Culture activist, teacher, author ~ Stephen teaches internationally and is the creator and principal instructor of the Orphan Wisdom School, co-founded the school with Nathalie Roy in 2010, convening semi-annually in Deacon, Ontario, and in northern Europe. He has Master’s degrees from Harvard University (Theology) and the University of Toronto (Social Work). Apprenticed to a master storyteller when a young man, he has worked extensively with dying people and their families, is former programme director in a major Canadian hospital, former assistant professor in a prominent Canadian medical school. He is also a sculptor, traditional canoe builder whose house won a Governor General’s Award for architecture. Since co-founding Nights of Grief and Mystery with Gregory Hoskins in 2015, he has toured this musical/tent show revival/storytelling/ceremony of a show across North America, U.K. and Europe and Australia and New Zealand.
He is the author of Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble (2018), the award-winning Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul (2015), Homecoming: The Haiku Sessions (a live teaching from 2013), How it All Could Be: A workbook for dying people and those who love them (2009), Angel and Executioner: Grief and the Love of Life – (a live teaching from 2009), and Money and The Soul’s Desires: A Meditation (2002). He is contributing author to Palliative Care – Core Skills and Clinical Competencies (2007).
Stephen Jenkinson is also the subject of the feature length documentary film Griefwalker (National Film Board of Canada, 2008, dir. Tim Wilson), a portrait of his work with dying people, and Lost Nation Road, a shorter documentary on the crafting of the Nights of Grief and Mystery tours (2019, dir. Ian Mackenzie).
His books, recordings and DVDs are available for purchase at the Orphan Wisdom Shop.
To inquire about Stephen Jenkinson’s work, speaking engagements, concerts, media interviews, and school, please contact us.
Orphans are not people who have no parents. They are people who don’t know their parents, who cannot go to them from here. Ours is a culture built upon the ruthless foundation of mass migration, but it is more so now a culture of people unable to say who their people are. In that way we are, relentlessly, orphans. Being an orphan culture does not mean that we have no wisdom. But wisdom is being confused in our time with information, with opinion.
Not knowing where you are from is not the same thing as being from nowhere, but it does mean that there is work of all kinds to be done. It could be that the only way for successful refugees to make a culture from their flight is to first be faithful witnesses to what their ancestry now asks of them, instead of what it might have fated them to be. Our culture, if a culture it can be called, or all those things we have instead of a culture, has come to a time of savage despair, it seems. We’ve surrounded ourselves with the debris of refugeehood, to fill the hollow of orphanhood. We have become a danger to ourselves, and a menace to all who will come after us, and to the world. We abandon our dead to make our way, and we are mostly singular people. We might now be the twilight of our ancestors’ dream.
An orphan wisdom might be the only culture-making thing we can rightly, honourably or faithfully claim. There is immense grief in knowing this well and going towards it anyway. That grief could be our way of working now, our labour. It could be our beauty, too.
In an information-drunk culture like our own, knowledge must be the life-tested skill of gathering what is needed, truly needed, without killing life by getting what we want. Wisdom is endorsed by the ages, but it is crafted, curated and called to account by the travails and torments and temper of this very time.
This is Orphan Wisdom, the home of Stephen Jenkinson’s writing and teaching work. Orphan Wisdom is a teaching house for the skills of deep living and making human culture. It is a redemptive project that comes from where we come from. It is rooted in knowing history, being claimed by ancestry, working for a time we won’t see.