Editor's Postlude: Living Diaspora

May 06, 2023
world map with a hand putting a red pin on a location

During the summer of 2022, I had the delight of joining the Scouts Canada contingent attending the Finland Scouts national jamboree. The Russian invasion of Ukraine was in its sixth month. A Scout leader from Kyiv, Ukraine, had gathered nine of the ten girls in her Scout troop from their scattered places of refuge and brought them to the jamboree. One afternoon, I stopped to watch the girls dancing and to trade a badge with the Scout leader. I explained that I was from Canada and of Ukrainian heritage. “Ahh,” she said, “a Ukrainian in the diaspora!”It caught me off guard.

I’ve never thought of myself as a Ukrainian in the diaspora. I’ve named myself Ukrainian Canadian and a second-generation immigrant and Settler in Canada. But the word diaspora stopped me. What does it mean to be a Ukrainian in the diaspora?

In this summer’s lectionary, we journey with Joseph into Egypt and then follow the Hebrew people as Moses leads them out of their enslavement into a 40-year sojourn in the wilderness. It is a story of diaspora, of living separated from their ancestral land. The other great diaspora in the Bible occurs when the Hebrew people are ripped from their land and forced into exile in Babylon. I thought of Psalm 137 and its yearning to return to the homeland: “How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”

My great-grandfather fled Ukraine to avoid the draft under the occupying forces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. My roots lie in western Ukraine, but it is not a land I know. For me, returning to Ukraine would be returning to a land that is foreign to me. Yet would I recognize it? Would I feel at home? Would the earth beneath my feet, the sunflowers, wheat fields, and poppies call to me? The first time I attended a Ukrainian Orthodox Divine Liturgy, I immediately resonated with the harmonies and chants. The Orthodox music was in my soul, in my DNA. Would it be the same if I returned from the diaspora to Ukraine? Did the Hebrews leaving Egypt remember their homeland, even though they had never been there? Did the generation that finally crossed into Israel feel at home? Did the Hebrews yearning to return from Babylon find their yearning satiated when they finally entered Israel, generations after their ancestors had been forced into exile?

Recently, I participated in a Kairos Blanket Exercise (KBE). Out of many powerful moments, one stays with me. The leader spoke of Indigenous people being separated from their places of ritual when they were restricted to the reserves. They were forcibly disconnected from the places upon which generations before them had celebrated their sacred ceremonies.

I think of all those who live involuntarily in the diaspora. I think of those brutally enslaved and carried away from their African homelands to forced labour in North America. I think of all the people displaced by war, by drought, by floods, by famine, by poverty, and by persecution, today and in the past. I think of generations who have never known their ancestral lands.

I am a very privileged person living in the diaspora. I live as a Settler on land that was taken by deceit from the First Peoples. I feel connected to the prairie land on which I live. I resonate with the mountains that anchor our western skies. Each morning I step out to greet the sun rising over the eastern fields. Yet still I ponder the Ukrainian Scout leader’s words: “A Ukrainian in the diaspora.” I also am someone displaced from my ancestral home and from the places of ritual that were important to my great-grandparents and generations before them.

We who are Settlers in North America live in a culture of diaspora, displaced from the lands of our ancestors, the places of ritual that connected us to the earth and to each other. We are scattered, we are disconnected, we are floundering. We claim this land as our own, but do we understand this land? I don’t yearn to return to Ukraine to live, but what does it mean to understand that this is not my homeland, not the land of my ancestors? What can I learn from naming myself as living in the diaspora?

Susan Lukey, Editor