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Grandmother God

Ways of Knowing

Grandmother God 

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Since first working at Acoma Pueblo as a deacon in 1969 and making my permanent home in New Mexico in 1986, I have learned much from our Native American pueblos and tribes. I encourage you to learn about the history surrounding your home. [1] Settler colonial—and primarily Christian—countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, and South Africa tried to destroy or at least seriously marginalize indigenous cultures. This now seems undeniable. Yet indigenous people and their practices persist, opening body and heart to deep wisdom. Today’s meditation introduces Steven Charleston, an elder of the Choctaw Nation and a retired Episcopal bishop. His way of knowing God and the Gospel reflect both his Christian and Choctaw heritage and his contemplative practice. 

The irony is I did find what I was looking for, but not in the place I expected. In my romantic imagination, I believed I would find my answer in a religious ritual or ceremony, either Christian or Traditional. I thought the answer might come to me high on a hill doing a vision quest, in the womb-like darkness of a Sweat Lodge, or in a camp meeting out on the prairie. The vision I had from God had been a little like that; it had surprised me during my ritual of morning prayers in Cambridge. But in the end, the answer found me sitting in a chair. I had been reading the gospel according to Matthew, letting the familiar words of his story slip through my mind like a gentle stream, when suddenly the holy voice I had first heard on the rooftop returned and shook me awake in my spirit. [2]

“You have just read the first vision quest of Jesus.”

I smile now because I can remember scrambling to come awake when those words caught me off guard. I consider this voice to be from God because it appears from some place other than my own consciousness. It announces itself. It speaks in a clear, simple, uncomplicated way.

When I have attempted to explain this experience to others I have often laughed at myself because the voice I hear sounds as if it is speaking to a small child. I do not receive long and elaborate messages from God, probably because God is not sure I could understand them. Instead, I get the brief, direct words needed by a prophet with a short attention span. One of my images of God is that of Grandmother, the wise old Native woman with gray hair and eyes as ancient as the Earth. She takes my face gently in her hands and holds me in Her gaze as She tells me what She thinks I need to know, forming the words slowly so I can remember them and let them sink in.

I embrace this feminine image in the same way Hebrew tradition refers to the voice of God as the bat kol, the daughter of the voice. It is that mysterious presence that comes from some source beyond, a communication that defies our ability to categorize. Therefore, like the theologians of ancient Israel, I give the voice a female personification because I experience it in that way.

References:
[1] See “Tribal Nations Map,” https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2014/06/24/323665644/the-map-of-native-american-tribes-youve-never-seen-before, and the Native Land website and app, https://native-land.ca/.

[2] Charleston may be referring to one of the following: Matthew 4:1-11, Matthew 17:1-8, Matthew 26:36-46, or Matthew 27:32-55.

Steven Charleston, The Four Vision Quests of Jesus (Morehouse Publishing: 2015), 44-45.

Image credit: Anna Washington Derry (detail), Laura Wheeler Waring, 1927, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, Washington, DC.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: One of my images of God is that of Grandmother, the wise . . . woman with gray hair and eyes as ancient as the Earth. — Steven Charleston
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