This past weekend wubby and I attended a conference for foster and adoptive families. The conference is held yearly locally and we try to attend as often as we can.
The hotel was a complete bust (served cold food and put us into a dirty room and took two hours to move us) but the conference was pretty good.
We had registered in advance for some aboriginal training which we do at every opportunity but the presenter was unable to attend and the session was cancelled which was a huge bummer because we had to find alternative sessions at the last minute to join. There was a session on Child Sexual Abuse which I KNOW is important but I was not feeling emotionally "prepared" to sit through the session and another on dealing with adolescents - which I have a few years yet to prepare myself for. Basically my remaining options were limited to one. It was something about claiming your magnificent self ...
It was extremely touchy feeling and a LOT of sharing deep personal thoughts and feelings. I have to say it isn't something I would volunteer for again considering the group we were with.
In the entire group Shel and I are the only gay couple. MOST of the foster parents in the area are very religious and to be honest, not the most inclusive group I have ever been a part of.
We do have a few good friends that it is always nice to see but we ended up in different sessions at this conference for some reason.
On Sunday Shel went to a session on building resiliency in children and teens and I went to a session on Aboriginal culture and Christianity. The presenters were a Catholic nun and an Aboriginal elder. The purpose of the session as outlined in the program was to have the presenters show the similarities between Christian ritual and Aboriginal ceremony. MOST of the people in the session were the people who are very vocal about their "Christian" lifestyle.
In every aboriginal session I have ever attended there is a smudging ceremony at the beginning. The presenters outlined that there would be a prayer from the nun and then a smudge from the elder. One person raised her hand and said that in her understanding a smudging ceremony was inviting aboriginal spirits to enter the room and stated that she was not comfortable in her religion to invite any spirit that was not from God.
The nun responded to her inquiry and stated that a smudge was like a prayer. I have included a link where you can read more info about smudging because I am in no way an expert, but what was explained was that all ceremonies must be entered into with a good heart so that we can pray, sing, and walk in a sacred manner. When the sweetgrass is brought to the people in the circle each individual wafts the smoke over their head, eyes, ears, mouth, heart and then down over the body. The whole process takes about two minutes per person.
The elder was very clear that if you were uncomfortable smudging that you could hold your hand over your heart or step back out of the circle and you would be passed over and there was no judgement on whether you smudged or not. The nun explained that when she smudged she prayed to her father in heaven that her heart, mind, eyes and ears would be open to the process about to take place so that she would learn and not pass judgement.
PERSONALLY, I like the idea. I think it is a cool way to start a meeting. It is a great reminder to take a minute, think about what you are about to do, why you are doing it, and commit to be a part of the process if a positive way. AS the smoke rises to heaven thoughts are on the creator and the role he plays in all our interactions.
Unfortunately this was not sufficient for the person who asked the question because she chose to leave the group and not attend the session. Others also left the room rather than be present for the smudge.
Of those of us that remained more than HALF did not participate in the smudging.
The session continued, each presenter sharing personal experience and knowledge with the group. Then we were invited to take part in a pipe ceremony.
I have never been a part of a pipe ceremony but I was amazed and awed by the fact that this elder was willing to share something of his own spirituality that is so significant. ESPECIALLY in a group that was obviously not completely open to the ideas surrounding his beliefs.
It was an honor to participate. It was absolutely beautiful. Again, many people chose not to participate.
At the end of the session there was a sharing circle. The eagle feather was passed and each person in the group was able to share.
I said thank-you to the presenters for sharing their wisdom and knowledge. Some of the people still felt as though Native Spirituality was in conflict with their native beliefs.
I have been thinking and thinking about the experience and I WISH I had shared some of my feelings to the group. I am obviously still struggling with finding my "voice" because what I wanted to say was this: (good thing I have a blog to "spew" on!)
I am a returned missionary for my CHRISTIAN church. I lived my entire life, served a mission, held positions of leadership and gave my time (and my heart) to proselytize for the church that I am not welcome in. My spouse and I have approached churches in our community and asked if we may bring our family to worship with them and we have been told that we are NOT welcome.
(I have to interject here that we have friends who attend a church locally who have invited us to join them and when we asked if we would be welcome they told us not to worry what anyone said but to go anyway. While we appreciate their support, it is not a resounding welcome from the community to our family!)
We have been judged, condemned, and rejected by EVERY Christian organization we have communicated with since arriving in our community.
Not once, not EVER have we been rejected, judged or treated differently by Aboriginal people in ceremonies we have attended. NEVER.
In the circle we sat in at the conference the Aboriginal leader welcomed all, regardless of belief, regardless of whether or not individuals wanted to participate. He said to everyone, "Come into my circle".
The people who rejected the message - self proclaimed "Christians".
I don't understand it. I have read the Bible (more times than many would believe). Christianity is so far removed from Christ it is unrecognizable to me.
I am so grateful for the BLESSING of being able to pray to and thank my Creator in a space where I believe he walked, and it wasn't a church.