St. Augustine: ‘Walk by him the man and thou comest to God. By him thou goest, to him thou goest. Look not for any way except by himself by which to come to him. For if he had not vouchsafed to be the way. we should all have gone astray. Therefore he became the way by which thou shouldest come. I do not say to thee, seek the way. The way is come to thee: arise and walk.'”
God connects with us first. We do not have to seek anyone or anything. We only have to be open to those times when the eternal breaks into our ordinary time and we discover what is important, what lasts, and what is profound.
Our culture has a fixation about seeking for the truth, looking for the “right god” and finding the “true self.” In working with Native youth, I thought it would be as difficult to replace the image of an Anglo god in white robes living in white clouds above us as it would be to talk about the Holy One reaching out to us.
But in many ways it has been easier working with the Native community who already knows and participates in daily ceremonies that honor the Creator in everyday ways.
Several years ago we began this conversation on their first memories of God.
One youth says “Every morning my grandfather sprinkled the corn pollen to the East and thanked the Creator for creating us and giving us this day. As soon as I was old enough I would join him. It was heartening to be able to greet each day with that connection.”
Another one joins in “I remember my grandmother’s stories. They weren’t dreamy. They were about how our Creator acts in practical ways to claim us as his people and wants us to follow the old ways. It was hard when we went to a Christian Church. All of a sudden there was another god who mainly condemned me and wanted me to choose another way. I guess I lost my interest in any kind of religion until I joined the youth group.”
A teen says, “I guess I put my conflict about god away while I just messed up my life. When we started discussing it in the youth group I began to think about what is important. The thing is that I do remember how important it was to me as a child to do the ceremonies and greet the sun. I don’t know how I forgot it. But I have gotten a lot of things back.”
“We started writing prayers and I wrote them by rote. Then we started writing the psalms where we had to say how God approached us and I start remembering things. But the most important was when something deep happened to us like eating with the homeless and I felt in my gut that God walked with us and was filling us with something like happiness and compassion at the same time. I just felt bigger as a person and more connected to other people, even those I just met on the street. We marked it as a holy place and a holy time. I’ll never forget that. Everything fell into place. The God of my ancestors and the God of the Christians were the same and I belonged here. It is a little mixed up but I have no doubt that God reaches out first especially when I am stubborn and closed minded.
This is a lesson we all have had to learn repeatedly. For myself, I think I have grasped all there is to know about God and then something happens and another world opens beneath my feet and I fall into something wondrous and totally new.
We keep being met by this unexpected encounter with the sacred.
How strange that we keep forgetting it.