Being really seen and heard

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission held its closing events in Ottawa from May 31 to June 3.

In a completely unrelated event five years earlier, May 31, 2010, performance artist Marina Abramovic closed out her powerful exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, called Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present.

Why place these seemingly unrelated events side by side? Because Marina accomplished in her exhibition what the TRC has hoped to do.

Every day the gallery was open between March 14 and May 31, 2010, Marina sat silently in a circle and gazed into the eyes of any visitor who sat opposite her. For seven hours a day, six days a week, Marina committed herself to be fully present to whoever chose to sit silently across from her, for as long as they chose to sit there.

Over that time she looked into 1,563 pairs of eyes. Photographs of every one of those faces can be seen at

These photographs reveal that some people are bemused and some are curious, but many weep at the pure, simple, and yet profoundly healing power of being seen, really seen, by one other person.

Biblical scriptures remind us of the power of really seeing and really hearing and the importance of those two things for healing. In Isaiah 6, God tells the prophet Isaiah that most people will not truly see or truly hear and turn towards God to be healed. In Matthew 13:16, 17, Jesus says to his disciples, “blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”

The TRC has given us an opportunity to really see and really hear what we need to see and hear in order for healing to take place in this country. Aboriginal residents of Canada weep to be seen and heard when for so long their culture, language and lives have been oppressed and denied. Most who have listened have also wept.

Not many would be capable of doing what Marina Abramovic did and gaze into so many eyes, but that’s not what is actually required. What if instead those who are not aboriginal commit to really see and really hear at least one aboriginal person and their story? By God’s grace, if we really see and really hear we may yet turn and be healed. If this happens again and again and again in the coming months and years across this great land then the TRC’s work will begin to have the impact that so many hope and pray that it will have.


Marilyn Zehr is lead pastor of Toronto United Mennonite Church, 1774 Queen St. E.

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