Roots Hold Me Close (Audio Available)

Reflection by Rev. Diane Rollert, 4 December 2016

“Roots hold me close, wings set me free.”
                —from the hymn Spirit of Life by Carolyn McDade


It’s been quite a week. On Monday morning we went to the airport to welcome Omar, Salwa, and their seven children. What an amazing journey it has been for them and for us. They arrived saying, “We’re ready. Help us to get started in our new life.” And that’s what we’ve been doing: 

Finding an apartment, painting and furnishing it, gathering winter clothes — and then suddenly rain gear at the last moment— we were so busy looking for snow boots, we didn’t even think about rain gear! Then there was shopping for the first groceries, putting together maps of the neighbourhood, waiting forever for the wifi installation that still hasn’t happened, setting up and going to appointments with the school board, going to Service Canada for Social Insurance Numbers, setting up appointments for health cards and medical exams, making arrangements for French immersion courses, trying to figure out college equivalencies, trying to figure out the financial benefits that Canada and Quebec offer, scheduling translators, and the list goes on. 

With more than 25 volunteers involved, and a constant tsunami of email communication, it takes a village to sponsor a family. And I wish we could do this for so many more. It has been hard work. But it has also been such a labour of love. When you meet Omar, Salwa and their children you will see why.

When I think of roots, I can’t help but think about all that they have been through. Four years ago, with a baby in arms and six other children following after them, they were forced to leave their home in Syria. As other refugees have said to me, imagine being told that you had only a few minutes before you have to leave home. What would you take with you?

How do you leave your homeland, your roots, everything behind? Many of us have stories to tell of family roots that were severed by war, by famine, by politics, or even by adventure. If we look back far enough, we are all immigrants, except for the Indigenous Peoples of this land who found themselves uprooted by strangers. Roots are complicated. 

Each of us has a story to tell of our own roots. In my family, there was always a sense of un-rootedness. My ancestors were a people who never really had a home until my parents and my generation found their sense of home here in North America. Yet, there was something in our past that kept us connected to the roots that we can no longer clearly trace. I only know a little about my great-grandparents. Anything before is lost to the mists of time. Still there is something, some thread that ties us to that past in ways we can’t verbalize, we can only feel.

I watch a refugee family holding onto their roots with love for each other. I watch them holding onto their roots, as my family did, through the traditions that will remain and be passed to the next generations. Perhaps that’s what Simon Weil was referring to when she said, “To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.” 

When we lose our roots of physical place, we still carry with us the invisible connections, the invisible roots, that nourish us and enable us to stand firm, that enable us to reach out, as great trees do, with arms, like branches, that yearn to touch the promising sky.

In this season, we need to reconnect to our roots. Even as the winter solstice comes and promises us that the sun is returning, even as we cross over the threshold of shortest days on December 21 — even then — we still have a lot of darkness to face before the glorious long days of summer return. But in the fallow season, when the fields have all gone dry, the roots of the harvest sleep peacefully. Seeds beneath the ground gather up much needed rest as they prepare for the intensity of pushing out new shoots through the hard earth. 

Think about how much effort it must take to break through the ground and grow. Think of the chick that has to peck through its own shell to be born, or the infant that has to travel from the soft, dark quiet of the womb, into the loud bright noise of birth. The darkness nourishes us as much as the light. We need both.

That may not be so easy to accept right now as we see a world that seems especially dark and foreboding. I’m not saying you should simply accept what is. I’m not telling you to be like the bear, to go just hibernate until the spring. You know, just go to sleep and maybe when you wake up, this will all have been a bad dream. No, I’m afraid all of this is real. The seasons are changing. They’ve already changed in many of our lifetimes, and they will change even more. It will be up to us and to our children and our children’s children to push back the loss of civil discourse, the loss of the faith in the common good, even the literal loss of the seasons.

But I’m willing to say that, maybe right now, the shadows enable us to recognize the work we need to do. Maybe our roots need the dark to strengthen and grow — and then, then we can stretch ourselves when stretching is what we really need to do.

Into the dark night we carry our torches and we walk this journey together, with love, with tradition, with faith, with hope, with whatever it takes to make it to the place where our roots can still hold us close, no matter what.  

Amen. Blessed be. Namasté.

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