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Monuments of Canadian Spirituality

Web posted on June 29, 2014

Sunday Peace

Rev Robert Lyon

Though only about 20% of Canadians attend church, there is a uniquely Canadian spirituality that won't go away. That's because it is, in some instances quite literally, carved in stone. With the approach of Canada Day, let's look at three monuments of Canadian spirituality.

On a marble wall inside the Peace Tower, there's a quotation from Proverbs 29:18 that says: "Where there is no vision, the people perish." Our parliamentarians pass by that inscription every day. If you're cynical about the foresight of our legislators, you may wish that more of them would take it to heart.

But in fact, planning and goal setting are not what the proverb refers to. The ancient writer had never heard of the "visioning process" that one learns these days in management school. The vision that he had in mind was prophetic vision divine revelation insight given by God. In his view, there really was is such a thing as a word from God that guides and admonishes. A modern translation and the rest of the proverb make the writer's meaning clear: "Where there is no prophetic vision, the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the Torah.

Or consider that heraldic symbol, the Arms of Her Majesty in Right of Canada, a.k.a. the Canadian Coat of Arms. Since 1921 the banner at the bottom has read A MARI USQUE AD MARE "from sea to sea". It's a quotation from Psalm 72:8, which was an enthronement psalm for the kings of ancient Israel, and looked forward to the future reign of the Messianic King. The complete verse says: "He shall have dominion from sea to sea, and from the river [the Euphrates] unto the ends of the earth."

At Confederation, Sir Leonard Tilley proposed that the new nation should be called "The Dominion of Canada" after he came across this verse in his daily Bible reading. Half a century later, Sir Joseph Pope proposed the nation's motto be adopted from the same verse. Both men envisioned a Canada that is, as the Charter says, "founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law".

In 1994, the Arms of Canada were augmented with a circular ribbon around the shield. The ribbon displays the motto of the Order of Canada: DESIDERANTES MELIOREM PATRIAM. This is a paraphrase back into Latin of English words from the New Testament epistle to the Hebrews: "They desire a better country".

It's a great motto not only for those admitted to the Order of Canada, but also for the rest of us because we all desire a better country. But even though it's a great motto and a worthy desire, we need to understand what the ancient writer was referring to. He was writing about men and women who were driven by faith, who were motivated not only by things of this world but also by things beyond. The verse from which the motto is borrowed says: "They desire a better country, that it, a heavenly one" (Hebrews 11:16).

A third monument of Canadian nationhood is our National Anthem, written in 1880 by a brilliant Canadian musician by the name of Calixa Lavallee. Here, with translation, is what he wrote:

O Canada! Terre de nos aieux, O Canada! Land of our ancestors,
Ton front est ceint de fleurons glorieuxYour brow is wreathed with flowers of glory.
Car ton bras sait porter l'epee, For your arm knows how to bear the sword;
Il sait porter la croix. It [also] knows how to bear the cross.
Ton histoire est une epopee, Your history is an epic
Des plus brillants exploits.Of most brilliant exploits.
Et ta valeur, de foi trempee,,And your valor, steeped in faith,
Protegera nos foyers et nos droits,Will protect our homes and our rights,
Protegera nos foyers et nos droits.Will protect our homes and our rights.

Lavallee gets no prizes for modern political correctness but, like the other monuments of our nationhood, his anthem shows a wisdom that we Canadians need to recover and rediscover. For when the arm that bears the sword no longer also bears the cross, and when our courage is no longer steeped in faith, we may have compromised the moral authority to wield that sword, the wisdom to build those homes, and the very legitimacy of those rights.

Happy Canada Day!

Robert welcomes you questions and comments at

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All in the Family
( August 13, 2017 )

Through the Valley of the Shadow
( July 30, 2017 )

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God and the Grass
( June 10, 2017 )