23: Ways of knowing #Lent2021

The sky tells the glory of God; the firmament proclaims God’s work … God’s teaching is whole, restoring to life; God’s pact is steadfast, making the fool wise. (Psalm 19:1, 7)

The Creeks (or Muscogees) already had a spiritual path laid down in the very beginning, given by the same Creator who inspired the Bible. We have our stories, our songs, rituals and ceremonies that celebrate and praise God as well as instill within us an awe of the mystery of life.

We know that the stars, land, animals, plants—all living things are a part of this larger beingness, this body and soul of God. We exist together. The presence of God the creator is embedded in each cell—the sound and meaning connecting us. Song and stories that make up ceremonies are our Bible, as is the meaning inherent in the process of a corn plant or the movements of deer. These events also document our history, from the creation story to our presence now in a land far from that place. This knowledge and recounting are inherent in every ceremonial aspect of living as a member of the tribe. Planting is or can be considered a ceremonial process—we take part in the birthing of the process of the corn, beans, or squash growing. The corn songs sung to ensure healthy corn are encoded with memory—of our relationship with the corn, and the garnered knowledge of what is needed to grow.

The Bible too is a rendition of sacred stories and songs that convey what is sacred as well as the how-ness of the sacred specifically to the peoples it was given to, to a particular shape and spirit of land and language. These transcriptions were given to sustain the spiritual health and direction of a people. I imagine these stories told, these songs sung in the context of particular place and history, a context that makes perfect meaning for the relatives and descendants of the singers. I think of the caution given at tribal ceremonies, by mother to child, uncle to nephew, grandparents to grandchildren (perhaps given by the ancestors of the Bible to their children): “These rituals of songs and stories are powerful they belong in this place have power in this place. To use them otherwise is to abuse their power.” …

As a child of two cultures (or more precisely three or more), my belief system had to embody paradox or it would not be useful for navigating through this life. I didn’t recognize any of this for some time and immersed myself in the system of the church to save myself. Yet, in the place of all-knowing we carry within us, I knew that though I appeared be within the system I would always be outside it. I stood out because of my aloneness and differentness. I was one of the few Indians; worse, my mother appeared light and had married an Indian. (This had more serious implications that if she had appeared to be Indian. This was Ku Klux Klan territory as well as “the Bible Belt.” The connection of terms makes sense now.) I was also from a family of divorced parents.

Yet, I became the hope in that church, the one who would become a missionary … I memorized Bible verses to win prizes, such as a Jesus on a cross that lit up in the dark, as well as my week at church camp. I became part of the choir and believed fiercely in this power called God who could save me from the disappointment in life I could see all around me. I craved mystery; I believed in the mystery of this power. It unfolded before me in symbols of light in the middle of the night around my bed, wove through my dreams. I knew things I had no way of knowing in the system in place in public school, in the community in which I lived. There was no context for that kind of knowing except in the stories that came to me from my parents (particularly my mother), and in the passages of the Bible that told also of visions and dreams. I remember in particular Jacob’s dream of wrestling with an angel. I dreamed too and had experiences similar to Jacob’s. The dream world was often more real in scope and truthfulness than this one I had found myself in. Ω

Reflect: How do visions and dreams shape your faith? Do you experience them? Trust and treasure them? Deride and dismiss them? When has somebody else’s vision or dream inspired you or pierced your heart?

What is this? Lent is the 40 days, excluding Sundays, before Easter. Traditionally it is a time of intense reflection and pilgrimage. To help you on this journey, Sanctuary has put together 40 stories from people both within and beyond the congregation, with associated questions for reflection and prayer. A reading will be uploaded every day of Lent.

From Joy Harjo, from ‘Song of Solomon’ in Communion. Contemporary writers reveal the Bible in their lives. New York: Anchor, 1996, pp 417-425. #Lent2021. Real People, Real Stories: 40 Readings for Lent, Sanctuary, 2021. Image credit: Rachel Coyne on Unsplash.

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