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Around the Kitchen Table

By Joan Eyolfson Cadham

07/29/2015

We are enriched when we embrace other cultures

I don’t often write my column as a direct result of another column I have read. This one is an exception. The memories that came flooding back to me as I read the original were very vivid.

The column was one of Marie-Louise Ternier-Gommers’ blogs on her Grace@Sixty site.

The blog is titled A Posture of Openness. Marie-Louise began by explaining that she had become intrigued by a new friend who “embraces both Hinduism and Christianity as a way to honour both her parents who were Hindu and Christian” and went on to say that she was “. . . amazed at the depth of her faith and her loyalty to both God and her family of origin.”

At the end, she posed a couple of questions. “How do we grow new ourselves, open to difference yet grounded in our own faith and worldview?”

“How do we grow into ever greater openness and receptivity toward all that is different without feeling threatened or diminished or superior?”

Her blog made my heart sing. I remembered being invited, as the local Foam Lake reporter, to join a group of United Church women from our town on a trip to Saskatoon to visit a mosque, a synagogue, a Hindu temple, a private Buddhist prayer room (the temple was undergoing restoration) and a Sikh gurdwara.

It was a wonderful experience. They all fed us. There was no question that went unanswered. On the way home, one of the United Church women said, “The problem is that we have never been into anyone else’s house of worship except, maybe, for a Ukrainian funeral.” I was the only person in the group who had had any experience at all with other faiths.

When I traded my small town in Saskatchewan for Toronto and journalism at Ryerson when I was 16, I joined the Nontario Club. Ryerson tuition was free for Ontario residents. We had to pay — but we had our own club. Ryerson attracted international students and we ran as a pack — many colours, many nationalities, many faiths. Wonderful discussions, exciting times together. Lucky us.

I accidentally did my kids a great favour when I moved us to Ste-Anne-de-Belleueve, Que., an old French-Canadian town that was home to the Macdonald campus, McGill’s Ag College, and where I partnered in a tea/spice/natural food store. My kids grew up surrounded by multi-ethnicities and multifaiths.

It was a Muslim friend who taught me all I know about making curry. I attended synagogue several times with a fellow writer who was an Orthodox Jew. It was the Baha’i couple who ran the bakery who taught everyone unspoken lessons on fair economics — he chased me down the street one day because he worried he’d given me five cents less change than I deserved, and they refused to raise their photocopy charges when everyone else did because, they said, they were already making a profit. When I asked her about some tenet of their religion, I had to repeat my question three times. Then she said, “Do you really want to know?” When I assured her that I did, she said, “We are not allowed to proselytize.” They invited us to a house meeting, which we attended. The Persian food was spectacular. So was the realization that these were people who truly put into practice all the tenets of their faith.

And, one lovely summer’s day, while we were wandering around Montreal, Jack and I were welcomed into a park where Hindus were celebrating their Lord Krishna’s Chariot Festival. Again, the food was spectacular. Everyone was open to answering our questions. We were made to feel entirely welcome — they didn’t preach at us. They were just happy to have us join them.

Back home again many years later, when my small town in Saskatchewan still had Girl Guides, I was often called in to give a workshop on anti-racism. In the midst of one of my talks, one of the girls wailed, “Joan, our problem is that we never see anyone who doesn’t look exactly like us.”

No, I am not sure I could answer the first part of Marie-Louise’s question: “How do we grow into ever greater openness and receptivity toward all that is different?” I do know that having the good fortune to travel through life in company with people of many cultures and many faiths has enriched my life beyond measure. At no time have I ever felt “threatened or diminished or superior.” Just grateful.

Eyolfson Cadham is an award-winning columnist and freelance journalist who moved from Montreal to Foam Lake in 1992. She is a member of Saskatchewan Writers Guild and is an oral storyteller who has professional status with Storytellers of Canada.