FIGURE OF SPEECH

Dr. Gerry Turcotte

July 22, 2013

'If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.'

Isaiah 58.10

The June floods of 2013 in southern Alberta were traumatic by any indicator. Significant destruction of property, devastated infrastructure and thousands of displaced people - though mercifully few lives lost.

For many the speed and reach of the inundation was a surprise. Still others were left to ponder, "what if?" as they stood in a home spared from the waters next to another dozen lost.

If there were any grace notes sounded during this crisis, they emanated from the caring heart. For all the stories of loss and trauma, there seemed to be an equal number of accounts of heroic acts of kindness. People helping neighbours, communities rallying together to save a berm, charities collecting record donations to help out young and old.

Winston and Noel Maquire at the Siksika Nation evacuation shelter, worry about their homes.

CNS PHOTO | TODD KOROL, REUTERS

Winston and Noel Maquire at the Siksika Nation evacuation shelter, worry about their homes.

At our own university, which was spared from the floodwaters, we learned with sadness that some of our staff and faculty had lost their homes. But we also witnessed great acts of caring: our students volunteering in droves, collections made for charities, and even two days that the institution offered to staff so they could volunteer their time to rebuild communities.

ST. MARY'S VOLUNTEERS

On these two days, St. Mary's University College volunteers travelled to help residents in High River and at Siksika. It was uplifting to work together as a team to help and to learn of the many more initiatives undertaken on an individual basis by so many.

The word volunteering comes from the Latin voluntarious meaning "voluntary or of one's free will." Help, in other words, is an act of the heart and should be freely given.

By this measure Canadians are remarkable. According to Statistics Canada, more than 22 million Canadians made a financial donation to a charity in 2012, with some 12 million Canadians contributing close to two billion hours of service (or one million full-time jobs).

That's 45 per cent of the population over 15 years old giving freely of their time. Service is even more of a passion in Calgary specifically, with one agency noting that 71 per cent of Calgarians volunteer over 15 hours per month.

PEOPLE WITH HEART

What all this puts into clear relief is that people with heart surround us. We do not let others suffer needlessly.

The spirit of hospitality, and our call to serve, is deeply imbedded in us as Christians. This is what the Bible instructs us to do, from Genesis to Revelations.

As Mother Teresa so beautifully put it, "To show great love for God and our neighbour we need not do great things. It is how much love we put in the doing that makes our offering something beautiful for God."

Amazing Grace indeed!

(Correction: in my previous column I mistyped Psalm 23 instead of 93.)

(Dr. Gerry Turcotte is president, St. Mary's University College in Calgary.)