by Gordon Nary
Gordon: Where did you earn your Master's Degree and in what specialty?
I earned my Master’s Degree at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada (originally Sir George Williams, a Jesuit college). My focus was spirituality, with a practicum in bringing the power of Ignatian imaginative meditation to incarcerated individuals in the federal prison system.
Gordon: When did you serve as Chaplain Federal Penitentiary and what was your most memorable experience when you served there?
From 2013 to 2019. I served as part-time chaplain at two federal prisons in greater Montreal before serving full-time at Bowden, a medium-to-high-risk prison in Alberta, Canada. From there, I transferred to Springhill, a medium-security prison in Nova Scotia, Canada, where I served until 2019. My most poignant experiences centered around showing and being God’s love to men who felt truly unlovable, who could not love themselves. It is nothing less than a miracle to watch souls like that come to a place where they can look in the mirror and actually love themselves as Christ commands us to do.
Gordon: When did you serve as Minister at The United Church of Canada and what did you enjoy most about your position?
In 2019, while I was chaplain at Springhill Prison, one of my volunteers asked me to consider an open position as minister at the United Church he attended. I told him, “Well, you know, I’m Catholic,” to which he replied, “Oh that would be just fine with us.” That was the start of my journey to becoming minister of a parish of three churches along the shores of the Bay of Fundy. Over the two years I was with these beautiful people, we shared many fond memories. Of particular significance is the true ecumenical fellowship we enjoyed. Working in the prison opens one’s eyes to a whole different world; one where the only sign on the door is “Chapel.” Individuals who enter through those doors are so broken, talking about polity and doctrine are far from their thoughts. Rather, they are desperate to be seen, heard, and valued; to know they matter. In this spirit of grace and love, I ministered in a denomination other than my own, where our love one for another identified us.
By the time my service with the United Church was over, the congregation was made up of people from many different denominations. We had become a community of faith where everyone was truly welcome. Serving from a Catholic orientation, I was not only accepted with my convictions, but respected for them. It was truly a Holy Spirit experience.
Gordon: When did you start serving as Spiritual Director at Heart Hope and what are your primary responsibilities?
In 2012, I began five concentrated years of spiritual formation at The Ignatian Centre of Montreal. During this time, I led and taught Ignatian imaginative prayer at the Centre with groups of 8-12 individuals at a time, conducting 20–30-minute sessions on how to pray with scripture. In these sessions, we used a narrative from one of the Gospels and “practiced” what we had learned in the teaching time by doing Ignatian prayer collectively. We listened to the Spirit together, then shared our experiences. Out of these transformative experiences came requests for me to accompany individuals in one-on-one spiritual direction, a deeply satisfying ministry. I have continued to cultivate and grow in this ministry over the years. I work with individuals from the
U. S. to Venezuela to British Columbia, some for more than five years.
Gordon: what are some of the challenges in serving as a Spiritual Director?
When an individual embarks on developing a prayer life that becomes a way of living through daily practice, repressed wounds and fears begin to come to conscious awareness. This process is messy and uncomfortable. The natural tendency at such junctures in the spiritual journey is to abandon the inner work at this point.
Accompanying a soul through “the valley of the shadow of death” is delicate and can be difficult. As a director I am utterly dependant on the Holy Spirit to know when to encourage the person to “lean in” to the pain, and when to offer compassion, comfort and mercy. It becomes abundantly evident in these spiritual thresholds that my ability to offer leadership is contingent on being Spirit-led myself. Spiritual movement requires vulnerability and trust by both the Director and the Directee. It is a constant challenge to stay in this place of humble dependence and not lean on my own understanding, (Proverbs 3:5).
Gordon: What can be done to combat racial discrimination against the first nations in Canada?
This is an enormous, multifaceted question and one of Canada’s most egregious impediments. The government of Canada has a history of treating First Nations people as subhuman. Only in recent decades has this begun to change. Having grown up on a reserve occupied by Carrier people, I was privileged to see and know the world from a First Nations perspective before being educated in a Western European paradigm. When the explorers first arrived, the First Nations peoples welcomed them. According to Cree history, explorers were greeted with “the land is huge and there is much to share.” Unfortunately, as history documents, sharing was not what the colonialist settlers had in mind.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has been making strides to rectify the atrocities imposed on First Nations peoples (Residential Schools and forced assimilation etc), for which we can be thankful, but undermining the tension is a clash of two very distinct cultures at odds with what is deemed important. First Nations people need to be seen, heard, and valued for who they are. We must learn from each other as equals. Until this happens, it is my opinion that welfare checks and material concessions will not heal this gaping bleeding wound.
Gordon: What can the government do to reduce the poverty that affects at least six million people in Canada?
The answer to this question is somewhat of an addendum to the previous answer. The complexity of this issued cannot be overstated.
The short answer is that the problem of the economic state of First Nations peoples is the result of not being seen, heard, and valued for people who possess valuable wisdom, insight, and understanding that the Western European culture could learn from and desperately needs.
Change begins with understanding and valuing the worldview of First Nations peoples as equally legitimate to that of Western European ideology. Only from this horizon can we envision how First Nations peoples (empowered to live in the integrity of their worldviews), can become an active and viable part of the national economy of Canada.
Gordon: Thank you a great interview.