Several years ago I was invited to attend a meeting of First Nations chiefs and elders on Vancouver Island. I knew I would be one of only two or three non-Aboriginals in attendance but I didn’t expect to be immediately invited to introduce myself to the group. Not being very familiar with their culture I thought I should keep it as short as possible – speaking my name, saying a couple of things about myself, mentioning how honoured I was to be invited to meet with them, and then sitting down. As soon as I was finished a man to my right in the circle stood up and began to speak. First he told us about his grandfather on his mother’s side – why he was named as he was and two or three hilariously funny stories about his life. Then he drifted into stories about his grandmother, and about her family. Then he did the same for his grandparents on his father’s side. This led to stories about his father and mother, his uncles and aunts, then his siblings. This went on for about 15 minutes before he said that he felt his ancestors were with us in the room. Others nodded in agreement. He then sat down and the person to the other side of him stood and began to do much the same. Her story went on for nearly 20 minutes. And so it continued for 2 hours. Finally finishing this introductory part of the meeting, we broke for coffee and the man to my right spoke to me. He said he was glad I was there but, with a twinkle in his eye, he asked if I didn’t have any family.
I have learned a great deal from my First Nations friends – one of those being how incomplete my story is without putting it in the context of those whose lives are interwoven with mine. Having said something about my parents (see My Journey), it is time, therefore, to introduce my wife because my story really is our story.
I met Juliet in my first week of my third year of undergraduate studies at McMaster University, one week after she arrived on campus from Trinidad, West Indies. We were married two years later and have been together ever since.
Juliet has profoundly shaped my journey – but no aspect of it more than my spiritual journey. This is because, in the simplest terms, we have journeyed together. This hasn’t meant that we did not have separate journeys. In terms of a personal theology, she didn’t have as far to come as me because she was raised in a liberal Presbyterian Church. And, she was always more spiritually open and attuned than I was. I, on the other hand, have probably been intellectually more open and inquisitive than she. This kept me restless, always wanting to understand issues from a broader or alternate perspective, something that at times must have been quite annoying for her when she was more content just to enjoy wherever she was at the moment. But as we grew more deeply into our life together I learned from her, just as she did from me.
Juliet was the first to pursue training in spiritual direction. She was also the first to move deeply into the contemplative dimensions of the spiritual life. She had been working for a number of years as a docent in an art gallery, teaching people how to engage with art. This quickly became a component of her work in spiritual direction where she used art as an aid to prayer and contemplative presence. Soon we began working together. I would lecture and she would offer a meditation on a piece of art that offered a perspective on whatever issue I was talking about. People loved it, and once again the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words proved true. Leading retreats together was the natural next step to this. I would talk on concepts related to my books and she led meditations on works of art that moved those concepts from head to heart. We did that for 28 years. It is no exaggeration to say that working together in these ways has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Her book, Contemplative Vision: A Guide to Christian Art and Prayer, gives some idea of her approach and work with art and prayer – an approach that forms the foundation of what she now brings to Cascadia Living Wisdom School as she continues to work with me there.
My journey has also been profoundly shaped by our son – Sean. There are so many things I would never have had the same rich opportunity to learn had Juliet and I not been blessed by the gift of parenthood. So much of what I learned about living and about healthy spirituality I have learned from and with him. Over the years he has been my motorcycle traveling companion, my scuba dive-buddy, my first-mate on our sailboat, my cycling and hiking buddy, and much more. For many years Sean lived in Lima, Peru where he worked as a Manager with G Adventures, a global, adventure tourism company I also serve in a consulting capacity. After dividing our time between Lima and Toronto for those years, Juliet and I are now delighted that Sean has returned to Toronto as he continues to work with this same company.