Sunday, February 25, 2007

Variety is the ...essence of life?

Trinity @ 7
February 25, 2007

There is a lot we can learn about God and ourselves from nature. Perhaps this is not news to you – perhaps you’ve felt all along that a hike in the woods is more than just a nice walk, that a waterfall is more than just lots of water going from there to here, that that brief and exquisite moment where you looked the hawk, or bear, or deer in the eye was more than just a fluke of nature. Perhaps you already knew this – or, you deeply suspected it, or maybe it was just a niggling little notion in the back of your head that kept popping up at random times. Perhaps you already knew.

I, from time to time, have suspected it, but you know, then when that moment with nature has passed, well, I move right along and I’m back to feeling like “nature” is something apart from who I am and it’s as if the moment has never occurred. I continue on along with my life, seemingly unchanged by the experience. There are a lot of reasons why my reaction might be common, and I think our culture plays a big part. By that I mean that our culture – personified in the average American – doesn’t assign any intrinsic value to nature, to the natural world. That is our culture assigns no intrinsic value to nature besides, maybe, beauty, which is subjective at best.

But you know, the Plains Indians, for instance, have a spirituality that is deeply rooted in nature. All the Native Peoples do. There’s a sacred symbol for the Plains Indians, called the Medicine Wheel. There’s a bit of a write up about it in the front cover of the Worship Guide tonight. That write up will tell you what the circle means, and what the lines mean, and what the feather means. But you know, the most fascinating thing – from my own perspective – about the Medicine Wheel, is that there are a certain few parts of the symbolism that are pretty universal to every person and every tribe that incorporates it, but beyond that, the symbolism is going to change from tribe to tribe, even from individual to individual. To be exact, the circle has a specific meaning: it’s the sacred outer boundary of the Earth. The horizontal line has a specific meaning: it’s the sacred path of the sun. the vertical line has a specific meaning: it’s the sacred walk of humanity. The point where the two lines meet has a specific meaning: it’s the center of the Earth, which is where you stand, when you pray. (What a thought!) And the Eagle feather that is tied to the center has a specific meaning: it’s the Great Spirit, that is present and powerful. Those are the specific meanings.

But there are also the four directions – and their meanings change from tribe to tribe, individual to individual. And there are the associated animals – and their exact meanings, their placement, their quantity is all subject to change from tribe to tribe, individual to individual.

I find this utterly fascinating because in all of these different interpretations, I’ve not heard one word of argument. I haven’t heard of one tribe being angry at another tribe’s interpretation. I haven’t heard one person denouncing the viewpoint of another. And perhaps that is because it’s not about getting the interpretation ‘right’ – that misses the point. The point is that this understanding of the spiritual life offers wisdom, inspires a healthy way of living with other people, with the land, with yourself, and with the Great Spirit. This understanding of the spiritual life offers comfort when comfort is needed, and it offers challenge when challenge is required. To offer all that it has to offer to such a variety of people, the meanings gathered from the Medicine Wheel need to be flexible, and the variety of interpretation is a strength.

What a lovely thought – a variety of interpretations as a strength, not a weakness. I know a few institutions that could learn from this model. What would it mean for our political structure to value the diversity of interpretation as a strength instead of something to be conquered? What would it mean for the church to do so? Not just this church, or the National body of churches that this particular one belongs to, but every Christian gathering everywhere?

What a radical thought. It would mean a lot of changes, I bet. Mudslinging and character assassinations would be the first to go in politics, maybe. And in the Church? Well, theological debate aside, the entire dichotomy of orthodoxy and heresy (orthodoxy being ‘the one, correct way to believe’, and heresy being ‘the wrong way to believe’) it goes right out the window. Orthodoxy and heresy goes right out the window, because suddenly a variety of interpretations is a strength, again. Just like it was in the first three hundred years.

The Medicine Wheel. It’s an interesting symbol. And if we think about the wisdom this symbol has to offer us - and more than think, because sometimes we get stuck in the thinking – if we act on the wisdom this symbol has to offer us, what would that mean? What would that mean in our lives, and in everything our lives touch?


Fran said...

Rock on, girl! You did it!


Anonymous said...

I think I can understand your description of spirituality being drawn from nature. I think that many people can understand the spirituality contained in those special moments in nature (at least I hope I can myself). The trick seems to be holding those moments with you and applying them to everyday life.

But can you offer any insights into how to recognize and draw such spirituality from mundane life....from things like, even a cup of espresso with lots of sugar? I have a feeling it has to be there somewhere....

...or I could be just totally off.