In yesterday’s DM, we saw how many indigenous peoples talk about the “loneliness” they now feel on the earth.  Loneliness happens when humans separate from the rest of Creation and treat Creation as separate or “other.”  

Surrounded by natural beauty, focused on social media. Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash.

I tell the story of an Australian theologian lecturing in Africa several years ago who ended his talk saying: “The number one spiritual problem in Sydney today is loneliness.”  His Swahili translators huddled and came back to him and said, “I am sorry, sir, but in our language there is no word for loneliness.”

Has the West invented loneliness?  Maybe one reason loneliness has so overtaken our culture is because our religion and all our other cultural enterprises such as education, economics, politics, religion and media are so thoroughly anthropocentric, so human-centered, because creation has been left out.  Redemption rules in religion and “how do I get ahead” (another version of redemption) rules in many other cultural institutions.

Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation and spokesman for the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy, says:

One of the Natural laws is that you’ve got to keep things pure. Especially the water. Keeping the water pure is one of the first laws of life. If you destroy the water, you destroy life. That’s what I mean about common sense. Anybody can see that. All life on Mother Earth depends on the pure water, yet we spill every kind of dirt and filth and poison into it.

On June 23, 2016, over 29,000 gallons of oil spilled into Ventura County inland waters from a Crimson Pipeline. Photo by the Waterkeepers Alliance on Flickr.

The inherent sacredness of water and creation demands something from humans. That something is respect.

Another of the Natural laws is that all life is equal. That’s our philosophy. You have to respect life—all life, not just your own. The key word is respect. 

Unless you respect the earth, you destroy it. Unless you respect all life as much as your own life, you become a destroyer, a murderer.

Man sometimes thinks he’s been elevated to be the controller, the ruler. But he’s not. He’s only a part of the whole. Man’s job is not to exploit but to oversee, to be a steward. Man has responsibility, not power.

Matthew King, a traditionalist spokesman of the Lakota people whose Indian name is Noble Red Man, tells how Native people view nature.

Indigenous youth run across country to urge President Biden to stop Enbridge Line 3 from crossing untouched wetlands and treaty territory, going through the Mississippi headwaters to the shore of Lake Superior. On 6/23/21, the Department of Justice rejected all present and future legal resistance.

We have the wind and the rain and the stars for our Bible. The world is an open Bible for us. We Indians have studied it for millions and millions of years. We’ve learned that God rules the universe and that everything God made is living. Even the rocks are alive. When we use them in our sweat ceremony we talk to them and they talk back to us.

Pre-modern, created-centered Christians like Hildegard, Francis of Assisi, Meister Eckhart, Julian of Norwich were not stuck in loneliness because their world view began with the cosmos, not the human.  Aquinas said “revelation come in two volumes: Nature and the Bible.” But the native people seem to have taken the revelation of Nature most seriously. 

Adapted from Matthew Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faith Traditions, pp. 48f.

Banner Image: Sweat lodges dotted Oceti Sakowin campground on Standing Rock Reservation, ND, where more than 100 Native American nations and thousands of international supporters gathered in 2016 to protect the water of the Oglala Aquifer and Missouri River from the Dakota Access Pipeline. Photo by Phila Hoopes.

How do you view nature?  How do you undergo loneliness?  Is it true that our western culture has invented loneliness, a cosmic loneliness?  How do we move beyond it?

Recommended Reading

One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths

Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.“Reading One River, Many Wells is like entering the rich silence of a masterfully directed retreat. As you read this text, you reflect, you pray, you embrace Divinity. Truly no words can fully express my respect and awe for this magnificent contribution to contemporary spirituality.” –Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit


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Join us for a Virtual Teach-in with Isa Gucciardi and Matthew Fox, hosted by Rev. Cameron Trimble.
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Shamanism in Buddhism and Christianity
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2 thoughts on “Indigenous Wisdom and Moving Beyond Sadness”

  1. Avatar

    Yes, I was dog sitting the other day. The dogs and I had coherent intuitive/sensing conversations all the while. I had back and forth love communication with the beautiful maple tree in the yard. The rabbits, squirrels and I had Garden of Eden comfortable loving presence appreciation as we picked up each others peacefulness. The insects also knew our shared peace.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Gary, we have dog sitting in common. We don’t have a dog of our own, but we have a virtual menagerie of dog come through our home, and we too have our conversations. And my wife and I have gardens that we tend and enjoy. This is part of Creation Spirituality too–the Via Positiva where we “read” the other book of God in Nature. Thank you for your comment.

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