the tears of saint laurent

The Laurentian Mountains run across Quebec from north of the provincial capital on into their foothills in Ontario near Combermere. By Yukon standards they really don't merit the epithet mountains.

The Laurentian Mountains run across Quebec from north of the provincial capital on into their foothills in Ontario near Combermere. By Yukon standards they really don’t merit the epithet mountains. The highest peak in the Laurentians would barely reach the twist in the road below the communication and radio towers on Grey Mountain above Whitehorse some 400 metres shy of the cairn at the summit.

Earth scientists like Toby Rivers of Memorial University in Newfoundland tell us that the more than billion-year-old remnants that we see today came about through the continental collisions associated with the long-gone supercontinent of Rodinia. In reality we are just looking at the ancient roots of a great weathered down chain once of Himalayan or Andean stature. The gently rounded, maple and pine clad hills dotted by a profusion of lakes today make for ideal cottage country.

Next Wednesday and Thursday nights I will pull an Adirondack or Muskoka chair for the chauvinistic among us, out onto a floating dock on the Lac des Trois Montagnes in the heart of the Laurentians a couple hours drive northwest of Montreal near Mont Tremblant. I will then, beverage in hand, stare to the northeast towards the constellation Perseus.

Every year at this time, on its spin around the sun, the Earth hits a belt of debris left by the comet Swift-Tuttle on its own 130-year solar orbit. The Perseids result. It provides us with one of the best meteor showers of the year. On average one or more meteors a minute will light up the sky.

I fondly remember lying out in a farmer’s field in Kansas decades ago reveling at the natural fireworks. Regrettably the Yukon sky this time of year denies us the chance to enjoy any but the most fiery of them. But this year, if it is clear, the dark Laurentian night will allow me to see the Perseids again.

In Quebec some old timers still call these meteors the “tears of St. Laurent” since August 10th commemorates this Christian saint’s martyrdom in Rome during the Valerian persecutions of 258.

As Laurent’s (or Lawrence as he is called in English) story goes a particularly rapacious Roman Prefect ordered this deacon who had charge of church goods, to hand over the treasure he thought existed. Laurent said that he would do so in three days. Then he proceeded to go throughout Rome gathering all the poor and sick supported by the early community of believers. He then presented them to the Prefect on the third day saying, “This is the Church’s treasure!”

Needless to say the Prefect was not amused. St. Lawrence’s martyrdom was particularly gruesome. This good deacon was grilled to death on a gridiron. He became the patron saint of comedians and chefs for allegedly crying out during his suffering, “This side’s done, turn me over.”

Whether in geo-morphology, astronomy or nearly any other aspect of life for that matter, science and religion overlap. For millennia humanity made sense of their universe by intuiting religious belief systems. As science lifts the proverbial veil from our eyes the harder we peer into the enormity of the creation around us and the more profound the mysteries become.

Religion’s major contribution as Karen Armstrong, author of The Case for God, notes is really “about behaving in a way that changes you, that gives you intimations of holiness and sacredness.” Armstrong initiated a Charter for Compassion in 2008 noting that all major religions and moral codes independently developed an equivalent of the Golden Rule.

This charter calls out to all people “to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion – to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate – to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures – to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity – to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings – even those regarded as enemies.”

For more information on the Charter for Compassion have a look at

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact

Namaste notes

Sunday, August 8 – 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time. A suggested reading is Luke 12:32-48.

Monday, August 9 – International Day of the World’s Indigenous People seeks to strengthen “international co-operation for the solution of problems faced by indigenous people.”

Wednesday, August 11 – Ramadan is the holiest period of the Islamic Year. The ninth month of the Islamic calendar is devoted to the commemoration of Muhammad’s reception of the divine revelation recorded in the Qur’an. Strict fasting is observed from sunrise to sunset.

Thursday, August 12 – International Youth Day theme for 2010 is Dialogue and Mutual Understanding. This reflects the United Nation General Assembly’s “appreciation of the value of dialogue among youth from different cultures as well as among different generations.”