We attended the Bruce Cockburn concert in Belleville back in April, a make-up for his COVID-cancelled 50th anniversary tour across Canada. Even though Bruce walked onto the stage slowly, using a cane, he still had his musical chops and some of the songs reminded us that along with being a superb guitarist the lyrics for Stolen Land, If A Tree Falls, and If I Had a Rocket Launcher, demonstrated that his was a prophetic voice through the decades, and a Christian one to boot.
One of his encore pieces was instrumental, a portion of the soundtrack for the film Waterwalker by another Christian, the late and great Bill Mason. The NFB film is a poetic reflection on wilderness, the gift of Creation, and the canoe, which Mason considered the perfect watercraft. In the same decades we were Cockburn fans we learned from Bill Mason about the craft of canoeing and canoe tripping through his instructional films. In Waterwalker, which is nigh on 40 years old, Mason upholds Indigenous spirituality and sneaks in some Christian reflections about "walking on water" to make a difference in a world suffering from human degradation.
Master canoeist, artist, author and filmmaker Bill Mason’s painting of his red canvas cedarstrip canoe.
Yesterday was National Canoe Day a day coined by The Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough following a CBC campaign that, in 2007, declared the canoe one of the Seven Wonders of Canada. While we we didn't get out on the water (although we did go for a swim before church!) we have been out many times since the beginning of April, including Saturday morning. We are early risers which is often the calmest time to be out there, whether in a canoe or kayaks. We tend to start the season in our canoe and move to kayaks as the temperature and water warms.
Saturday we were alone on the Moira River, at least as far as humans, but the world around us, above us, and beneath us was alive with creatures and there was a sense of the holy to the experience. I think I should write an essay about the spiritual experience and benefits of self-propulsion in a small craft on the water, which is a strongly Canadian experience. We have taken many people, including grandchildren, out in canoes and I can't think of one who didn't love it.
While our rigorous canoe tripping days are over (we had lots of adventures in earlier years) there is a sense of pilgrimage and paddling a watery labyrinth to that experience. I came across this advertisement for a pre-pandemic canoe trip that describes it well.
Canoe Tripping as Spiritual Practice: Deepening the Waters of Faith
This AWL workshop will invite a group of ‘spiritual pilgrims’ into a 4 day (3 night) interior canoe trip at Massasauga Provincial Park, led by spiritual and trip guides Tanya Dyck Steinmann and Mark Diller Harder. This is both a physical and spiritual journey.
Pilgrimage, Wilderness and Solitude are key themes found in scripture and our lives. The natural setting of an interior canoe trip creates space for participants to deepen their faith and reflect on their own spiritual and life journey. Our learning comes in paddling and living together in community, as we slow down, unplug, listen to God’s voice and allow nature to be our teacher. The trip will include guided reflections, spiritual practices, group conversation and extended times of silence – all this within a setting that challenges us physically and astonishes us with its beauty. The hope is that we encounter God in wild and unexpected ways.
Waterwalker is available to watch online, and you might check out Youtube versions of the Cockburn songs while you're at it.