Ceremonies of Renewal

Today is one of those spectacular late winter days, where the sun sits high in the southern sky, just in the treetops, and light snow falls in large flakes. There is enough light through the thin clouds to cast shadows across the snow covered landscape. The seed in the bird feeder dwindles steadily as the birds seek breakfast. It’s cold, 15 degrees this morning, but the wind, which made yesterday feel frigid, has calmed. After breakfast, one of us will fill the feeder.

I’ve been reading Laugrand and Oosten’s book, Inuit Shamanism and Christianity. This book discusses the synthesis of Christianity and shamanism in the Canadian North, and the resulting movement to heal the people and the land. My finally beginning to read this book, about the interweaving of Christianity and traditional beliefs amongst the Inuit people, coincided with a recent conversation I had with one of my friends from the Six Nations. He is active in his local Christian community, yet considers himself very much a traditionalist as an Indian. He also works very hard to keep the two sides properly apart, as is his understanding of the Mohawk way. Like those discussed in the book, he sees much good coming from both traditions, even as he acknowledges the harm done by some in each community.

Part of the restoration of  health in communities in the Far North has been a series of gatherings in which the people of a community, irregardless of their ethnic origins, acknowledged the harm their kind had done to the others, apologized, and committed themselves to repairing the damage. As described in the text, these ceremonies, facilitated by a team of evangelical, indigenous, healers from Fuji, and local Inuit, supported people speaking truth to one another, face to face. Often, another ceremony followed, in which the Earth, in the form of the local landscape, was apologized to. This second round of truth-telling acknowledged the breaking of ancient taboos, interpersonal violence within the community, and ecological wrongs. Prayers were said to the land, and gifts given. Following such ceremonies, local communities have noticed rapid changes to the land, demonstrating renewal. These have included the reappearance of trees to long deforested areas, and an increase in game animals, and other wildlife.

In it’s own, sometimes similar, way, family therapy may provide deep healing. Ideally, blame is set aside, compassion comes to the fore, and a sort of moral transformation occurs. As a result, family members become less isolated, and the family unit more spacious. Near the conclusion of family therapy, a ceremony may be held for the couple or family, in which family members acknowledge their contributions to the family’s suffering and troubles, ask for – and receive – forgiveness, and commit themselves to a shared vision and moral code moving forward. This ceremony is performed before ancestors and spiritual beings evoked by the family. When applicable, the always listening land is invited to witness this important transition in the family’s life, and, sometimes, to share in the healing. The family may also invite friends and extended family to witness their determination and courage.

Reading Inuit Shamanism and Christianity, I was reminded, anew, of the power inherent in ceremony. Communities, families, and couples can all benefit from ceremony, compassionate truth telling, reconciliation, and a firm and strong commitment to going forward peaceably, and collaboratively, together. There is comfort in knowing the ancestors, spirits, and landscape are listening to, and supporting, us as we work to bring our lives into harmony. There is power in knowing we walk this life road with the blessings and support of a larger community. There is joy in healing, and in offering healing to the Earth.

May it continue.

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