This week’s guest writer is Richard Wagamese, author of the highly acclaimed book Indian Horse. Wagamese is from the Ojibway Wabasseemoong First Nation in northwestern Ontario. These reflections originally appeared in Kamloops Daily News.
I was invited by the Mennonite Central Committee to lead a one-day workshop on storytelling as it pertains to peace. The gathering was called Planting Peace and attracted delegates from Cameroon, El Salvador, Haiti, Guatemala, South Africa, Kenya, Cambodia, Indonesia and Canada. They were primarily Christians with a few Muslims as well. When I made the booking I was excited at the prospect.
But I have been travelling and speaking an amazing amount. It seems that we are hardly ever home and the summer schedule ahead of me becomes even more relentless. So when we boarded the plane to fly to Calgary I was tired. I worried at my energy level and how I would be able to project the requisite enthusiasm for another day.
I needn’t have worried. Camp Velaqua is a Mennonite retreat set in the foothills and one of the most peaceful places we’ve ever been. Stepping out of the car my wife and I were awed by the pastoral calm and the greeting by our hosts was warm, gentle and affirming. We talked about the event and the delegates and I found the spark of creative energy again.
We spent the day talking about peace. We used the methodology of aboriginal storytelling as the vehicle for promoting discussion. I got the group to randomly choose partners and each pair went off into the woods or to private spots to talk.
Their directions were to ask their partner a personal question that would require a detailed answer. They were to listen without taking notes and bring the stories they gathered back to the group.
Once back in our circle they volunteered one at a time to share the story given to them. But instead of simply relating the story I asked each of them to tell their story as though they were the person who’d given it to them. They were to literally become that person. They would start with “My name is . . .” and relate the story in first person. What happened was pure spiritual magic.
The stories came out brimming with emotion. They came out reflecting the life and experience of the source.
They came out honest, gut-bucket real and powerful.
There were tears. There was laughter and there was a genuine connection between the teller, the giver of the story and the circle of people listening. The power of story brought us all into the spirit of community and we were all overwhelmed by it.
As each person told the other’s story as though they were them, that person became real, vivid, and essential.
When the other partner took their turn a bond was created that felt unshakable.
They became a part of each other, listener and teller made bigger by virtue of the story of the other they carried. Despite differences in background culture and ideology, everyone was embraced by the power of knowing another human being deeply.
We were swept up in the idea of what makes peace possible. Together we learned that peace is not something that you create. Rather, it’s something that’s born in you through acts of humility and courage that lead to faith.
We need to share our stories. Absolutely. Because peace is not a thing created by political action — it’s a reality inspired by spiritual energy.
Knowing that, the road ahead seems a lot less daunting.