Many Christians struggle to bridge Indigenous spirituality with Christianity. I believe it is possible to see unifying characteristics and respect differences as together we seek Creator God. With that quest in mind, I embarked this fall on a course at Vancouver School of Theology with Dr. Ray Aldred called Indigenous Theologies and Epistemologies.
Indigenous theology “reminds us that the teachings of Christ were not imported to North America; they were rediscovered here” (p. 26). This is a call to humility and to walk together.
Indigenous people have a “very high tolerance for ambiguity” (p. 23) and various conflicting versions of stories. This resonates with me and I am comfortable living in the gray. While I try to know God’s mind and heart and His love and mercy, His admonitions and commandments are variously interpreted by different denominations, cultures, and individuals. I leave the judging to Him -the one who knows our thoughts and hearts – and choose to suspend judgment on some issues. I do not believe this is ‘wishy-washy’ or relativistic but a deep call to humility. I fully subscribe to the statement “that this kind of holy ambiguity is the source of our humility, as well as the wellspring of our search for meaning” (p. 24). If we are authentically searching and open to God’s guidance, we will embrace the mystery and allow God to lead us to an unknown future.
There are differences between Indigenous and Christian worldviews, however. Indigenous Anglican Bishop and author, Steven Charleston states: “All living beings, human and otherwise, are the children of God” (p. 19). This seems to me to be an area where Christianity and Indigenous theology have different interpretations. Christianity calls human beings children of God because Christianity attributes souls only to human beings; not animals, nature, or inanimate objects. Along with that though is the concept of stewardship of creation which means we need to respect all of creation – with or without souls – animate or inanimate. The takeaway for me here is that we are invited to “consider the mystical presence of life on this planet” (p. 20) and that Creator God loves all his creations.
Indigenous worldview and Western worldview also have “radically different notions of [sacred] time (p. 21) but I see similarities to the Catholic view of sacred time that distinguish both Indigenous and Catholic views from Western views. I am reminded of the teaching that there is no time with God. Examples: the sacrifice of the Mass is unifying us with Christ’s crucifixion, people who have died are part of the church today, sacrifices made on earth are ‘worth it’ because life here is short compared to eternity.
As we seek God together, I continue to explore and learn about the rich possibilities in the intersection of Indigenous theory and practice with Christian theology and practice. Inculturation principles denote a process of engagement between the Christian Gospel and Indigenous theologies and epistemologies but this will take time to find concrete expression. It is encouraging though that there seems to be more of an openness to exploring the possibilities and a sincere commitment to fostering relationships in charity and solidarity. Indigenous Catholic is a group that is seeking this collaboration through research and fellowship. I fully agree with the approach they state on their website: “Our shared conviction is that holiness – becoming wholly human, according to the image God has of us and to which he calls us – is the most important answer to any challenge we face” (https://www.indigenouscatholic.org/mission).
Quotes are from Charleston, S. & Robinson, E. A. (2015). Coming Full Circle: Constructing Native Christian Theology. Fortress Press.