Celindy would like to take her heritage to church.
“Ukrainians can! Koreans can! The Dutch can! Why not me?”
Celindy is Aboriginal, and in a church that comprises primarily people who are of European descent, she sometimes feels as if her culture is not understood or embraced.
Part of the challenge is that Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal spirituality are so closely connected, they are virtually inseparable. And it is the spirituality associated with Aboriginal heritage that sometimes makes other people uncomfortable.
“Once when I was struggling with depression, I asked someone to pray for me, and they asked if there were aspects of my Aboriginal spirituality that were contributing to the depression. They thought perhaps I had picked up evil spirits through smudging or the sweat lodge,” Celindy says.
While some Christians feel that traditional Aboriginal practices are rooted in paganism, others see them as “dynamic equivalents” to the traditional Christian practices including confession, meditation, and fasting. Others say that incorporating these practices into Christian expressions amounts to syncretism and weakens the uniqueness of the gospel.
Celindy isn’t terribly interested in the arguments or the philosophy behind those opposing views. But she doesn’t see any unbridgeable gaps between her Aboriginal heritage and her belief in Jesus.
Whatever the final outcome of discussions concerning syncretism and dynamic equivalents may be, these discussions must be done sensitively, with full participation from Aboriginal Christians of all persuasions.
For years many Christian missionaries assumed that Aboriginal spiritual practices were not in line with the teachings of Christ. The time has come for a fresh look and a new perspective, one that embraces the ability of Aboriginal people to hear the voice of God and understand the Spirit’s movement in their lives and in their people.
If we are to trust the movement of the Spirit among all nations, then we must also trust that the Spirit can transcend all cultures and speak to them and through them.
Celindy needs people who will walk with her, not send her away, because no one should have to walk this journey alone. She needs people who will dare to listen to the voice of the Spirit in any language, because the church, our church, needs people like Celindy.