Eight years ago I was approached to begin writing this column for the Prairie Messenger. At the beginning, I assumed I would mostly be writing about abortion-related issues, with perhaps a little time spent on other topics such as euthanasia (assuming it ever became relevant). It didn’t take me long to realize that focusing exclusively on such narrow and negative topics would not only be soul crushing for me, it would also do nothing to foster the theme of this column.
Now, as I am writing my last article, I am finally a little closer to understanding why shining a spotlight on positive topics, such as palliative care, was so critical: if we want to build a culture of life, we need to understand what the blueprint for a healthy and whole culture looks like.
This minor epiphany came to me a few weeks ago when I was attending the University of Saskatchewan’s “Gathering for miyo mahcihowin,” a conference on indigenous health. During one of the sessions, Dr. James Makokis pointed out that although many gatherings say that they are about indigenous health, all too often the focus becomes indigenous illness.
He asked the crowd to consider that perhaps so many people are ill not because we cannot understand their illness, but rather because we no longer know how to guide them toward health.
We can find a similar focus on illness in most writings that describe our culture. But as good as we have become at identifying cultural pathologies, we remain incapable of breaking free because we do not know what a healthy culture looks like.
We know abortion is not desirable, but we do not know how to ensure that women are never in a situation where taking the life of their child seems like the only alternative. We know we value diversity, but we do not know how to maintain civil dialogue. We know euthanasia is an act of desperation, but we do not know how to journey with those who are dying. So what can we do?
In his reflection on indigenous health, Makokis shared that what is needed is a return to the source. For indigenous peoples, he suggested that this source is their traditional beliefs of humankind being created from the Earth, in natural harmony with the environment around them. To understand what “healthy” means, indigenous people need to rediscover who they were before so many of their people were overwhelmed by illness.
This advice holds true for non-indigenous peoples as well. For us to be able to heal our culture, we need to return to our source. For Christians, this source is a God of relationship, who is not deterred by the illness and brokenness of this world. God turns our culture’s weaknesses into an opportunity to produce greater things, and calls us to do the same.
But it won’t be easy. In her book Rediscovering the Art of Dying, Sister Nuala Kenny refers specifically to euthanasia and assisted suicide as a “powerful tide” that is pushing to become “the only understanding of a good death.” She goes on to advise that “most Christians are unaware that they will need spiritual buoys and lifelines to assist in the difficult swim (against euthanasia).”
I believe that in all aspects of building the culture of life, these buoys and lifelines have already been handed to us, but we need to take the time to receive them and put them to good use. The tide may be against us, but our experience over the past several decades has given us the tools we need to create an environment in which people feel empowered to make healthy decisions for themselves and their families.
There is a poem on a mural at St. Paul’s Hospital that summarizes these ideas perfectly. The poem, titled “An Aboriginal Perspective,” was received from the First Nations Nechi Centre, and reads as follows: “Our God uses broken things./It takes broken soil to produce a crop./It takes broken clouds to produce rain./It takes broken grain to produce bread./It takes broken bread to produce strength.”
We are marked by periods of brokenness and healing as surely as the seasons are marked by death and rebirth. But we can take confidence in knowing where we come from and where we are returning to. To build the culture of life, we need to stay focused on God as our Source, trusting that God will use us to bring healing and rebirth to hearts, homes, and humanity.
On a personal note, it has been a privilege to write for the Prairie Messenger, and I regret that the ups and downs of life prevented me from publishing regularly over the past year. I would like to express my deep appreciation to everyone who took the time to comment on my writing, my parents for their loyal proofreading, and Abbot Peter Novecosky for making this column possible.
Deutscher holds an MA in Public Ethics from St. Paul University in Ottawa. She recently attained a PhD in public policy at the University of Saskatchewan.