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THE CHANT OF LIFE
Inculturation and the People of the Land
By Mark L. MacDonald
Church Publishing IncorporatedCopyright © 2003 The Church Pension Fund
All rights reserved.
Ritual and Inculturation: Reclaiming Native Tradition in Christian Liturgy
Malcolm Naea Chun
Every Sunday, some thirty years ago, just before the collection was taken, the Bishop or Dean at our cathedral would move to the step where the altar rails would soon be placed so he could greet and bless any children who came forward to give a special offering in honor of their own birthday. The money they held in their hands, a set sum of coins, fell into what looked like a little plastic bank. The Bishop or Dean would lay his hands on their heads and invoke a blessing. I remember this well because I had a good view from the choir seat in the front row in the days when I sang soprano.
I also remember the one time I was finally given money to offer for a blessing for my birthday. It was not all that much fun, for you had what seemed like the entire cathedral congregation looking at you. I remember when one kid, who didn't have enough money, cried and apologized to the bishop, who laughed and proclaimed aloud to everyone saying that it was okay. Boy, was that kid embarrassed. I think we all felt that way. I never did it again.
Bishops and Deans have come and gone at our cathedral and it has been a long time since this was done. I don't know if I miss it at all and no one else seems to remember it. We hardly ever do anything so public nowadays, especially if it takes so much time. I don't yearn for its return, for in hindsight it was not an experience of any significant change or recognition, but what I do miss is that nothing better has ever replaced it, nothing at all. The only ceremonies and rituals we have now that touch our personal lives are baptism, usually as an infant, which we would scarcely remember; weddings, which are often more memorable for the family and friends gathered than the bride and groom; and funerals, in which, if it is our own, we are certainly not active participants!
Are ceremonies and rituals that important? For people today it appears they are not. Yet they should be, according to what anthropologists and the like have been saying about the importance of rituals for any society, from so-called "primitive" or tribal to modern. Cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz writes, "in a ritual, the world as lived and the world as imagined fuse under the agency of a single set of symbolic forms, turn out to be the same world ..." And that worldview of the people is not "as subjective human preferences but as the imposed conditions for life implicit in a world with a particular structure." Hence, "elaborate initiation rites, as among the Australians; complex philosophical tales, as among the Maori; dramatic shamanistic exhibitions, as among the Eskimos; cruel human sacrifices, as among the Aztecs; obsessive curing ceremonies, as among the Navajo; large communal feasts, as among the Polynesian groups—all these patterns and many more seem to one people or another to sum up most powerfully what it knows about living."
There is an absence of ritual and ceremony in modern life. This was certainly noted by Joseph Campbell when he complained to Bill Moyers in the interviews for The Power of Myth, He said, "There's been a reduction of ritual. Even in the Roman Catholic Church, my God ... they've forgotten that the function of ritual is to pitch you out, not to wrap you back in where you have been all the time.... The rituals that once conveyed an inner reality are now merely form. That's true in the rituals of society as well as the personal rituals of marriage."
Campbell thought the irrelevance of rituals in modern society has much to do with the waning of religious instruction and responsibility. The people, he believed, who have been keeping ceremonies and rituals alive are priests and ministers; but the modern day storytellers are the filmmakers and fiction writers. Campbell said, "What is unfortunate for us is that a lot of the people who write these stories do not have the sense of their responsibility. These stories are making and breaking lives. But the movies are made simply to make money. The kind of responsibility that goes into a priesthood with ritual is not there. That is one of our problems today.... So the youngsters invent themselves, and you have these raiding gangs, and so forth—that is self-rendered initiation."
Ceremonies and rituals continue to remain important for native peoples through the world in one form or another. I was reminded of this by the Rev. Canon Hone Kaa of Pihopatanga (Maori Bishopric) in Aotearoa (New Zealand) as we talked about theological education from an indigenous perspective. He said that if he had the chance he would like to teach a theology course based on native peoples' understanding of the life to death cycle. In that moment, I realized that he was on to something.
In the earliest descriptions of native traditions it is stated how so many activities from birth to death, such as farming, fishing, carving canoes, healing, building a house, and many others, were religious activities, or, in our language, "ho omana." Literally this word is "an act that imbues something with mana or spiritual power," and today that is equated with the word "religion." An example of this concept is our highly misunderstood tradition of carved images as the "worshiping of idols," but again, in our earliest native commentary, it was recognized that a carved wooden image is only a carved wooden image, and that God/gods were in the heavens. This is why it is stated that offerings were invoked to the sky and not to the images. So the purpose and practice of rituals related to the everyday tasks of living are for "protecting from evil, blessing with good things, prestige, well-being [health] and happiness ..."
In teaching others how to use our method of reconciling family difficulties and problems I have found it somewhat humorous when some, who have gone through catechism in their younger days, find it so difficult to lead the family through prayers. It is explained that prayers are crucial to this process because we need help and guidance ourselves in order to help and guide the family through its crisis, and we need to pray for our own protection. By beginning the process with prayer, we also create a sacred time, and remind the family that the discussions to take place are very different from everyday conversation. When this is understood, such enabled persons in turn can help our families who may not be so "religious" to recognize the importance of prayer in our traditions and for their own family life. If we find it so difficult to pray in public with our own people, how is it even possible for us to share our prayers with each other in corporate worship together? This is why the Church must become involved in our lives.
The closure of most of these rites was feasting because "... the feast was a sharing of dedicated foods; and the giving and taking of presents was actually a general exchange in which the prestige and pleasure of giving and receiving was enjoyed by all concerned." We feasted at the beginning of the life cycle, at birth, and for remembrance of passage of time or anniversaries, for adulthood, for children, for welcoming guests, and finally in celebration of the end of the life cycle and for the memorial of that life. It is through the act (and expression) of feasting that we publicly and physically demonstrate "aloha" (affection), prestige, hospitality, and a good time; social, economic, and psychic security; and the solidarity of living 'ohana [extended family], the kupuna (ancestors), and 'aumakua (guardian spirits), [which] were the considerations affecting all family ceremonials." The practice of such behavior would ensure the continuation of relationships by sharing resources, underscoring friendships and relationships through honoring members, and creating an atmosphere that eases potential tensions, thereby binding a community together. As these rituals, ceremonies, and feasts touch so many and go so deep into the vitality of our people, it is imperative that the Church be involved. How much richer the experience when the Eucharist is understood as such a feast.
Then there were many traditional occasions, rituals and ceremonies that required the help of a specialist or a priest. They were highly trained professionals like the many imported, seminary-educated, priests we have, but with one difference—in our local traditions they were people recognized by the community for the gifts they practiced and how they behaved, not as self-appointed individuals who felt "called." Their use of their gifts became the vehicle in which the "ho'o," that is the process of imbuing in "ho'o mana" could be done. In our traditions there is a very real and recognized role for the priesthood that is central to maintaining our religious expression and this is why the Church should, and needs to be, involved.
When I was still working for our native affairs office a colleague, the economic development officer, came to me asking for a favor. He had a family that was having a special kind of problem that he thought was more cultural in origin and thought that I could help them.
I called the family and talked with them. It turned out that the father of this family had just inherited from his grandfather some special carved stones. He loved his grandfather and so he accepted the gift, although being a Christian he was not comfortable with his grandfathers request that he wash and feed the carved stones. He left them in the house and for several days since had been bothered by dreams. He'd kept silent about this situation until the day before I called. He had gone down to the local general store and while buying some groceries, he overheard a Chinese woman talking to the cashier about a dream that she was having. It was the very same dream he had been having for the past several days. He became agitated and his wife finally persuaded him to call someone for help.
He called my fellow worker right away, as they had been meeting to conclude an economic loan, and besides, we were the native affairs office. I told my co-worker that I wished I could help him but I was leaving for Europe to attend a World Council of Churches meeting. However, I could recommend two things. I would call a friend, a native minister in the United Church of Christ, to see if he could help out. The second thing I suggested was that he take the carved stones to the ocean and wash them. He was to place them in a well protected place in his house and then speak to them as if he was speaking to his beloved grandfather. He was to say that he wanted to keep the stones because they were his grandfather s and to tell of his profound love for that man. But he could not do what he had promised his grandfather because he lived in a different time and place.
I rang my friend up and explained the whole story to him, but he said that he, too, was going to be busy the next day. I asked if the new native minister just back from seminary could help out, and my friend laughed and said, "Oh, no, no. He doesn't believe in such things." What good is a minister for these people if due to his "beliefs" he cannot help a distressed family of his own people? Who else will help them? What are we teaching in those schools that our people come back with a useless education and we have to re-train them to be effective with their people? Maybe in time, my friend replied, they will be okay. In the end, he went to the family and blessed them and their house and the carved stones. And everything was all right.
If there is to be a deep experience and understanding of the Gospels, they need to become part of our experience, our understanding, and way of life; then Christian theology must be part of our world as much as our world would have to be part of the Church's. But all one needs to do is to look in the Book of Common Prayer, in the hymnal, or any other forms of Christian practice of life, and the majority of what we know about living as native peoples is not there. Even in translated Bibles, prayer books, hymnals, and other religious literary and educational publications in Native languages the essence of native rituals and ceremonies is still lacking.
Yet, the Bible was the first literary publication of our language and has contributed a distinctive legacy in our language between common, everyday words and usage to that of sacred occasions, prayers, and other religious uses. Without the continuance of this part of our language in our daily lives we may lose much of the sense of the sacredness of rituals and ceremonies that are so central to our life cycle, because we will no longer know how to appreciate the language. In a way, the English language, that is the King James/Shakespearian English of "Thee and Thou," has been the closest to a form of a sacred, ritualistic, language. True, writes biblical translator Stephen Mitchell, "English-speaking readers usually think of biblical language as Elizabethan: magniloquent, orotund, liturgical, archaic, full of thees and thous and untos and therofs and prays."
This is why Joseph Campbell commented, "they've translated the Mass out of ritual language and into a language that has a lot of domestic associations. The Latin of the Mass was language that threw you [the English speaker] out of the field of domesticity." If not in the Church, where else will this part of our traditions be kept alive? In a modern world, surrounded by the dominance of English and American ways, native people have few opportunities to use their own language in their own land. At least a service in our own language would provide a refuge and possibility for one of the seeds for the language to flourish again. This is why the Church should and needs to be involved. And yet,
In a really renewed liturgy we shall not be content with texts translated from another language. New creations will be needed. It remains true that the translation of texts from the Church's tradition is an invaluable exercise and necessary training for the drawing up of our own texts, with the results that the new forms adopted should in some ways grow organically from forms already existing.
Several years ago I bought a small out-of-print book of our folk stories in our language and translation. The last entry was a Christian prayer attributed to the last great traditional priest who became a Christian convert. It is a great prayer that is chanted. In time, I discovered that this attribution was not completely accurate. It appears, through other early printed sources, that this prayer was composed by a former warrior who had become a Christian. His name was Ka'eleoWaipi'o. He was the son of a man renowned for his skill in debate and in the traditional martial arts. Ka'eleoWaipi'o was part of the defeated army when the islands were united under one chief, but his life was saved by the wife of the victorious chief. As part of that court, he learned how to read and write and became a Christian, following the example of the woman who saved his life. It was said that he was "a man of learning ... who composed the dirges to Jesus." Furthermore, "Ka'eleoWaipi'o replaced the words of an 'ana'ana [sorcery] prayer with that of a Christian prayer. This prayer is called 'Kuaikulani.' It is a prayer of salvation and a prayer used on a day of trouble or distress."
It is evident that this prayer was well known. In an early printed account the native author wrote that when he was asked to lead a prayer he used "the prayer of Ka'eleoWaipi'o" when no words would come to him to lead in a spontaneous prayer. In translation:
Arise, stand up, stand,
fill up the ranks, stand, lest we be in darkness, in night,
You who are harsh, gather, stand.
A great God, an almighty God,
is Jehovah the one from the heavens.
A God dwelling in the heights, on the tips of the winds,
within the floating clouds, a rising fog upon the earth,
a rising rainbow on the ocean,
Jesus, our Redeemer from the far away lands to here,
from the zenith to the horizon, the rain from heaven falls,
Supreme Jehovah, our desire.
Sing praises to the moving heavens, the earth rejoices,
the Word has been received: knowledge, power, life.
Gathered at the Council of the chiefs, pray devoutly to Jehovah,
powerful priest for the islands, like a torch that knows our wrongs.
We all shall live, saved through Jesus. Amen.
Until recently this early, and possibly the first, prayer composed by a native Christian was forgotten from use. Today, its use in our services demonstrates the possibilities and potential that native insight has for new liturgies to further the "preaching of the gospel" for all peoples and communities, as did the transformation of the Church from Jewish to Greek in the early Christian tradition and history.
Excerpted from THE CHANT OF LIFE by Mark L. MacDonald. Copyright © 2003 by The Church Pension Fund. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
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Table of Contents
Introduction Mark L. MacDonald.................... vii
Ritual and Inculturation: Reclaiming Native Tradition in Christian Liturgy
Malcolm Naea Chun.................... 1
Incarnation into Culture: Becoming the Church in a new millennium Clayton
L. Morris.................... 15
Frigid Cold Can't Stop the Holy Spirit Ginny Doctor.................... 26
Essential Worship Leonel L. Mitchell.................... 32
Where Will the Native American Liturgy Come From? John E. Robertson....... 47
Singing for Life and Music in the Small Parish Marilyn Haskel............. 62
Towards a Lakota Rite Martin Brokenleg.................... 95
Our Place: Inculturating [Anglo] Liturgical Space Juan M. C. Oliver....... 100
Mother the Earth William C. Wantland.................... 121
Inculturation: Not Just a Dairy Product Anymore Monte Mason............... 126
Planning with Native Americans for a Shared Worship Experience Steve
The Alaskan Orthodox Mission and Cosmic Christianity Michael J. Oleksa.... 182
Compass Rose Liturgical Tourists Juan Quevedo-Bosch.................... 192
Appendices: Recommendations Towards the Inculturation of Lakota
Outline for Infant Baptism [Lakota].................... 219
A Christian Rite to Express Respect to One's Ancestors.................... 231