“What mean these stones” is a poetic phrase that looms large across the doorway to our galleries at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV). The first reference to this phrase is in Joshua 4:21 when God told his ancient people to not forget how he had parted the Jordan river for their safe passage, which was reminiscent of the earlier Red Sea crossing. Here they were. They had miraculously crossed another river to safety and now God was wanting them to go back into the river and collect 12 stones from the middle. The event was complete, but the memory of it was to continue as they piled those rocks within their encampment. Monuments in the midst of communities to remember times of faithfulness and mercy. To remember that we did not get here on our own.
These stones are all around us, including museums. This week in the Interlake region of Manitoba, I saw stones rising as if from the grave in fields that sustain us. Farmers pile them to the side, not sure what to do with them. Then I saw another ancient people take them and put them into a sacred fire. And as the stones left the fire and entered the womb of the sweat lodge they were welcomed as grandmother and grandfather. ‘Boozhoo Nookomis. Boozhoo Nimishoomis.’ Who knew rocks could burn and cleanse? What mean these stones?
At MHV while we will be providing free admission and some extra activities this Canada Day. We know that Canada and its settlers have a lot of work to do in honouring and reconciling with our Indigenous hosts. Beginning in September the plan at MHV is to host several events towards this end. We have much to learn together and look forward to doing it with you. It is important to be curious and compassionate about the pain and trauma still experienced by Indigenous people. What do their rocks say? What does your pile say? I now close with a short poem.
What – Curious, inquiry, wanting more
Mean – Living, essence, to retain
These – A specific, plural, presence
Stones – Solid, forever, will remain