Posted on Facebook:

A young couple moved into a new house. The next morning while they were eating breakfast, the young woman saw her neighbor hanging the washing outside.

“That laundry is not very clean; she doesn’t know how to wash correctly. Perhaps she needs better detergent.”

Her husband looked on, remaining silent.

Every time her neighbor hung her washing out to dry, the young woman made the same comments.

A month later, the young woman was surprised to see a nice clean wash on the line and said to her husband, “Look, she’s finally learned how to wash correctly. I wonder who taught her this?”

The husband replied, “I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows.”

And so it is with life … What we see when watching others depends on the clarity of the window through which we look.So don’t be too quick to judge others, especially if your perspective of life is clouded by anger, jealousy, negativity or unfulfilled desires.”Judging a person does not define who they are. It defines who you are.” ~ Jonathan Kestenbaum

A somewhat more sophisticated version of this story is offered by Professor Alan Hayes on his website “Indigenous and Settler Christianities in Canada,” where he writes:

Historians and others often look at the past through the filter of a large general story or “meta-narrative.” Individual episodes and experiences are then interpreted in consistency with the larger meta-narrative. As an obvious example, early settler missionaries who thought of themselves as culturally superior and of Indigenous peoples as primitive readily interpreted their experience of Indigenous peoples through this meta-narrative. To their eyes, Indigenous social practices that in actuality were quite complex and sophisticated seemed simple and primitive.

“Meta-narrative” is another word for the window through which we look out upon the world. The nature of everything we see is effected by the shape, texture and tone of the glass through which we observe. To the degree that we are unable, or unwilling, to acknowledge the perspective through which we view life, we will live unconsciously in the world, often with harmful effect. Nowhere is this frightening truth more evident than in the relationship the “early settler missionaries” established with the Indigenous people they encountered when they first invaded this land.

Dr. Hayes articulates clearly and painfully the “meta-narrative” the first “Christian” missionaries brought with them when they crossed the sea to bring the true faith to this heathen land:

In this story, European missionaries, motivated by self-sacrificial discipleship, passion for the gospel, and a sense of adventure, went out to convert the Aboriginal peoples of Canada to their form of the Christian faith, which was better than competing forms of the Christian faith, and also, needless to say, better than Indigenous spirituality and practices.

The earliest written example of this narrative in the western hemisphere may be the description of the culture of the Taino peoples written in 1496 by Friar Ramón Pané, under commission by Christopher Columbus. It was based on his observations and interviews with this Caribbean people. It is thoroughly Eurocentric; the author’s filter is that the Taino are “simple ignorant people who know not our holy faith.” Over the next several centuries there followed many hundreds of reports of Indigenous peoples in the New World written by missionaries, or from a point of view sympathetic to the missionaries; and as a general rule they followed the same pattern. Many of these writers made observations about Indigenous beliefs and practices, strained through their net of biases. Few recognized the realities of Indigenous spirituality, which were largely invisible to people who understood religion to have doctrinal creeds, written scriptures, structured institutional organizations, and special permanent buildings, as Christianity had.

The dark clouded glass through which these missionaries viewed the inhabitants of this land made it impossible for them to see the beauty of spirit within these people. They could not value Indigenous reverence for the land, their respect for all of life derived from their awareness of the Creator Spirit through whom all things came into being, and the deep inter-connectedness of all life forms they intuitively understood. The missionaries were tragically unable to value and learn from the deep spiritual practices of the First Nations peoples and could not appreciate the profound sense of gratitude and community that informed every aspect of Indigenous peoples’ lives.

How different Canada might look today if the first settlers from away had stopped upon arrival, cleaned the window through which they were looking and paid careful and respectful attention to the people they found in this place. I wonder how aware I am of the “meta-narratives” that shape the way I view the world? How willing am I to step outside my paradigm and view the world through the eyes of another?