Sunday, December 20, 2009

Native American Spirituality for the Holidays

The day before Thanksgiving I had a few errands to run and of course, I took the scooter. The sky had threatened to rain a bit, but didn't, and the temperature was in the low 40's. The sun eventually came out and it was a beautiful day to ride. One of my errands was to attend a civic club meeting at lunchtime. The club I belong to normally meets on Fridays, and we weren't going to meet this week because of the holiday. So, as we have done in past years, we meet with another club on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The guest speaker that day was a Native American Storyteller. He has for many years told stories using oral traditions passed down through many generations. I assumed he would talk about the first Thanksgiving with the pilgrims from a native American standpoint. And that is part of what his talk was about, but there was a little more to it than just that. Native Americans have a very interesting, unique, and in my opinion, a very wonderful sense of spirituality. They have a keen intuition about our planet and all of its inhabitants. Life, in all its forms, is very sacred to them. The Storyteller started off by talking about the animal kingdom. Of course all the animals had the ability to talk with each other. The animals were having a meeting and discussing, of all things, water rights. Some of the animals were a bit perturbed because the beavers had put up a dam on the river and blocked some water flow.
The fish downstream said they could not swim as easily because of the dam. Other animals wanted to use some of the water for irrigation purposes. The discussion went on and on, but eventually some progress was made and compromises were made to everybody's satisfaction.
During this discussion, however, a small argument developed between a Grizzly Bear and a Turtle. The Grizzly was bragging about how fast he could run. The Turtle was boasting about how fast he could swim. Then they said they could outdo each other and eventually challenged each other to a race.
Now, you can imagine that this is similar to the fable about the tortoise and the hare, and it is, but with a twist. They had a bit of a problem in deciding about how to do the race, because it was beginning to be wintertime and the river had frozen over. How could you tell how fast the turtle was going underneath the ice?
They solved the problem by cutting some holes in the ice at regular intervals. The turtle could pop his head up through these holes and let the others know where he was. The Grizzly would just run along the bank of the river. To make the story short, the Grizzly obviously had a huge advantage, but was lazy and overconfident. He would stop occasionally to scratch his back against a tree. Or goof off when he felt like it. The turtle made slow but smooth progress down the river. You could occasionally see the turtle's head popping up in the holes. The turtle eventually got to be ahead of the Grizzly and eventually the turtle won the race. There was much surprise that the turtle had won, but much rejoicing also. The turtle was carried off on the shoulders of some of the other animals and a little party ensued. Eventually the celebration died down and the turtle made his way home and was greeted by the rest of his family. The family members gave each other high fives and hugs and laughed out loud, for they all knew one thing. They had all been in the river that morning, each of them assigned to a particular hole in the ice, and each had poked his head out of the hole at an appointed time. The Grizzly never stood a chance of winning the race. Now there are many potential morals to the story such as outsmarting your opponent, perseverence, etc, but the Storyteller's point was how important it was for families to stick together and support each other. At the holiday time of year as families get together for celebrations, this is a fun story to recall no matter what tradition or background your family comes from. And that diversity of backgrounds was part of his point. The early Thanksgiving celebration was not so much a celebration of a harvest, as much as it was maybe a celebration of diversity: the ability of two so different peoples to be able to get together and celebrate something very meaningful to both of them. He ended his discussion with a reminder that families are important to everybody. He emphasized that we are all human beings regardless of our religion, skin color or other potentially divisive way of identification. There is common ground between us all. I wish everybody a happy and joyous holiday season regardless of how you choose to celebrate it.
Stay Warm And Ride Safe!

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