Faith leaders send cross-cultural messages of hope, healing

Leaders from Manitoba's Muslim, Jewish, Ojibwe and United Church communities offer words of support in response to COVID-19 despair.

'The world will hopefully, we pray, get well together,' faith leaders say

Rabbi Kliel Rose: "We are watching, with amazement, an increasing wave of love and compassion." (Rabbi Kliel Rose/supplied)

As of March 20, Manitoba is now one of several provinces in Canada that has declared a state of emergency, as the world takes on the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is time, say leaders from all walks of life, for words of hope. Faith. Comfort.

Here are some of those messages, from some of Manitoba's leaders.

Healing, love and sensitivity

To suggest that we are living in a time of uncertainty would be a great understatement. 

And yet, as a person of faith, I feel girded by the embrace of the Numinous/Creator/Presence — that which inhabits our souls and enables us to exist at this precarious time. 

Personally, I have known this Ultimate Companion before — through moments of heartache, fear, loneliness, as well as times of jubilation. Most often, this has been a reliable source of comfort to me.

In this period of upheaval, I am determined to avoid being an alarmist. 

My personal narrative is that of a person who does not stand with an anxious posture.

And yet, at a moment like this, it is clear to me: I am truly afraid.

This is all so beyond what we have ever known before. 

It is difficult to ignore what is unravelling before us. How could we not? 

We are experiencing a constant deluge of information coming at us, and none of this information seems to really help keep any of us calm. Rather, it creates a fright in us that is maddening.

In light of this, what can we do as individuals? And perhaps more than that, what can we do as a community?  

As hard as it may be to find flashes of hope, they may be present. 

I am witnessing something positively profound- Rabbi Kliel Rose

Here, I want to advocate for a Jewish value — appreciating the juxtaposition of sorrow and joy.

Are we equipped to see with multi-dimensional lenses right now? Are we able to open our eyes to that which is taking place concurrently with the spread of this virus?

Doing so does not make us insensitive to the pain of those who are suffering. 

On the contrary, it brings a heightened awareness of a duality which is inherently honest and authentic. We are watching, with amazement, an increasing wave of love and compassion. 

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we've seen communities coming together. We've seen individuals engaging in acts of kindness, to remind the sick and quarantined that they are not forgotten.

Something good can come from every trial or sorrowful experience life brings to us. 

This does not make me Pollyanna-ish. I'm unable to overlook the sadness being felt across the world. 

But within my own congregation and community, I am witnessing something positively profound. 

What seemed superficial only a few weeks ago now has become an affirming need for people to reach out to each other. 

Maybe we need to open our eyes and recognize the good that has emerged in this overwhelmingly distressing time. 

Let us continue to be aware of all those who need contact, connection and support, and respond in kindness.  

May the Source of Healing send healing, love and sensitivity to all those who are afflicted, and to all those we interact with.

Kliel Rose was born in Israel and grew up here in Winnipeg. After being away for 26 years, last year he returned home with his family. He is the rabbi and spiritual leader of Congregation Etz Chayim in Winnipeg.

Geraldine Shingoose: "Now there is time to nurture yourself, your family and your home fire." (Donna Carreiro/CBC)

Prayers of love to the universe

Today I bring a story of my late father Henry Shingoose, Keewatin.

In 1995, he had a dream, and in the dream, the bears came to him from the east, south, west and north direction.

He was shown the bears' life during each season. They showed him how to build a bear lodge. They showed him how many grandfathers' rocks to use in the sweat lodge. 

The bears told my father the people will need healing, and to share the bear lodge with the people.

I share this story to honour the first day of spring.

We are entering a time of renewal, a time of birth and yes, truly, a time of change. 

Life brings changes so fast, which can bring us many blessings of understanding.

It can bring us teachings to reflect on ourselves and to make changes to become greater human beings.

We are all witnessing that important change worldwide.

While we are safely in our homes, we are reconnecting with our internal gifts.

Each of us was given a gift, and during this time, I encourage each one of you to seek your gift.

We are reconnecting with our family; as we were so busy in our daily lives, we had no time to be with family.

Now there is time to nurture yourself, your family and your home fire.

It is a critical, sacred time right now for the world- 'Gramma' Geraldine Shingoose

It is through experiences like this that we learn the most.

Our challenge is to be open to the teachings that will follow, and to move forward with love for all of humanity.

A reminder — our ancestors prayed for their future generations to be protected and loved.

We are now the future generations.

I am sending prayers of love out to the universe for each one of you.

We are human and we all have natural responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Right now across Turtle Island, our Indigenous people are rising up in prayer, in dance, in songs and in ceremony to protect themselves, their families, their nation and all nations.

My first thought is protecting my loved ones.

I have medicines here at home and I'm burning the smudge. 

I will also lift the sacred pipe and pray to the virus called coronavirus, and call out its name not to bring harm to my loved ones and for all the people white, yellow, black and red nations.

It's a critical, sacred time right now for the world.

I remember hearing the old ones say in many ceremonies, to turn to the medicines and ceremony; there will come a time when all the other nations will turn to the red people for help.

The old ones knew this would come.

Please know those old ones are now our ancestors and they are with us right now. They know what we are going through and will guide us out of this with our medicines and ceremonies.

Lift your pipes, smudge with your medicines, harvest the medicines and drink lots of water.

I encourage everyone to be safe and to take care of each other.

We need each other more then ever. Our humanity and gifts will come out and our morals will be tested, but please turn to spirit for support and guidance. 

In closing I want to acknowledge mother earth, the land and waters. Right now, she, mother earth, is being protected and we will witness the change in her.

Life is so precious right now. 

Chi miigwetch and Ekosi.

Geraldine Shingoose comes from the Bear Clan. She is a Sauteaux woman from Tootinaowaziibeeng First Nation in Manitoba. She has grown into a grandmother (and great-grandmother) of faith, belief and kindness, from the love of her family.

Reverend Craig Miller: "May hope be our light, and together, may we keep it burning bright." (Reverend Craig Miller/supplied)

We are not alone

Last Sunday, I sat at the entrance of our church to greet anyone who was not aware that our worship service was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

I returned to my office, feeling pretty glum, and checked my email. 

Robert Brown, the leader of the Westman Dharma Buddhist Group that meets in our chapel on Sunday afternoons, wrote to ask if I wanted to work with him on a virtual interfaith gathering. 

The prayer service would connect our community and offer a message of hope in this anxious time. 

"What a great idea," I thought. "I am not alone!"

His email was a reminder that in times like these, our ability to work together is a sign of hope. 

There is a lot of bad news out there these days, a lot of uncertainty, and it is so easy to despair. 

But we are not alone.

What the mystics of our religious traditions teach us is being confirmed by the new science and by ecology. 

All things are interconnected.

What happens in one place affects all places. What happens to one of us affects all of us, for good and for ill. And all of us are interdependent.

In this time of physical isolation, we are not alone.- Rev. Craig Miller

This knowledge is now bringing together people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives working toward healing and social renewal. 

Think of the scientists from around the globe who are working together on a vaccine for this virus. We join hands, forces, souls and bodies to bring about creative transformation.

When I reflect on our interdependence, I remember a young man who impressed upon me the importance of solidarity in difficult times. 

My youth group attended a summer camp with more than 1,000 high schoolers and leaders.

At the end of the week, we assembled around a small lake for our closing candlelight ceremony.

It was a breezy summer night, and Jacob (not his real name), along with the rest of us, struggled to keep his candle lit.

But with one another's help, we relit our candles, keeping the circle of light illuminated around the lake, the soft glow of candlelight reflected on the water and our faces.

When we returned to our dorms, Jacob spoke about his dependence on others to relight his candle — and his observation of others doing the same. 

He compared it to the care and hope people in our group provided him earlier in the spring, when he had tried to die by suicide, following a time of depression.

"Now hope is my light, and you keep it burning," he told us.

In this time of physical isolation, we are not alone. 

May hope be our light, and together, may we keep it burning bright.

The Rev. Craig S. Miller is the minister at Knox United Church, Brandon, Manitoba. He lives and works in Treaty Two Territory, the traditional homelands of the Dakota, Anishinabek, Oji-Cree, Cree, Dene and Métis peoples.

Idris Elbakri: "We are learning to listen to our souls, and to appreciate what the world has to say when all is silent." (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Pray together, get well together

The predictability of our world creates a sense of safety and security. 

We expect the sun to rise in the morning, our surroundings to remain familiar, air to be invisible and water to be liquid.  

We expect leaves to fall, snow to come down in winter, to melt in spring, and we look forward with some certainty to the warmth of the summer. 

We hope for this predictability, and we fear its absence.

It is God who is the grantor of security.

He created a world that is mostly — but not completely, predictable.

The world is not completely predictable, because we need to be reminded that we are not in control, and that our hopes and fears need to be refocused toward our Divine Creator. 

We sometimes forget this. In ancient times, people turned to imagined Gods of rain, wind, war and fertility, and in modern times we effectively take the illusion of our mastery over the physical world as God.

We are also realizing how connected we are.- Idris Elbakri

But this will eventually fail us, and with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are coming to grips with the limits of our control of the world. 

The illusion of our control has been lifted. As we scramble to get our hands on face masks, the illusion of control that masks our limitations from us is being lifted.

Herein is a silver lining. 

We are being globally humbled. This humility can create so much hope and potential in our world. 

We are starting to appreciate the things we can no longer do, the places we can no longer visit and the people we can no longer hug or touch. 

We are seeing neighbourhood groups spring up and mobilize to help each other.

A measurable decrease in greenhouse emissions is possible.

We are spending more time with our kids and families, and we are appreciating the value of the elderly and worry about losing them. 

As we are compelled to spend more time alone, we are learning to listen to our souls, and to appreciate what the world has to say when all is silent. 

We are also realizing how connected we are.

This pandemic affects rich and poor, developed and developing countries, oppressor and oppressed, and all races, religions.

The world has been affected by this illness together, and hopefully, we pray, will get well together.

Idris Elbakri is a medical physicist who lives in Winnipeg, and chair of the Manitoba Islamic Association board of directors.

This column is part of  CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.