One of the blogs I visit often is “Walking the Drum”. I stopped by today, and caught up on recent posts. As I read, I was heartened by his humility and gratitude to the spirits. In one recent post he wrote about an encounter with the sacred, an encounter that was life changing:
“I closed my eyes, took a long, deep breath, and turned myself completely over to Spirit. Because I was scared, I knew in that moment that all I could do was step forward; and that all those times of praying in lodges to have everything removed that could possibly divert me from walking this road had finally come home to roost.”
Reading this, I began thinking about another encounter with the spirits, an encounter with an as yet unknown outcome.
Recently, on a lovely day, sunny and breezy, and a tad cool, the cat and I sat on the back porch and drummed and sang to the spirits and the world. I had been asked to aid a person seriously ill with smoking induced disease. When I journeyed for guidance, I was shown a complex problem. The client lives in a vastly different culture in far country, the heart of the tobacco industry’s advertising campaigns and, as a result, the source of much tobacco generated wealth and illness. Tobacco advertisers do not explain the sacred nature of the plant to potential buyers, perhaps because the sacred use of tobacco does not encourage addiction. Yet, the spirit of tobacco expressed offense at the client’s (from the spirit’s perspective) misuse of cigarettes.
I found myself trying to explain the client’s innocence to the tobacco spirit, and asking forgiveness for the client. The spirit insisted repeatedly that the client also to apologize. Each time, a crow flew by and called. I again tried to explain to the spirit that the sacredness of tobacco gets lost in translation between cultures.
All this brought my thoughts to the harm done by the commodification of the sacred. I found myself wondering whether Grandmother Corn is offended by the growing of corn to make ethanol, when the production of ethanol simultaneously pollutes the air and water, and drives up the cost of food worldwide. Does the spirit of coca recoil at the production of cocaine? How does the keeper of waters experience our polluting and selling water? I realized that in each case, the misuse of sacred medicine results in addiction and suffering, always seemingly driven by hard-heartedness and greed.
I saw clearly that my client suffered as a result of the heartlessness of others. I also understood, as the spirit had insisted, that not knowing better was an insufficient excuse for failing to apologize. Still, I urged compassion; sometimes, forgiveness is the just outcome.
Today, as I read “Walking’s” post, I found myself seeing this meeting with illness as also a meeting with the sacred. I wondered whether I could, faced with the same choices, find gratitude and humility, and apologize for any inadvertent wrong done to the spirits? Might I, confronted with a vastly different culture’s beliefs, set aside my cultural expectations and trust spirit? Perhaps, I thought, I, too, have underestimated the magnitude of the task.