Today’s post comes to us from Hannah Haiu in New Zealand. Hannah comes from Maori and Irish heritage. She works with iEmergence iEmergence which was conceived as a way for indigenous youth/young adults and their families to engage in culturally appropriate holistic transformational development opportunities while training next generation leaders. I had the privilege of meeting Hannah, her husband Leon and their three children recently at the NAIITS symposium in Langley BC. At the end of her post I have included a performance of a traditional Maori haka.
More than just smoke – Cultural protocols as spiritual practice
I’ve been wondering about God lately – Where is He? And what can I learn about Who He is from where I find Him? I’ve been intentional about ‘going deeper’ into the places I go, with the people I meet, the moments I experience. This means I have to admit ignorance and ask questions, which in itself could be described as a spiritual experience – dying to oneself in the quest for Truth.
There is a deep longing in my soul to remove my woefully narrow and constricting cultural blinders, that I may recognise Jesus in other people, their places and in their ways of being – ways of spirituality that are new to me.
When a Hawaiian woman dances the Hula, the Grace of God moves in her; when Maori men and women do a Haka, the fearless strength of His spirit commands; when the smoke rises and the aroma of Sage permeates when a First Nation’s person of North America does a Smudge, he or she is ushered into a place of solemnity and meditation with our Creator. And it goes on…
God has embedded himself in culture and in creation. I just need to learn to recognise Him where He is; recognise that in my primitive humanity, God is so much more glorious, creative and beyond my thinking than I could ever begin to imagine.
Many indigenous cultural protocols are a means to connect with and worship the same Creator that Western folk seek to connect with and worship through their Sunday Church programmes. It isn’t a matter of either/or, it’s both/and.
The Psalmist said, ‘The Heavens declare his majesty” – a declaration which resounds with indigenous people the world over. There is no concept of ownership of land, plant or creature – we are all created by God. Therefore, respect and honour of the Creator and the created is embedded in cultural protocol – prayer, song, thanksgiving, as we all participate with Him in His creation.
Part of my journey of recognising Jesus where He is, is also learning what He is not. I’m not an academic person, and I view the gospel through a rather simplistic lens. 1 Corinthians gives us a clear description of what love is, and even states that God IS love. And if God is also truth, then where there is love and where there is truth, there is God.
So, when a Lakota or Blackfoot or Cree man plays his drum and sings his song to the Creator in his language, he is using the treasures given and inspired by God as an offering back to Him. It is an expression of worship. God is there. When we use traditional knowledge passed down over generations for the cultivation of plants and their application for medicinal purposes, we honour the One who created the plants with those medicinal properties. God is in it. Carvings on a Maori Meeting house and Ta Moko (traditional Maori tattoos) serve to remind us of our ancestors, where we have come from, who we are, much like photographs or a family tree. We honour God in remembering our history, and who He created us to be.
What a frightening privilege it is to be on this intimate journey of the world outside my own; to perhaps learn more of our Creator, more of His design and His intentions through others and their ways of being; to face my own narrow-mindedness and cultural arrogance. The more I explore, revel in and grapple with the incredible creativity of our Creator and His expressions of love for us, the more I realise that there is so much more that He delights in than what we are aware of. And personally, I want to see it and share in His delight. To Jesus, I’m sure, that this is all so much more than smoke.