Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
November 9, 2009
Lavoie learned to live in the mystery
Archbishop's book recounts 30 years of ministry in the North
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS
OTTAWA - Keewatin-Le Pas Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie's new book reveals his personal vulnerability while portraying with great tenderness the people he has ministered to in Canada's North over the past 30 years.
Drumming from Within: Tales of Hope and Faith from Canada's North, published by Novalis, reads like a love story full of thankfulness for lessons learned from various aboriginal and Metis individuals who have triumphed over hardship and adversity.
Lavoie describes the book as "bed-time reading." With its short, sweet chapters that close with a passage of Scripture and a prayer, it has the feel of a devotional crossed with a Catholic Chicken Soup for the Northern Soul.
But the archbishop also hopes it might inspire others to take the plunge he did when he became an Oblate priest and made the "sacred journey" to minister to Canada's aboriginal peoples.
At the Ottawa book launch Oct. 28, Lavoie said he joined the Oblates "to see the world." His first posting was to Beauval, Sask., 300 km north of where he had been living and studying as a young priest. But that short distance was a passage into "another world."
It was a world where everything is sacred, he said, where the attitudes towards time, money, work and even funerals are different.
In his book, he describes how difficult he found this reality to grasp. "I was left feeling uncomfortable, vulnerable and tense - rather unpleasant feelings," he wrote.
Instead of processing what was going on, he reacted "energetically" by pouring himself into ministry, keeping busy and working long days.
But he began to find his "priestly vocation harder than I expected," to the point where he felt like quitting and experienced depression.
His spiritual director at the time, Bishop Adam Exner, told him he had to "fail miserably at something and still be accepted by his people."
At first he didn't understand, but eventually, after a burst of revelation, he admitted he was "trying to do the impossible, under my own power and on my own terms."
MY WILL, NOT GOD'S
"I realized that I was doing my will in God's name and carrying everything on my shoulders," he writes. "God didn't seem to be doing much, so I had to."
"And I had failed miserably at something," he writes. "I couldn't love the people I was sent to serve."
He "cracked," as his state is referred to in the North, and was eventually able to let go of his "cultural baggage." More importantly, he became able to receive love as well as give it.
At the launch, Lavoie read aloud a story about a little girl who did not speak until the patience and love of her Grade 9 teacher and a letter from her parents telling her they loved her set her tongue free. Now married, she is in active ministry to others.
"This has been a sacred journey for me," Lavoie said, describing how he would write a chapter, select the Scripture and prayer while making a monthly retreat of silence, fasting and prayer. "I hope it will be a sacred journey for you."
Some stories will make you laugh, others will draw tears, especially that of a woman visiting Beauval from Montreal Lake who later died in a house fire.
Lavoie had first met her while visiting another woman who he knew was struggling with an abusive, alcoholic husband. When he arrived a drunken party was underway. That's when he first saw the visitor.
OUTSIDER BRINGS PROBLEMS
"My generalized anger at everyone there suddenly had a focus," he said. "We had enough problems here without someone coming from elsewhere to create more."
But before leaving that party, he had a conversation with her and discovered she had suffered a life of abuse in an alcoholic home, then went on to live with someone who continued the pattern of abuse, even "locking her in a car trunk for hours."
The woman had come to Beauval to start over. He felt himself developing sympathy for her. She asked Lavoie if she could come and visit him after she sobered up.
The woman left the party soon afterwards, and died hours later when there was an explosion and fire in the house where she was staying. He wondered if his conversation with her had influenced her to leave.
The archbishop writes that this painful experience taught him an unforgettable lesson about not judging others. "Each person carries within them their own mystery, which must be respected."
"I must strive to get to know a person rather than judge that person."
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