Reviewed by Carrie MacKenzie
The book Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations by Richard Wagamese is a collection of the author’s thoughts and reflections on various topics. Wagamese is one of Canada’s most prominent First Nations authors and story tellers and has written thirteen books. With this book he does not want to be or become a teacher or guru but to be in his words “a spiritual bad-ass”. In this collection of meditations, I feel he has achieved this.
The language Wagamese uses is down to earth; anyone can understand and relate to what he is saying when he talks about his thoughts and experiences. It feels like you are sitting having a conversation with him over a coffee. It’s like talking to a friend. You do not have to think about the meaning of the words but can focus on the deeper meaning of what is really being said.
This feeling that you are talking with a friend is enhanced by the tone of this book. It is gentle and peaceful. There is nothing jarring or confrontational, just like a conversation between two friends. At times it is serious but there are others where there is a lightness of tone that verges on humour. You find yourself chuckling quietly and smiling in agreement with what is being said.
Another element making this book so relatable is what Wagamese talks about. Each chapter is devoted to a specific spiritual topic, none of which is beyond the imagination or understanding of anyone. He talks about everyday activities and situations that are within most people’s life experiences, illustrating how to find truth, inspiration and the spiritual in them. Even if you have never engaged in a particular activity or been in a specific situation you feel that you understand these experiences to some degree. He talks about shovelling snow, sitting at the computer writing, waking up in the morning and smudging.
Then there are the conversations that Wagamese has with the “Old Woman”. When you read these conversations you realize that Wagamese is not claiming to have all the answers but is himself learning about life and working to be a better person. You realize that this knowledge comes gradually and that is something that anyone can acquire. These discussions also exemplify the respect Indigenous peoples have for their Elders as sources of wisdom and knowledge.
Also, while the book is spiritual it is not religious. Wagamese does talk about “Creator” and smudging but in ways that readers from different religious and spiritual backgrounds can relate to and feel comfortable with. He is not trying to get you to adopt his views or beliefs. He is just telling you what he thinks.
There are also photographs every few pages adding to the beauty and the impact of the words. The photographs are of various things, a tree in the forest, a bonfire, the view across a lake and a snowy owl to name a few. They also enhance the peaceful, gentle tone of the book. Sometimes the most important part of one of Wagamese’s reflections is printed on the picture. You can mark the ones that speak to you and read them when you need some clarity and or perspective.
This is a book for anyone who wants to learn about themselves and become a better person. The author is giving you another way of looking at things thereby allowing you to take away what you want. It has life lessons that are accessible to anyone.
Embers: One Ojibway’s Mediations by Richard Wagamese, Published by Douglas & McIntyre ISBN: 978-1-77162-133-5 $18.95