An Exchange of Gifts
The summer solstice, the longest day of the year, will occur on Wednesday this week, June 21st. The solstice is a sacred day for many people around the world, including many Indigenous peoples on this land. To honour this, the Anglican Church of Canada has designated the Sunday closest to the solstice, today, as National Indigenous Day of Prayer. Many of the prayers we are using today, the selection of scriptures and their translation have been prepared for us and offered to us as a gift by Indigenous Anglicans. This is a gift that we receive today with gratitude and joy.
Two weeks from now the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada will meet in Calgary. At General Synod, Indigenous Anglicans will present “The Covenant and Our Way of Life”, the founding document for the self-determining Indigenous church which will walk alongside the Anglican Church of Canada as a full, equal but separate, self-governing partner. This is an important moment in what has been a long and difficult journey. When ‘Our Way of Life’ is presented at General Synod, there will be a great celebration. People will dance with joy.
On this National Indigenous Day of Prayer, let me share with you some of the voices of Indigenous Anglicans by reading for you a small extract from Our Way of Life.
“Our Way of Life is a document outlining the fundamentals of the Indigenous Anglican church. We have always been spiritual, living under a Creator, and we continue to live into how we walk with Christ through expression in this document, Our Way of Life. It summarizes our holy journey to re-experience Christ as our ancestors did in the early days of Christianity in North America when our traditional beliefs, culture and spirituality and economic systems were strong and many of our ancestors initially welcomed Christ into their lives in that context. . . .
‘Our Way of Life’ outlines how we as Indigenous Anglicans choose to encounter the living Christ today. It outlines our relationships with each other and with the Creator, combining the real and symbolic ways of our ancestors – through the circle of life where all creation is related and living a ‘good life’ means keeping human existence and all of Creation in balance with the natural and spiritual world . . .
Our Way of Life is not about going back to an idealized time in our history. Rather, we are reclaiming what was dispossessed from us and what the Creator called us to be. We are coming home. We have tried to identify what we as Indigenous Peoples remember and recall through our Elders and stories. We all agree that, by and large, there is a strong correspondence between our traditional spiritualities and biblical theology, with our Creator being the God and Living Christ of the Bible. The Christian teachings and values resonated strongly with us. While we have different cultural ways and languages across the Lands and Waters, we all share a traditional belief that we must live in harmony.”[i]
There is a graciousness in the words of Indigenous Anglicans expressed here that is remarkable, perhaps even miraculous, in light of the long and difficult relationship between Indigenous peoples and the Anglican Church of Canada.
At General Synod in 2019, Archbishop Fred Hiltz acknowledged the sin of the Anglican Church and the harms inflicted on Indigenous Peoples with these words on behalf of the Anglican Church of Canada:
“Today, I offer this apology for our cultural and spiritual arrogance toward all Indigenous Peoples – First Nations, Inuit and Métis – and the harm we inflicted on you. I do this at the desire of many across the Church, at the call of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, and at the request and with the authority of the Council of the General Synod.
I confess our sin in failing to acknowledge that as First Peoples living here for thousands of years, you had a spiritual relationship with the Creator and with the Land. We did not care enough to learn how your spirituality has always infused your governance, social structures and family life.
I confess our sin in demonizing Indigenous spiritualities, and in belittling the traditional teachings of your Grandmothers and Grandfathers preserved and passed on through the elders.
I confess the sin of our arrogance in dismissing Indigenous Spiritualities and disciplines as incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus, and insisting that there is no place for them in Christian Worship.
I confess our sin in acts such as smothering the smudges, forbidding the pipes, stopping the drums, hiding the masks, destroying the totem poles, silencing the songs, stilling the dances, and banning the potlatches. With deep remorse, I acknowledge the intergenerational spiritual harm caused by our actions.
I confess our sin in declaring the teachings of the medicine wheel to be pagan and primitive.
I confess our sin in robbing your children and youth of the opportunity to know their spiritual ancestry and the great wealth of its wisdom and guidance for living in a good way with the Creator, the land and all peoples.
For such shameful behaviours, I am very sorry.”[ii]
As the apology delivered by Archbishop Hiltz makes clear, walking forward together as non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples will not be easy. But according to Dr. Ray Aldred, an ordained Anglican priest and status Néhiyawak, or Cree, from Treaty 8, the Swan River Band, one of the resources that we can develop to help us walk forward together is a shared spirituality. According to Dr. Aldred,
“There’s a need for us, as peoples, to develop a shared spirituality, a spirituality that supports our unity but does so recognizing our diversity. Néhiyawak (Cree), like all other Indigenous peoples, live in a way that recognizes spirituality as a basis of all life, and all living. Quite simply, human beings are spiritual creatures. We need a shared spirituality of unity that nonetheless still recognizes the differences between non-Indigenous and Indigenous life and experience.”[iii]
How can we develop a shared spirituality?
One way that I like to think about shared spirituality is as an exchange of gifts. Just this week an Indigenous person, a Haida person, told me the story of when the first Christian missionaries arrived on Haida Gwaii. When the missionaries spoke of their faith to the Haida, the Haida elders responded, “We have always known about the one God, the Creator. But we did not know about Jesus. Thank you for telling us.” The news about Jesus was offered and received as a gift.
Today we have received gifts from Indigenous Anglicans: the prayers that we are using, the scripture passages that have been selected for us, the bible translation we use today, taken from the First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament, and the document from which I have been reading, Our Way of Life. We receive these gifts with gratitude.
The scripture texts themselves remind us of two particular spiritual gifts that have been offered to us by Indigenous peoples.
The first is the gift of an intimate relationship with creation, a creation spirituality, a reminder that God can be beautifully, powerfully and intimately experienced in nature, in the things and animals and people that Creator has made and in whom the Great Spirit lives. Our scriptures today acknowledge this with awe and wonder.
“Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name”
“The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows the handiwork of the Lord. One day tells its tale to another and one night imparts knowledge to another.”
“Through the Word all things came into being and not one thing exists that he did not create. Creator’s life shined out from the Word, giving light to all human beings.”
This creation spirituality can be found throughout Our Way of Life. Indigenous peoples believe in a “circle of life where all creation is related and living a ‘good life’ means keeping human existence and all of Creation in balance with the natural and spiritual world” and kinship includes “animals, birds, creatures of the water and spirits.”
The second spiritual gift offered by Indigenous peoples that I’d like to mention today is the gift of dance. Our reading from Philippians, in the wonderful translation that we heard today, reminds us that we are to dance with joy before the Lord, Our Honoured Chief. “I will say it again, dance with joy!” You know, I think that many of us, myself included, could use a little more dancing in our lives. If you’d like to experience some dancing, I encourage you to go to the Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival that begins this Wednesday here in Ottawa, and especially the Pow-Wow that will take place next weekend.
Let me conclude with words offered in 2019 by Archbishop Hiltz:
“At one time, we banned expressions of Indigenous spirituality in Christian worship. Having seen the error of our ways we are now encouraging such expressions.”
On this National Indigenous Day of Prayer, in this season when we recommit ourselves to walking forward together with Indigenous Anglicans, let us receive the spiritual gifts offered by Indigenous peoples with gratitude and joy.
And maybe even a little dancing.
Homily. NIDP. June 18 2023. Trinity
Readings: Isaiah 40.25-31; Psalm 19; Philippians 4.4-9; John 1.1-18
[i] Sacred Circle. “The Covenant and Our Way of Life” p 5-6. [ii] An Apology for Spiritual Harm, Offered by the Primate on Behalf of the Anglican Church of Canada. https://www.anglican.ca/news/an-apology-for-spiritual-harm/30024511/ [iii] Raymond Aldred and Matthew Anderson, Our Home and Treaty Land, p 26