Are we on the verge of a spiritual renewal in North America — a renewal that might save our planet?
That’s the question that comes to me after reading about the pipeline protest at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota.
In an article about the protest, reporter Jack Jenkins wrote about what he called “an emerging indigenous spiritual movement” in the U.S. and Canada.
He noted, in particular, that the protest camp was not only a place to protest the pipeline but also a spiritual experience.
According to Jenkins, the camp is filled with prayer — communal prayers in the morning and evening and at mealtimes, and prayers in vigils and songs.
He quoted Standing Rock tribal councilman Dana Yellow Fat, who said, “We began this with prayer, and we look at this whole movement as a ceremony. It began with prayers before we left, and in the end, it will close with prayers. . . . We’re fighting the pipeline with prayer.”
He also quoted Pua Case, an Indigenous woman from Hawaii who was part of the protest: “Standing Rock is a prayer camp. It’s where prayers are done.”
Reading about the spiritual nature of the protest, I wondered: What can American and Canadian Christians learn from it about saving the Earth?
One person with thoughts on that question is Terry LeBlanc, a Mi’kmaq Christian who directs the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies in Canada. NAIITS was founded in 2001 in an effort to ensure that indigenous Christian voices were heard by the evangelical church in Canada.
For Leblanc, there is much that non-indigenous Christians can learn from indigenous people in general, and from indigenous Christians in particular, about caring for creation.
For indigenous Christians, Leblanc says, the starting point for how they view life on this planet is Genesis 1, the story of creation.
Nonindigenous Christians, on the other hand, often start with Genesis 3, the fall.
“The starting point determines the destination,” says Leblanc. By starting with the first chapter of Genesis, indigenous Christians see the Earth as good, as something God loves.
Those who start at chapter 3 may instead see it as an evil place we need to be delivered from.
Viewing the Earth as an object of God’s love makes us see creation as good and worthy of care. Viewing the world as evil has the opposite effect. It puts us on a trajectory toward the degradation of the environment, Leblanc says.
At the same time, nonindigenous Christians might profit from how indigenous people see all of creation as connected, and that it has a spiritual nature.
God desires all of creation, not just humans, to live in a right relationship with each other and with God, Leblanc states.
This doesn’t mean creation is to be worshiped.
But “the Earth bears God’s image,” Leblanc says. “It was created by God, it has God’s spirit in it, but it is not God. Not everything is God, but God is in everything.”
In the 18th through 20th centuries, various revivals, or “awakenings,” swept North America. Are we on the verge of another one? If yes, maybe this time it will come through our indigenous neighbors, providing new ways for us to be restored to each other, to the planet and to God.
John Longhurst, of Winnipeg, Man., is director of resources and public engagement at Canadian Foodgrains Bank.