Wounds Remembered

View from our tent MD

[View from our tent Friday morning, photo by Margy Dowzer]

Healing the Wounds of Turtle Island was a powerful, moving, four-day gathering, with teachings and ceremonies led by Indigenous elders from near and far.  It included the stories of so many people, many of which are not mine to tell. But I want to share some of my own story at the gathering.

Wabanaki means people of the dawn, and there were ceremonies at sunrise each day led by Bobby Billie, a spiritual leader from the Seminole in Florida. I am also a person called to the dawn, so I was present each day for that time.

The first day, several of us had gathered near the arbor in the mist around 5 a.m., but no one had yet arrived to lead the lighting of the fire.  So I prayed my own dawn prayers, and felt this message from the sun–“You are all bathed in love.”  Later that morning, Anishinaabe women from the Midewiwin Lodge sang a song about the love the Sun has for all of us.  I was so moved by the melody, the voices, the drumming on the Little Boy drum.  It went straight to my soul.  They said it was about the first woman to walk the earth, expressing her joy at seeing everything in creation.

The first day was devoted to healing the wounds carried within the hearts and minds of the people from our long history of violence.  The wound that became clear to me was a Great Forgetting:  first there was a great disconnection of my ancestors from their connection with all of creation, and then there was a great forgetting so that the people would be unaware that they were wounded, disconnected, and thus never realize that they had once been connected.  At the end of the ritual, we each were invited to offer tobacco to the fire and make a solemn promise.  My promise was to remember, to remember the wound and to remember the connection.

Also coming into my thoughts was the herb that has appeared on our land–St. John’s Wort–which has traditionally been understood as useful for depression, and also as a wound healer.  I seemed to hear in my mind, this plant can help when you remember the wound of disconnection, when you open to the pain underneath the great forgetting.  I had harvested some of the plants earlier in July, and they were infusing in oil at home–the oil turns red from the plants.  When I got home, I also harvested more of the plants and hung them to dry in our garage, for making tea.

I know that there will be many more rememberings, lessons I carry from this time, but perhaps that is enough for now.  I do want to offer my thanks to Sherri Mitchell who has carried the dream of these ceremonies for many years, and who called us together and enabled it to come alive.

 

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Decolonizing Faith, Part One

Dawn at the Pond

I am at a small gathering of Native and non-Native people exploring the topic of Decolonizing Faith.  We have been looking at the history of colonization on this continent, and the role of churches in that process, and the effects on Indigenous people’s lives.  We’ve listened to stories shared by Wabanaki folks of disrupted families, foster care, adoption, love and care of relatives, abuse by church leaders, the long path to healing…  We’ve been here since Friday evening, and will stay until Monday.

We are in a lovely house by Chemo Pond (pronounced Sheemo Pond) in Clifton Maine. The natural beauty of the pond is, in itself, healing.  The calls of the loons.  The breezes in the trees. The reflection of red leaves on the water. I took a swim in the pond on Friday, and Saturday morning I sat outside in the dawn watching the sky grow light in the east.  Today it is raining. Today we start to ask, what can be done to turn around the process of colonization (which has never stopped.)  And what might be the role of spirituality and the role of faith communities in that work? It is good to be here.

There will be much more to think about, to write.

Magic in the Yard

Today I woke early, it was raining, and I was drawn out to the screen tent in the yard to journal and pray and connect with our land. I was writing about a dream when suddenly I was startled by a loud huffing sound, and looked up to see a deer jumping into the brush and trees at the back of our yard. I didn’t see where she had come from, but wondered if she had ventured into the yard, and then suddenly was startled by noticing me in the screen tent.

I kept peering into the bushes all around the back of our yard looking for her, but all was quiet.  And then I saw her head peering over the bushes at the west corner of our space, perfectly still, almost invisible.  I would never have seen her if I hadn’t been looking so intently.  She was peering back at me. I silently sent her a message–I honor you, I won’t hurt you, I am sorry I scared you. Thank you for being here.  And then she moved away into the little woods of undeveloped land behind the houses on our street.

I sat for quite a while longer, astonished and moved, and pondering how the wild creatures might be passing through at any time, or watching us when we least expect it. Even right here in Portland.  I thought about the future of this space, how this year we are observing everything we can about the land, and also asking the land, what do you want for our partnership? Margy and I had been talking about maybe a little orchard in the sunny space just behind the house, and maybe vegetable beds in the side yard which was also sunny.  Maybe further back a pond for frogs and other creatures to drink from, and maybe a fire circle.

This morning I felt how sacred this space really is, already.  How lucky I feel that we were able to find this place and move here.  And how wonderful to be imagining the ways we can bless this land and be blessed by it.  I had a new thought, too–perhaps we can invite folks into this shady space at the back for learning together about how we journey into earth community.

Then I came into the house, intent to blog about all this.  I was looking on my laptop for possible photos to use with this posting. Suddenly our cat Billie jumped up to the window behind me and was looking into the back yard, and so I looked too.  And there was the deer, standing in plain view at the back of the yard, looking toward the house. I went around to our back door, and even opened the door and looked back at the deer.  She watched for the longest time.  And let me take this photo.

Oh earth, you never cease to amaze me!Deer in our yard

Prayers at Dawn for our Housing Search

I wake today about 5 a.m. and feel called to come outside to pray in the dawn light. It rained during the night and the morning is misty and golden. I am visited by a cardinal, whose silhouette on a branch is dark against the eastern sky. I hear it chirping as another cardinal a bit further away trills their evocative songs. I am visited by a tiny toad or frog (I am not sure which), who moves quietly along the edge of the screen tent where I am sitting. I am visited by a golden slug my old teacher of slowness. A pileated woodpecker pounds away on some dead branches looking for breakfast. I hear the familiar songs of many tiny birds as they wake the sun, which is starting to appear through the branches of the spruce. Later, in the light, the chipmunks and squirrels dash about.

I feel so grateful for this place of trees and birds and critters. In our search for greener housing, I pray that we can find a home where I am called outside in the morning by the songs of cardinals, where Margy can find frogs and toads where they hide in the damp. I pray for this journey we are walking, hoping to move closer into harmony with all beings. I call on the magic of the dawn and the magic of all these beings to help us find our way. And, I open my heart to change, to what is hidden and cannot yet be seen.Morning Photo on 8-4-15 at 7.02 AM

Waking Up to Joy

I realize not everyone is attuned to rise at dawn. We each have our own circadian rhythms. Scientists have found that individual rhythms have a genetic basis and are incredibly difficult to change. Some people naturally rise early, they call them the larks, while others are tuned to a later cycle, they call them the owls.

So I am not suggesting that everyone should start rising at dawn. I am still not even sure if I can shape my life in that way. But what I notice is that whenever I take some small step toward attuning myself with the larger earth, I feel blessed by it—I feel more beauty and joy.

And yet, for each small step, I also feel challenged—aware of how broken off I am. Aware of how broken off we are as a people from this earth that is our whole life. I have to believe that awakening to this beauty and brokenness is the essence of the spiritual journey. We cannot have one without the other. My greatest hopes trigger my greatest fears. My greatest fears call forth my greatest hopes. I believe that when we enter that place between our greatest fears and our greatest hopes—when we encounter our own vulnerability, and call out for help, something can rise in us like the dawn… and this is the place where God lives.

I am still on this journey. When the days are shorter, the dawn comes later. But then it is too cold to go sit outside like I sat outside during the summer. So I am not sure how it will unfold. Sometimes I sit by the window and watch the sunrise from the comfy chair in my room, a tiny black cat curled up in my lap. But I remember the message of the cardinal singing at dawn: Come outside! May sadness be dispelled, may joy and beauty be awakened in us.Snowy Sunrise

Dawn Rhythms

Crescent Moon at DawnOne morning on Star Island, I heard the cardinal at 4 a.m. Closer to first light. The waning crescent moon was hung over a deep pink rainbow of a skyline. I began to wonder why we don’t always get up with the light. It is actually quite bright in the hour between dawn and sunrise.

Before that summer, I had used the words dawn and sunrise interchangeably, but I learned that dawn refers to the first light that comes before sunrise. There is so much of it. Enough to read and write in my journal. We could save a lot of electricity if we got up at first light, and went to bed earlier. Of course, that is the logic behind daylight savings time, where we set the clock ahead so that we wake up an hour earlier during the longer days.

But what would it be like if our world was oriented to the rising and setting of the sun? Then every day we’d rise a little later or earlier than the day before. Because the sunrise changes every day. We’d have long days in the summer, and short days in the winter. The earliest sunrise in Maine comes in mid June, just before 5 a.m. daylight savings time. (That would be 4 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.) The latest sunrise comes about 7:15 at the end of December, except, because of time changes, it actually gets to 7:22 in early November, before we fall back with the changing of the clocks.

So, people might say that it wouldn’t be practical, in our world, to plan our day according to the sun. We plan our lives according to the clock. But what do we lose by that? While I was trying to discover the natural rhythm of dawn, I could feel how disconnected I was from all natural rhythms. Rising at dawn is a way to deepen my relationship with the seasons of the earth, and to the sun, and to the birds. But it makes me wonder, “Why do we try to shape the earth to our demands? Why don’t we try to shape ourselves to the rhythms of the earth?” And what might happen if we changed that pattern?

Cultures and religions the world over have honored the sacredness of dawn, the sacredness of the sun. Our word “sun” comes from the Old English, “sunne,” which was related to the Germanic sun goddess, “Sunna.” It shows up in our everyday language—the day of our worship is called Sunday. Christian monks, and Hindu priests rise at dawn; Muslims during Ramadan, as well as Indigenous peoples across many cultures. There is something in our human life that wants to be attuned to the life of the earth, which looks for beauty and joy in these simple rhythms.

Moving Toward East

I feel awe and wonder when I watch the sun come up in the morning and also when it goes down in the evening. Its beauty and grandeur can be breathtaking. It gives me even greater awe and wonder to realize that it is actually we on the earth who are moving, turning toward or away from our view of the sun. Science has taught us that. The earth spins on its axis once every twenty four hours, and this spinning creates our day and night. I may know all this intellectually, but I must use my imagination to experience it: see if you can, too. You can try this anytime, but it is most vivid at a sunrise or sunset.

Face the east just before sunrise.
Imagine yourself riding on the surface of the round earth sphere,
almost like riding in a car, looking out the front window.
We are speeding forward further and further until suddenly the sun comes into view. Feel yourself moving!

Later, just before sunset, face the west.
Again imagine yourself on the surface of this huge globe.
This time, like a child looking out the rear window of a car,
see that we are speeding away from everything until the sun slips from our sight.
We’re always moving toward the east!

It would make us dizzy to be aware of this motion all the time. But for a moment, we can be dizzy with the wonder of it all. Scientific knowledge can bring us to an awareness of reality beyond what we can see with our own eyes. Spirituality is when that awareness moves from the dry realm of intellect into the visceral experience of awe and wonder. The natural world is the original holy book, the original sacred text: the earliest forms of religion were responses to the mysteries of the earth and sky. As our ability to read this book of the universe grows, our spiritual practices are trying to catch up.

Dawn at Star IslandMargy and I traveled to Star Island, a conference center that is an island off the coast of New Hampshire. It is a rather small island—you can see the water from almost every place on it. It turned out that the windows in our tiny room faced the east. The next morning, through my open window, of course I heard a cardinal singing before sunrise. “Come outside!” it seemed to say, once again.

Right beyond the door of our room was a porch facing east, with rocking chairs on it. I could crawl out of bed wrapped in a blanket, and sit in a rocking chair to watch the sun rise over the ocean. That day, the clouds formed variegated patterns of pink and orange, blazing up through the whole eastern sky. The cardinals jumped from bush to bush close to where I was rocking in my chair.Rocking Chairs

Watching the beauty of the sunrise during the next several days, I was again thinking about how the sun generates its own energy, how all the stars do that. We on earth are more like children, we are utterly dependent on this light-being for all our needs. All of the energy human beings generate and use all over the earth relies on the sun as its ultimate source. The whole sphere of life on earth is a child of the sun. Yet the sun is so personal too. We can feel its touch on our faces—it is as personal as the vitamin D that it creates through our skin.

The poet Hafiz said,

Even
After
All this time
The sun never says to earth,
You owe
Me.”
Look
What happens
With a love like that.
It lights the
Whole
Sky.

 Poem from The Gift: Poems by Hafiz, The Great Sufi Master, translations by Daniel Ladinsky