by Mandy Mizelle
When we originally began planning the Women’s Retreat around Native spirituality, we were specifically thinking about Native American spiritual practices. In the months leading up to the retreat, Ginger and I reached out to several Native American tribes, organizations, and spiritual elders as we sought women to lead our time together at the beach. We were connected to many wonderful people and places across the state and even the country, but one by one they did not work out.
As the end of February drew closer, Ginger and I finally figured out who would be facilitating the retreat: us. Luckily, Ginger played Pocahontas in a 9th grade play and I am from Ahoskie. We had some Native background to speak of. Unfortunately it wasn’t incredibly helpful speech. So we did what ministry and life so often require of us: we changed our plans. And ate lots of Girl Scout cookies (thank you to our suppliers, Bella and Susanna).
In our opening session on Friday night, we stretched the word “native” to include a broad spectrum of descriptions and meanings:
An animal or plant indigenous to a region; natural; inhabitant; resident
Belonging to a person’s character from birth, rather than acquired; intuitive; instinctive; original
Associated with the country, region, or circumstances of a person’s birth; national; mother; dweller; inherited
One of the original inhabitants of an area; earliest; inherent; first
Grown, produced, or originating in a particular place; local; homegrown; innate…
Over the weekend, we embraced wider understandings of native: we learned about some Native American practices, as Plan A intended, while also remembering and sharing what is native to us — the physical and geographical, personal and cultural influences that have formed and transformed us.
We read aloud together the Hopi creation story, marveling at the similarities with our own creation story in the book of Genesis and delighting in some of the differences: In the Hopi myth, Spider Woman — the universal source of life — takes earth and mixes it with saliva to mold the first beings, covering them in a cape of creative wisdom. The imagery evokes our “gardener” God in Genesis 2 who breathes into dust from the ground to bring to life the first being, and the sacred wisdom present through and participating in creation. We loved the joyful sound and movement echoing throughout the Hopi story, and the universal question Spider Woman asks upon awakening: Why am I here?
We talked about Native American animal spirit guides and totems, remembering animals that have appeared to us in significant and puzzling ways, in “real” life and in dreams. We talked about what resonated in our totem descriptions, what we had in common with our fellow animal spirits, what did not sound familiar, and how throughout our lifetimes we may have traveled across several totem spirits.
My favorite moment of the weekend happened in the closing prayer on Friday night, although the significance of the moment far eclipsed the words. We migrated to the middle of the room according to our ages: those in our 60s and 70s moved first to the small altar and surrounded it; those in our 40s and 50s formed a layer around them; and those in our 20s and 30s became the outer circle. We each put our hands on the shoulders of the women in front of us and stood together, ring by ring, like a tree. Strong roots and widespread branches. Native to native.
May we all feel surrounded by and part of such a great spirited circle. May the questions asked this weekend roll inland, rippling out beyond those of us gathered at the beach:
What is native to us? What is adapted, adopted? How do these parts of us shape our community of faith? How do they affect our relationships with one another, how we worship and pray, how we respond and grow…?
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