I walk in two worlds, in many ways. Another way I walk in two worlds is in my faith walk. I Walk the Red Road, and then some.
To walk the Red Road is to follow a traditional Indigenous spiritual path.
I identify spiritually as a Native American Traditionalist / Christian. I am closely tied to the Earth, to the elements, to the cycles of the created world, to the two-leggeds, the four-leggeds, the swimmers, the winged ones, the plants, and the rock people—all beings alongside which humankind was created.
My belief system is a spiritual basket, which is made of / and is lined with Traditional Native American / Indigenous beliefs, practices and rituals, but also contains beauty and wonder from other faith traditions and worldviews as well. The weaving of Christian beliefs, rituals, and practices into my spiritual basket, does in no way negate, or diminish my traditional beliefs.
Conversely the Native American traditional framework in no way compromises my Christianity. My lived experience is that the Indigenous and the Christian components enhance and strengthen one another.
I could not be the person of faith I am, I could not be the Christian that I am, without this integration.
Rituals and ceremonies from both traditions are equally sacred to me; there is no hierarchy. When I am participating in ceremonies and rituals with my Indigenous circle, and when I am participating in worship and sacrament in my Christian church, the engagement, the drawing close, the transformative power of those moments, is Sacred. During gatherings in my Indigenous circle, the teachings we give and receive, the songs we sing, the rituals we use, and the practices we share have been handed down and held preciously by our ancestors.
We come together not only to preserve our cultural-spiritual heritage, but also to commune with our Creator in gratitude and humility, as a gathered community. Regardless of the ceremony, Creator is in that sacred space, at that moment alongside me—it is a time of Sacred connection.
The sacrament of Communion is similarly a moment of Sacred connection. For me during the sacrament—Christ is actually there, in the room. When the elements are consecrated and the words of institution spoken—the combination of honour, gratitude, invitation, and acknowledgement creates a door through which Christ walks. The room gets joyously crowded with the spirits of ancestors, the spirit of Christ my Sacred Sibling, and the gathered community of faith.
Communion is a place where my Indigenous traditional beliefs and practices inform my Christian ones.
One example of this is that as the bread and the cup come to me, I take off my glasses. This practice of respect and preparation comes from my Indigenous teachings. When I remove human made barriers between my face, and the face of Spirit, it is a surrender, a “here I am.” I want to feel the Holy breath upon me. I do this during pipe ceremonies in the longhouse, and I do it in church as well.
In that moment when I have the elements in my hand, and I look into the face of the Pastor, and hear their blessing words, I feel a beautiful melding of the bounty of the Creation and the Spiritual presence of Christ. At that moment there is a vibrating link between Christ, and me, the Pastor—and the other spirits in the room—and every soul who has ever taken communion. During Indigenous ceremonies it is the same. We step into the wordless center as one. A complex and endless network through covenant is created. It is important, and Sacred and I almost always cry due to the overwhelming nature of these experiences.
The blessed mystery that is our amazing Creator God manifests during the sacrament and during Indigenous traditional ceremonies. I experience moments when the Holy Breath of our Divine Beloved thins out the mists that veil my understanding of the divine complexity, and for a Sacred moment, I can grasp the enormity of it all. Only for a moment—but that moment is so precious to me, so vital.
My integrated faith walk is the path I am meant to follow, but how did I arrive at this place?
It is not easy for some folks to wrap their heads around this multifaith experience. Walking in two worlds presents challenges on both sides of my spiritual space. Some Christians expect that my identity as Christian, by definition, excludes all other spiritual expressions. They assume that I have “left all of that native stuff behind.”
When I began to explore and engage Christianity about five years ago, I took great care, and great care was taken with me as the possibility of integrating Christianity with my traditional Indigenous beliefs was revealed. I was extremely fortunate to receive the extravagant welcome and radical hospitality in my first Christian church, a congregation of the United Church of Christ.
The pastor at the time, who helped me turn so many difficult corners, gave me an amazing gift when she told me “I am so glad you are here—it is great to get to know you! But don’t you DARE set aside other things that you do, practices that have meaning for you, rituals that fill you and lift you up, for anything we do here, don’t you dare!”
This empowered me to explore what I was feeling, that a true integration was my path, Walking the Red Road—and then some.
A factor for me, and for many Indigenous people is that Christianity is the religion of the oppressor, the religion of colonization, which did great and irrevocable harm to our cultures and obliterated untold numbers of our ancestors. For this reason Indigenous people who are spiritually engaged in Indigenous societies may experience significant backlash from their community when they engage in Christian worship, enjoy Christian fellowship and find those engagements enriching.
Indigenous people have plenty to be angry about when it comes to Christianity! For Indigenous peoples of North America in the late 19th century, Christianity meant forced assimilation and cultural obliteration. It meant that our ancestors were abruptly, systematically, and totally deprived of their Indigeneity. Some indigenous people cannot imagine aligning with Christianity for that reason. Some of my Indigenous community cannot understand nor “forgive” my baptism, my integration of Christianity with my traditional Indigenous beliefs, and particularly not my studies at a Christian seminary.
I identify as Two Spirit, which encompasses my sexual identity, my gender identity, and my Indigenous identity. In short I am a queer Indigenous person, which has its own set of complexities. My experience as a Two Spirit Native Traditionalist / Christian means that factors of gender, culture, spirituality, and heritage are all moving parts in the complex dynamic of my life. I am fully aware that I have blind spots and biases. I am very sensitive to colonial influences and may react more strongly to those than others might do. I am a fully flawed, and beautifully broken human. I believe that my brokenness increases my capacity for empathy and lovingkindness exponentially. I am devout in my faith walk. I believe that my Two Spirit Indigenous / Christian experience equips me to be more fluid and flexible, and enables me to see and experience people where and how they are, it helps me to be accepting, and fully present with folks.
I believe that God created us all to be precisely who we are, precisely as we are.
I believe that the gift of our unique identity is to be cherished and nurtured. That looks very different for each of us. This has been revealed in my life via my faith walk. I believe that our common connection to the Divine is embedded in the very core of who we are, in this reality, we are whole and we are reconciled. My identity as Native Traditionalist / Christian has caused more than a few people to ask if I wasn’t a walking contradiction, and to that I say: “No, my identity as a Native Traditionalist / Christian is an embodiment of reconciliation.”
Indigenous cultures and Christianity have a long history of oppression; mistrust and opposition, and are still viewed by many as warring factions. This could have caused a fatal fracture of my Spirit, but by living authentically, I have found blessed integration, reconciliation, and peace.
Aho is a word in the language of my People, the Lakota. It is difficult to adequately translate due to Anglo language limitations, but the word encompasses “I understand, I affirm what you have said, Amen, Thank You and I am full and could not possibly hold any more.”
Photo provided by Lynn Young