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Two Rivers Leading to One Ocean

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Native and Celtic Spirituality

Two Rivers Leading to One Ocean
Sunday, July 5, 2015

In the next stage of my “wisdom lineage,” non-dual teachers of all religions, I will introduce themes from two different rivers of spirituality, each with a variety of streams and rivulets that feed the larger bodies. For the sake of convenience I will call these themes “Native” and “Celtic.” These simplistic labels encompass a great deal of variety and unique distinctions of place, time, tribe, and individual. It’s all too easy to make generalizations that are not true of every group or person. Still, they have been influential in shaping my own worldview and spirituality, and I will share the pieces I can honestly name.

If it seems I veer into romanticizing or appropriating another culture’s treasures as my own, please forgive me. Though I have no direct link to Native American religion, I have great respect for their cultures and what I occasionally witness here in New Mexico, where we live in the midst of the Pueblo, Navajo, and Apache peoples. I am especially grateful that in 1969, as a young deacon, I was assigned to serve in the Pueblo of Acoma. But I only know enough to know that I don’t know much at all! Native spirituality is not intended for non-Native use or understanding. When we try to interpret or apply these teachings in our own context, we run the risk of “drastic adaptation” and “severe reinterpretation to fit our conceptions of reality.” [1]

I also don’t want to give the impression that all people or practices in these traditions were always highly enlightened; my guess is they likely had a similar amount of non-practitioners and non-believers as we do in organized religion today. It is important to know that early level development and final stages of maturity can often appear similar from the outside. Immature fantasy or mere superstition can first be mistaken for authentic mystical experience. Using Ken Wilber’s terms, this is the fallacy of identifying pre-rational stages as truly trans-rational. The pre-rational stage, sometimes evident in primal or tribal people, is not bad or wrong; it is simply naïve and limited. All religion normally begins at the pre-rational stage. Moreover, even in lower stages of consciousness, someone may occasionally experience moments (or states) of high-level consciousness, and yet they normally return to their current stage of development. Under stress, behavior can reveal if the person is pre-rational or truly trans-rational. Hopefully we continue maturing, developing through rational and conflictual situations, until the soul has normally led to a true non-dual consciousness that is characterized by empathy, selflessness, and freedom from self and fear. Lived outwardly, the inner experience of union moves us toward compassion, justice, and inclusivity.

So with all these caveats, I hope you will find in this week’s meditations further invitations to grow beyond the mere rational stage, to receive the gift of wisdom wherever you find it. For now, take a few minutes to rest your mind in silence. Perhaps use the “Gateway to Silence” as a mantra or sacred word to lead you into contemplative prayer. Father Thomas Keating, a master teacher of Centering Prayer, suggests that one way to do this is to choose a sacred word “as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within. [Then,] sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly, and silently introduce your sacred word. . . . When you become aware of thoughts, return ever-so-gently to your sacred word. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.” [2] Perhaps the Native and Celtic peoples were able to do this much more naturally? The evidence seems to point in that direction.

Gateway to Silence:
One world, all sacred


[1] Elisabeth Tooker, ed., Native North American Spirituality of the Eastern Woodlands: Sacred Myths, Dreams, Visions, Speeches, Healing Formulas, Rituals, and Ceremonials (Paulist Press: 1979), xv.

[2] Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel (Amity House: 1986), 109-115.

Photograph (detail) by imma
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