From Native and Christian
There is a sense of compromise in doing this essay as well as hesitancy in placing images on paper that reflect our spiritual insights. The present urgency to come together for a healing vision for the Earth, “our Mother,” has brought our elders to advise us to share and risk even by writing what has been our oral tradition.
Art Solomon is an Ojibway (Ontario, Canada) spiritual elder who attended the World Council of Churches’ meeting on the Island of Mauritius in February 1983. Art wrote this prayer for the diverse group of people representing various faith communities gathered there to prepare for the Vancouver meeting.
Grandfather look at our brokenness.
Now we must put the sanctity of life as the most sacred principle of power, and renounce the awesome might of materialism.
We know that in all creation, only the family of man has strayed from the sacred way.
We know that we are the ones who are divided, and we are the ones who must come back; together to worship and walk in a sacred way, that by our
affirmation we may heal the Earth and heal each other.
Now we must affirm life for all that is living or face death in a final desecration with no reprieve.
We hear the screams of those who die for want of food, and whose humanity is aborted and prevented.
Grandfather, the sacred one, we know that unless we love and have compassion the healing cannot come.
Grandfather, teach us how to heal our brokenness.
It would be possible to say no more than what Art Solomon has shared in the prayer and allow you to ponder how simple our spiritual world view is and how profound. The purpose of this article is to develop some themes that are supportive of the emphasis now being placed on the integrity of creation by the World Council of Churches.
All My Relations (Ants and Uncles)
For those who come out of the Judeo-Christian background it might be helpful to view us as an “Old Testament People.” We, like them, come out of an oral tradition which is rooted in the Creator and the creation. We, like Moses, know about the sacredness of the Earth and the promise of land. Our creation stories also emphasize the power of the Creator and the goodness of creation. We can relate to the vision of Abraham and the laughter of Sarah. We have dreams like Ezekiel and have known people like the Pharaoh. We call ourselves “the people” to reflect our sense of being chosen.
The comparisons with the spirituality of indigenous peoples around the world may be centered on the notion of relationship to the whole creation. We may call the Earth “our Mother” and the animals “our brothers and sisters.” Even what biologists describe as inanimate, we call our relatives. We can understand the power of Christ’s statement that the stones would cry out. This calling of creation into our family is an imagery of substance but it is more than that, because it describes a relationship of love and faithfulness between human persons and the creation. This unity as creatures in the creation cannot be expressed exclusively since it is related to the interdependence and connectedness of all life.
Because of our understanding of the gift of creation we are called to share in life. It is difficult to express individual ownership within the Native spiritual understanding. It follows that if the creatures and the creation are interdependent, then it is not faithful to speak of ownership. Life is understood as a gift and it makes no sense to claim ownership of any part of the creation. Our leaders have often described how nonsensical it is to lay claim to the air, the water, or the earth, because these are related to all life.
Reference to the Earth is not singular in our culture to indicate ownership. Our words indicate sharing and belonging to the Earth. The coming of Europeans to the land which we used in North America meant a conflict of understanding which centers on the ownership of land. The initial misunderstanding is not surprising since the first immigrants were coming to take “possession” of a “vacant, pagan, land.” The incredible fact is that this perception continues after five centuries. Equally surprising has been the historic role of the Christian church in this process of colonization which consisted in a dividing up of the Earth so it could be a possession.
We are into a time of survival which will not allow people to pursue ownership of the Earth without perceiving that the path leads to destruction of life, including their own. The most obvious example is the nuclear threat for the world. More important for Native people is the depletion of resources and pollution of the environment. We understand this activity to be insane, since we live in an environment which gives life but is sensitive to abuse.
Our elders have told stories about the destruction of Mother Earth. In their dreams and visions they have known from time immemorial about a deep caring and reverence for life. Living in very natural environments they taught that we are to care for all life or we may die. The elders say: “If you see that the top of the tree is sick you will know that it is dying. If the trees die, we too will die.” The Earth is our life. It is to be shared and we know the Creator intends it for generations yet unborn.
We maintain the Earth is to be shared and we continue to challenge faceless corporations to be faithful to their humanity. Even as we are being pushed into a “land claims” process, we maintain our heritage and are motivated by a love of the Earth, a concern for the survival of the creation. Our Earth Mother is in a time of pain and she sustains many thoughtless children.
In Harmony With Creation
From what has been described in this reflection, it may not be sufficiently clear as to what the spiritual relationships to Earth are for us. It is thus necessary to say that we have a sense of Amen about the psalmist saying, “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”
The value that comes from the spirituality of my people is one of wholeness. It certainly is related to a view of life which does not separate or compartmentalize. The relationship of health with ourselves, our community, and with all creation is a spiritual relationship. The need of the universe is the individual need to be in harmony with the Creator. This harmony is expressed by living in the circle of life.
There is an awareness that the Spirit moves through all of life. The Great Spirit is in fact the “Cosmic Order.” The aboriginal North American spirituality draws together this cosmic order in human experience in a very experiential way. The view of the creation and the Creator are thus an attempt to unify the world view of human beings who are interdependent. We are a part of all life and the need for dogmatic statements is not relevant since the spiritual pilgrimage is one of unity in which there are many truths from a variety of experiences.
The image of living on the Earth in harmony with the creation and therefore the Creator, is a helpful image for me. It means that “faithful” living on the Earth will be moving in the rhythm of the creation. It will mean vibrating to the pulse of life in a natural way without having to “own” the source of the music. It allows the Creator to reveal truth to the creation so that all may share in it. We have ceremonies and symbols of what may be true for us. We have developed myths and rituals which remind us of the centrality of the Earth in our experience of the truth about the Creator. We seek to integrate life so that there will not be boundaries between the secular and religious. For us, the Great Spirit is in the daily Earthly concerns about faithful living.
Each day we are given is for thanksgiving for the Earth. We are to enjoy it and share it in service of others. This is the way to grow in unity and harmony. There is a word that is central to the movement into harmony with other communities and that is respect. In Christian teachings the word used is love. It allows for diversity within the unity of the Creator. The dialogue can then take place in a global community which does not develop defensive arguments to protect some truth.
The situation will be one of sharing stories instead of dogmatic statements and involves listening as well as talking.
Mending the Hoop
There are many teachings in the aboriginal North American Nations that use the symbol of the circle. It is the symbol for the inclusive caring community, where individuals are respected and interdependence is recognized. In the wider perspective it symbolizes the natural order of creation in which human beings are a part of the whole circle of life. Aboriginal spiritual teachers speak of the reestablishment of the balance between human beings and the whole of creation, as a mending of the hoop. In the church we speak of renewal or rebirth when we describe balance. In his prayer, Art Solomon precisely states that only we have wandered from the sacred way and we must learn again about our place in the circle. It is faithful to reflect that the Christ came to save the world, but we make that statement anthropocentric in the church, and for hundreds of years our theology denied the integrity of creation.
The pressure for short-term economic gain has reduced human beings and everything in the creation to disposable commodities. Materialism and the related military programs are served by what is described as science and technology. The words “potentially hazardous” do not reflect the present critical imbalance in the circle of life. Our ecological proposal often does not encompass the holistic and inclusive vision that aboriginal Christians hold. The words “the well-being of all people” should be changed to “of all creation” and the references to “our physical environment” should include the mental and spiritual environment. Christian faith is based on the power of love incarnate. We are called to understand the integrity of creation, to live love in the world.