharing the truth that offers the hope of reconciliation.
The Gospel of John tells the miracle story of Jesus feeding a large crowd with only a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. Then, a short while later, people from that same crowd follow him and ask him to do more to show that he’s the one sent by God. After all, they say, Moses fed their ancestors with bread in the wilderness. Jesus points out that it wasn’t Moses that did that, but God, from heaven. When they ask him to do the same, he tells them “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry.”
It’s bread. Just plain, simple bread. Except it isn’t, it’s a precious gift from God who is the centre of Jesus’ life. The people were fed, their bodies nourished with the most basic of foods, but there was something beyond that, something that inspired the miracle in the wilderness with Moses and the miracle by the Sea of Galilee with Jesus, there was something that fed hearts and minds and spirits: God.
This is what Jesus offers them. It’s not Jesus pointing to himself, but to the divine spirit that’s in him and, in inviting us to that spirit, to see it in ourselves as well. When we connect with the spirit of life, our minds and hearts are energized with love, kindness and care and we are inspired to those same miracles of feeding hungry bodies. In other words, there is a wholeness to this gift of spirit that feeds the wholeness of our being: spirit, heart, mind and body. This is the gift of the bread Jesus talks about. It’s not just bread, it’s being Jesus, and in being Jesus, we are being bread to each other.
A shirt that reminds us to listen to the stories of what was taken from others and bread that reminds us of what can be given to nourish them. Bread was not offered. The churches who ran the schools did not offer Jesus. What we can offer now is listening. We can offer truth sharing. It will be a long journey. We can offer bread.