The Healing Circle

The Healing Circle October 19, 2014

Elsie Dennis
Photo credit: Kaze Gadway

What can we do to heal ourselves? How can we begin to heal from the sin of racism? Sin keeps us from being in full relationship with our Creator and each other.

Circles are strong symbols in many Native cultures. In nature, we see the sun, moon, Earth, and stars as circles. The seasons seem circular from the coldness and quiet of winter, to new growth in the spring and summer, and harvest time during the autumn. Life is a circle.

From my classes at the Native Ministries Consortium at the Vancouver School of Theology in Vancouver, B.C., we learned that the indigenous peoples did not have words for “religion” and “sin.” Our spiritual lives are interwoven with our very being, and we did not recognize any separation between our physical and spiritual lives. Worship was not compartmentalized to be done only on Sundays. Native days began and ended with prayer. Often, prayers were prayers of thanksgiving for a good harvest, for having enough, for comfort, sustenance, and beauty.

Sin was also a foreign concept. Native people saw life as a circle, and that behavior an individual needed to change would keep reappearing in that person’s life until he or she made better choices. Relatives would provide guidance and wisdom.

Healing also can be viewed in a circle with four quadrants. The first being awareness. We must pray for open hearts and open minds that are receptive to listening and learning. We must educate ourselves on issues of oppression, see the marginalized, and stay informed.

This means going beyond the history taught in schools, and learning about the Doctrine of Discovery, a series of papal bulls that sanctioned the enslavement of peoples on the coast of West Africa and in the Americas, the taking of indigenous land, and killing those peoples when deemed as being non-cooperative to the King and Queen’s wishes. Native people endured forced relocations, rape, enslavement, their children taken away and sent to boarding schools, attempted loss of language, customs, traditions, and attempted genocide.

An estimate of the indigenous populations of the Americas was 90 to 112 million when Christopher Columbus first arrived. By the 1900 U.S. Census, the Native population of the United States had been reduced to almost 250,000. Despite efforts to kill off and legislation to assimilate, Native people and cultures have endured and thrived.

The second component for healing is forgiveness on and by all sides. As difficult and painful and even nonsensical as this may be, we cannot move forward without forgiving the past and ongoing misdeeds. This does not mean accepting, approving, or minimizing past and current injustice. This means we recognize the sin, we are remorseful, that we repent, turning away from the sin of racism, and vow not to participate in it any longer.

These next sentences are difficult to write and I’m speculating may seem harsh to read. For Native people this means turning away from lateral oppression, internalized racism, and the hurt we do and have done to one another. The oppressed become oppressors themselves. We may question and put down those not seen as “being Native enough” or focus on perceptions of reservation versus urban-based divisions. Throughout history we have seen this happen, an oppressed group, such as the Puritans moving to America, and then they in turn become oppressive toward the Native people they meet.

The third part of this circle of healing is reconciliation. We must be in right relationship with each other. This will take prayers, time, meeting one another on neutral ground, good listening, patience, asking questions, waiting, and more listening. Assumptions must be left behind. The new must come ahead of what was tried and not done in the past. A joint commitment needs to be developed, understood and made in mutual agreement. Reconciliation is ongoing work calling for review of what’s occurring, what still needs to be done, and what’s next.

A final component of this healing circle is action. From the work of reconciliation, perhaps areas needing attention were identified. Action must be agreed upon by both parties. “We want to help. How do you need us to be helpful?” This can be anything from helping form an after-school homework assistance program to writing letters to the editor about supporting a name change for a sports team to peaceful participation in a march drawing attention to injustice.

In our Baptismal Covenant, we are asked and then respond:

“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”

The People: “I will, with God’s help.”

“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”

The People: “I will, with God’s help.” Those sentences are among our personal and corporate mission statements to bring Creator’s love into world, build up God’s kingdom now, and share Jesus’ messages of forgiveness, reconciliation, transformation, and peace.

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