A Pivotal Moment- by Beth McLean Wiest
There are times in every person’s life that are crucible or pivotal moments. I believe this is also true in the life of an organization. One such moment for Harmony through Harmony came in the form of a phone message on Tuesday, May 28th.
When we had finished our day (day 3) with Marcel, the elder from Hollow Water nation, I had asked him if there was anything he felt we should “experience” while we were in Winnipeg. His eyes had lit up and then he simply said, “I’ll get back to you on that tomorrow.”
We came out of our learning session at Winnipeg Central Vineyard and I checked my phone for messages. There was a call from Marcel. The message was pretty cryptic. “I have an experience that may interest you if you are able to drive up here to Hollow Water.”
When we create a schedule for a trip in Harmony through Harmony, we intentionally create a structure that allows for the Holy Spirit to lead us to opportunities beyond what we could have imagined for the trip (Ephesians 3:20). As I went to return his call, I figured this was going to be one such moment…
I was right. A rare invitation and a moment of decision awaited us.
Would Harmony through Harmony be interested in driving up to Hollow Water to participate in a ceremonial sweat?
Had the decision been solely up to me, I would have made it in an instant, however, since our mission is to build community, expand worldviews, develop leaders and fight for justice, I knew I needed to include the rest of the group in the decision making process.
The factors to consider:
- If a woman is menstrual, she is unable to participate in the sweat. How many of our women would this affect?
- Hollow Water is a three hour drive from Winnipeg. We would be driving up and back in one day.
- The sweat lodge experience would last about 2 hours.
- A ceremonial sweat is a sacred ritual. Would there be objections from a faith perspective from within our group?
- It was raining. If the rain continued, the wood would be too wet to light and a fire to heat the rocks for the sweat would be impossible. We could end up driving up there and be unable to participate in the sweat.
The answers to those questions were ones for each participant to consider and weigh in on.
Then there were the more macro questions. The answers were of which I was most interested in discovering…
- When we say we are about “building community” and we are given an invitation like this, do we accept it?
- When we say we are about “expanding worldviews” and we are presented with an experience that will definitely expand worldviews, do we embrace it?
- When we say we are about “developing leaders”, what does that look like in this scenario?
- When we say we are about “fighting for justice”, do we look at injustice in our own country?
I thanked Marcel for this incredible opportunity and asked him to hold while I explained the invitation to the group.
Of course, it was a “gut decision” making moment. There was no time to think about it, discuss etc. I outlined the points to consider and then asked everyone to close his/her eyes while I asked for decisions. I began with “Who would like to go?” and then “Who would prefer to stay?”
Of our 16 travelers, there were 12 “I would like to go” and 5 “ I would prefer to stay”.
When I shared the responses with the group, there was immediate clarity from the five… Three were ladies who were menstrual and couldn’t participate. All said they would like to go for the drive even though they would be unable to participate. One “I could be swayed” and was and the fifth had family in town and decided to postpone the get together in order to not miss this experience. Remarkably, in a few short minutes, we had 16 travelers ready to spend 6 hours of their day on the road.
I returned to my phone call. “Marcel, we are honored to have been invited and we would be delighted to come. What do we need to bring and what do we need to wear?”
In less than an hour we had gone back to our dorms, picked up supplies and were on the road. We had cotton to wear (nightgown, shirts, pants, shorts, skirts), towels and tobacco and berries to give as an offering. Thankfully we had packed lunches for the day and then been fed lunch at the drop in so we were set for food.
We were off on an adventure.
What amazes me about this moment is that there were only two of the group, myself and another traveler, who had ever participated in a sweat lodge. In other words, fourteen travelers were committing to an invitation, one where there was a chance we wouldn’t even be able to do the ceremony part due to weather, and they didn’t really have any idea of what they were getting into.
So what is a “ceremonial sweat”?
Marcel had given us a very brief teaching on it the day before.
A sweat is a cleansing ceremony. There are five rocks that are heated in the sacred fire. The sacred fire activates the healing energy of the rocks. The first rock represents Creator and is placed in the centre. The 2nd to 5th rocks represent the helpers and are placed East, South, West and North. Medicines are placed on the rocks or in the water (cedar, sage, sweet grass, tobacco). Water is placed on the rocks and the steam that comes is the breath that the fire has activated to cleanse the body, the mind, the spirit. The healing energy of the rocks, sacred fire and water work together with the fire of the participants.
There are four door ways: East, South, West, North. Each door is considered a sweat and so after four sweats, the people participating in the sweat have lost their toxins. They look different. The four doorways call on the clans of the Eagles (East), Wolf (South), Bear (West) and Buffalo (North). The door ways are spaces that talk about stages of life.
The sweat begins with an honor song to the ancestors and to Creator. We thank them for their support and their love and their teachings. Thank Creator for all the gifts.
Throughout the ceremony, ceremonial tools are used. There is the rattle, the pipe and the drum.
- The rattle uses medicine, earth, quartz, and connects with the power of the universe. It is surrounded by the kindness and gentleness of the deer hide.
- The pipe is made of three parts: the tree represents honesty, the bone represents faith, the medicines that go in there represents all the plant life.
- Most people when they hear the large drum for the first time they want to cry, they feel something. It reminds their spirit of the heartbeat of the mother. The heart beat is the underlying rhythm in the universe so the drum represents the universe.
And that was the extent of our teaching on a sweat lodge ceremony. Considering how much we learned in that day (please read the blogs on Day 3 if you haven’t already done so), there’s a high chance that there was little retention about the sweat lodge. You’ll have to read the blogs over the next few days to learn what we actually experienced.
“Would Harmony through Harmony be interested in driving up to Hollow Water to participate in a ceremonial sweat?”
For me, the decision of our community to accept Marcel’s invitation was a defining moment of “we walk our talk”. As a community we wanted to say, ‘we value your people Marcel, we respect you as a leader and we trust you to expand our worldviews, we are seeking to understand.”
And to God we were saying the same things. Driving up north, I was one proud executive director. I could feel God smiling.