Similar Spiritualities June 21, 2020
The readings for June 21, the National Indigenous Day of Prayer, come from Isaiah 40:25-31 and John 1:1-18. They speak of God as Creator, through the immensity of his works: a reference that aligns with Indigenous spirituality.
In Isaiah, we read,
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding, no one can fathom. (40:28)
The opening five verses of John read,
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made;
without him nothing was made that has been made.
In him was life,
and that life was the light of all mankind.
The light shines in the darkness,
The language of both scripture readings finds an echo in various First Nations’ spirituality. While there is no single “spirituality” or creed among Aboriginal Peoples there are common elements among many Aboriginal Traditions which share a perspective with Christian beliefs.
• The Creator made humans to live in harmony with the natural world. This relationship is integral to Aboriginal spiritual traditions. The natural world is alive, intelligent and integrated with humankind. (The sense of the Creator God is fundamental to our understanding and faith. The Nicene Creed begins, “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…” Christians have adopted this principle in different forms of eco-spirituality. Its most profound articulation appears in the 2015 encyclical Laudato Si.)
• There is a profound interconnectedness among all of creation. All animate and inanimate parts of the environment are endowed with powerful and mysterious spirits, and thus deserve the utmost respect. (Laudato Si also enunciated this principle.)
• Gratitude is a central concept in Aboriginal traditions—humankind expresses gratitude to the natural world for abundant gifts that ensure survival and flourishing. (In Christian spirituality, the word “Eucharist” means thanksgiving.)
• Elders hold crucial roles as teachers and role models within the community. They pass on the traditions, values, rituals and practices to younger generations. Elders and healers are recognized for their vast wisdom. (The saints of Christianity are role models of values and practices.)
• Values and traditions of the people are gifts from the Creator. Values such as wisdom, love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility and truth enable right living and healing. (Likewise, in Christianity, “righteousness” has to do with alignment of one’s life with God’s commands.)
• Sacred medicines are used within spiritual ceremonies for purification and healing. Some sources describe a medicine wheel with four directions and four corresponding sacred medicines: Sweetgrass in the North, Tobacco in the East, Cedar in the South and Sage in the West. Each of these medicines attends to a different dimension of human experience (spiritual, mental, emotional and physical). Approaches to medicine and healing within Aboriginal Spiritual Traditions are often seen as antithetical to Western medicine, but this is not the case. (In Christianity we use holy oil as a form of anointing for the health of body and soul. Specifically, the Book of alternative Services (page 555) reads, “Holy scripture teaches us that in acts of healing and restoration our Lord Jesus and his disciples laid hands upon the sick (and anointed them). By so doing they made known the healing power and presence of God. Pray that as we follow our Lord’s example, you may know his unfailing love.”)
• Prayer can be personal and communal. Offerings, such as tobacco, can be made to the spirits. (Our personal offerings of money are presented at the altar during the offertory of the Eucharist when the bread and wine are offered as our communal offering.)
• Ceremonies and cultural practices can include powwows, sweat lodges, smudging, fasting, singing/chanting, potlatches and dancing. Such practices are seen as expressions of spirituality within a holistic, balanced and harmonious worldview. (Eucharists, retreats, periods of fasting or abstinence during Lent are similar Christian practices. Potlatches among the Haida on the Pacific Coast are remarkably similar to our traditions of Christmas gift exchanges.)
· Many First Nations’ traditions also refer to God as the Great Spirit (Gitchi Manitou) as a non-anthropomorphic Deity that is intertwined with the fabric of the Universe and yet is engaged with the web of living things. (Genesis 1:1-3 reads, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. The Holy Spirit is likewise an essential aspect of our understanding of God … “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life” (Nicene Creed) and his ongoing Pentecostal role in the church.)
On the other hand, real differences exist in the ideas of sin, salvation, and particularly the role of Jesus Christ as the agent of our salvation.
He was the true light that gives light to everyone…He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.
He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
We have much to learn from First Nations about respect for Creation, (before it is too late). And, if we are true to our faith, we will have much to exchange with them.
· What aspect of First Nations’ spirituality harmonizes most easily with your faith? What aspect of the spirituality do you feel you have the most to learn from?
· Do you think salvation through Jesus Christ is possible for First Nations peoples? If you answer no, was salvation possible for the patriarchs of the Hebrew scripture, since they lived before Jesus? Was Christ’s salvation limited by time and geography to the people who lived after him and had the opportunity to learn about him? Or is there a way in which salvation can transcend our linguistic and historic boundaries?
· What personal steps can you take towards reconciliation with First Nations? Learning more about their stories and spirituality? Adopting values and practices that fit with our Christian spirituality? Seeking out opportunities to meet specific individuals and hear their stories?