The compass that I used for the children’s talk this morning was a gift from my family. They gave it to me after I got lost one time, hiking. It’s a good story, actually. It was my first year living in North Van. I parked at Rice Lake. It was about 5 o’clock. I was thinking, my handy guide to North Shore trails says this should take just under an hour. The trail is flat; it goes in a circle; I should have plenty of time before the sun sets.
I start out, and I’m walking, and it starts to get just a little dark: that point where you kind of go, okay, what are we gonna do here? I pick up the pace and I think, I should check my phone.
It’s 7:30; the sun is now setting, and my phone is at 3%.
Now I really pick up the pace. After about another half hour, it’s properly dark; my phone is at 1%. I sit down to make a call to North Shore rescue. Then I notice a man fishing on the lake. I go over and ask him if he knows how to get to the parking lot. He explains that he only speaks Russian. We start gesturing wildly to each other. I thank him for trying and then I do what you’re never supposed to do when you’re lost in the woods: I start running.
Somehow I pop out onto the trailhead which leads to the parking lot. A complete fluke. I call my family to let them know I’m okay. They’re sympathetic. They’re relieved. Then they do that thing that family does best, where they make fun of you a little. And they say to me, “You mean to tell us you got lost hiking in a circle?”
Shortly after I received this compass, I attended a gathering with Indigenous Christians and learned about praying in the four directions. At the time, I remember there were a good number of non-Indigenous people in the Anglican Church, who were a little unsure about how Indigenous spirituality fit with Christianity. There seemed to be a kind of us and them divide hanging in the atmosphere. That line from our gospel reading today, when the disciples see someone casting out demons in Jesus’s name, and they run over to Jesus and say, “We tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
That was the atmosphere: a lot of folks couldn’t wrap their heads around how Indigenous people could follow Jesus in a way that was unknown or unfamiliar to “us”.
Jesus’ response to the disciples is just so spot on. He says to them, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.”
About four years after the gathering where I learned about praying in the four directions, the General Synod, that's the national meeting of the Anglican Church in Canada, it met here in Vancouver. At this gathering, Anglicans voted unanimously to support Indigenous Anglicans in forming a self determining church (a church where Indigenous governance and spirituality would coexist with the historical governance structures of the Anglican Church). It was a really beautiful moment and one of the positive moves the church has made towards truth and reconciliation. It was the church wrapping its head around people following Jesus in a way that had been deemed unfamiliar and even un-Christian.
Today, praying in the four directions is included in a resource for our church compiled by Indigenous Anglicans, that we’ve been following to mark the Season of Creation. Here’s what Kerry Baisely, Indigenous Justice coordinator, has to say about praying in the four directions:
Whenever we face larger than life problems and overwhelming losses we may respond with a sense of powerlessness and fear. In Biblical terms, it may feel like we are in the wilderness. The Bible tells us about wilderness experiences, the uncertainty, the tendency to fracture into grumbling groups and distrust for community leaders. The Bible also recounts Jesus and his 40 days in the wilderness to prepare for ministry, where the experience can be strengthening and empowering. [The practice of praying in the four directions] does not see the Earth as wilderness, but as the source of all we need to live a full life. Our guides on this journey are the teachings, beliefs and wisdom of Indigenous, Inuit and Metis peoples accumulated through thousands of years of living sustainably and harmoniously on this land we currently call Canada.*
This morning, I have a brief prayer in the four directions that I’d like to pray with you. Maybe you’ve done this before, or maybe you’re experiencing it for the first time. Let’s try this together and see how it goes. As you are able, please would you stand:
We look to the East.
The East is where the sun rises, where the day begins.
The East is the place of HUMILITY.
It is said humility is the base or beginning for everything.
Humility is the ability to see yourself as an essential part, and still only a part, of the greater whole.
In the Ojibway world “humility” means “like the earth.”
The Earth, our Mother, is the ultimate humble being,
everything and everyone is allowed the same
opportunity to grow, to become.
May we be open to HUMILITY.
We look to the South.
The South is the place of TRUST
Trust is the spiritual by-product of innocence.
The Ojibway teach that innocence is learning or being
able to look at the world with Wonder.
When we practice Wonder we live in a learning way.
Trust together with Wonder enable us to be open to
teachings, teachings then provide us the gateway or
the road to becoming who we have been created to be.
May we practice TRUST
We turn to the West
The West is where the sun sets and the day as we experience it comes to an end.
It is natural that the West is the place of INTROSPECTION
On the Medicine Wheel INTROSPECTION is the “looks within place.”
HUMILITY and TRUST offer many teachings, and INTROSPECTION is the way of seeing how these apply to
our lives. It is both a place of vision and a resting place.
It is also a place of COURAGE as the hardest thing to do
can be to look honestly inwards, at ourselves. It is
important to do because it is where our history and our
experience, our story, can be reviewed and we can
decide what to keep and what to let go.
Completing our circle, we turn clockwise to the NORTH
The North is the place of WISDOM.
[Richard] Wagamese says “to be truly WISE is to understand that
knowing and not knowing are one. Each has the power
WISDOM is the gathering of teachings gleaned, bit by bit, from our lifetime journey.
Our goal is to share these teachings with those around us while we are still here.
We are all on the same journey, and we become more by giving that wisdom, that treasure away. Amen.
*You can download Kerry’s guide to the Season of Creation, which includes prayers in the four directions, here: https://www.vancouver.anglican.ca/news/praying-learning-acting-in-the-season-of-creation