November 12, 2010

Streams of Faith - Lois M. Wilson

Reading this book was like looking into a mirror and seeing myself reflected right back at me.

I bought this book back in the spring, and it has sat on my "To-Be-Read" stack since then. I think that I was avoiding it because of the description on the front: "Young women canoeists struggle with God, death, forgiveness and other important matters in their maturity." I was thinking that it would be just interviews with the women who had gone on these canoe trips 40+ years ago as teenagers, reflecting on their lives since then. But this book is so much more.

Lois Wilson has worn many hats in her life - United Church Minister, the first female Moderator (i.e. head) of the United Church of Canada, president of the Canadian Council of Churches, president of the World Council of Churches, Canadian Senator, Chancellor of Lakehead University, member of the Order of Canada, recipient of the Pearson Medal of Peace, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and, according to the book flap, mother of four and grandmother of twelve. Her full title as given on the back of the book is The Very Rev. Dr. the Hon. Lois M. Wilson, CC. Can you imagine introducing yourself at parties with a name like that?!

I purchased this book directly from the author when she came here to Thunder Bay in June to preach at an 85th Anniversary Service for the United Church of Canada (and my copy is autographed!). The day of the service, I came home from work exhausted, and wouldn't have gone to the service, except that I had read an interview with Lois Wilson a few weeks earlier, and I was determined to hear her speak in person. What an inspiration! She is 82 years old, but you wouldn't know it to hear her preach!

This book originated in several canoe trips that she took in Quetico Park in the 1960s with teenaged girls from the church here in Thunder Bay where she and her husband had a shared ministry. 40 years later, she wondered what had happened in the lives of these girls and so she tracked them down and interviewed them. Her interviews touched on many topics, and the chapters are broadly defined by these topics - faith and spirituality in a broad sense; relationship to the church (for both the women still active in the church and those who had left); life-changing experiences; forgiveness; death; feminism; interfaith dialogue; bearing witness in today's world.

There are segments of the interviews transcribed word-for-word in the book, but these interview segments are interspersed with Lois Wilson's own reflections based on her experiences in her multiple roles, as well as teachings from other theologians. I was baptized into the United Church of Canada as an adult - as a deliberate choice - and many aspects of what drew me to the United Church are reflected in this book. Social Justice, ministering to others as we would to Jesus, environmental justice, interfaith dialogue - all of these make appearances in this book. I kept finding myself nodding in agreement as I read; and I have now compiled a list of other books which I want to read, that were cited in this book.

One of my favourite passages came early in this book (and this is Lois Wilson's own voice at this point):
"It always depresses me to read that 90 percent of Americans believe in a higher power. My response is, 'So what?' Does it make any difference to their social, political, economic, theological views or actions? To believe in a higher power is a safe and comfortable thing to do, but it may make absolutely no difference to one's life posture. But to align one's life and work with the One who is creating and sustaining a just community is quite a different matter. 'To do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God' (Micah 6:8) is one of the tougher implications of belief in a higher power!"

Now for all of my Protestant friends who are reading this, don't get me wrong. I do believe that salvation is "Sola Fide" or through faith alone; but I also believe that if we love God, we will want to serve him by serving others around us. Or to put it differently, the vertical relationship should be the model for horizontal relationships. Or to put it scripturally, "just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." (Mat 25:40)

The book was well written, and flowed well. I don't want to compare it to reading a novel, as I was much more deliberate in my reading of it, wanting to savour every word and reflect on each thought presented. But I couldn't wait to pick it up again, each time I put it down. I can see this being a book that I will turn back to again in the future.

Laura Marie - I will loan you this book next time I see you - canoeing and faith in one book - what more could you want! This book also counts as a selection towards The Canadian Book Challenge at The Book Mine Set.

And now, I will conclude with one more quotation from the book:
"Humour is a prelude to faith, and laughter is the beginning of prayer. Laughter can be heard in the vestibule, and echoes of it in the sanctuary, but there is no laughter in the Holy of Holies. There, laughter is swallowed up by prayer, and humour is fulfilled by faith. Laughter can't deal with real evil, such as I saw in Chile during the Pinochet years, or in South Africa during the years of aparthied. Laughter knows it is powerless to defeat tyranny or oppression. Only standing in solidarity with God in the midst of suffering can bring resolution and hope."


ARPmind said...

I think that one's actions always show his/her faith.

And if the fact show you that you don't have 'enough' faith, it's very sad.

Well, I think this blog is great. Thanks your sharing about books!

Kate said...

ARPmind - thank you for visiting, and welcome back again! I agree with you that faith should always be expressed through actions.

John Mutford said...

Glad to have some Christian books added to the Canadian Book Challenge.

And now I want to canoe.

Kate said...

John - I want to canoe too, but may need to wait until next summer when there is no snow on the ground!

re. Christian books for the challenge, I think that one problem is that off the top of my head, I can't think of many (?any?) Canadian theologians writing books that are accessible to the average reader rather than academics. Please - if anyone reading this can correct me on this, make your suggestions below!