Joseph Medicine Robe shares his perspective on indigenous spirituality as part of the Indigenous Wisdom Gathering event in Gypsum
As part of the Indigenous Wisdom Gathering last weekend, Joseph Medicine Robe shared his perspective on indigenous spirituality at First Lutheran Church in Gypsum.
Within his presentation, he honored not only the first peoples, the indigenous ones who lived upon the land the church was built, but also everyone who has inhabited Colorado, including Europeans who came by boat and ranchers who established families in the Vail Valley.
“We’re all indigenous. We all come from a people. It’s just that we’ve been dislocated and alienated from where we come. When we connect to it, we can heal the planet,” he said.
Through flute, drumming and singing — as well as verbal explanations — he led about 30 attendees in an experiential form of understanding indigenous spirituality. His inclusive approach drew from the Buddhist tradition of sounding a brass bowl to ground with Mother Earth, as well as to sink into a more compassionate heart, Gandhi’s teaching that the difference between what we do and what we’re capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems and Martin Luther King’s assertion that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
As he played a traditional Lakota prayer melody by flute, he invited the audience to “add your own frequency of love and compassion as it goes out into the universe, into the cosmos.” Afterward, he recited the prayer, which establishes sacred connection with the Great Spirit first and foremost, so that we may go on to serve our brothers and sisters.
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“It’s a reminder of our sacred connection, that nothing gets between us and that connection,” he said. “It’s to remind us: That’s how we live as a spiritual being as we walk on this Earth.”
Then, he sent forth a prayer through the drum, representing the heartbeat of all living things, including Mother Earth, as well as the circle of life. After he sang and drummed, he paused, taking a deep breath.
“Sometimes when you sing these songs, it goes really deep, and you don’t even know where it’s coming from, but it’s the teachings, the ancestors that come forth. It brings tears of gratitude and awareness, feelings of awe of: What is this creation that grandfather’s given us,” he said, specifically thanking attendees for their presence and attention. “Here we are on Mother Earth. We don’t know for how long. It’s all part of the great mystery, always being made new each and every moment.”
Magical moments that captured everyone’s attention emerged spontaneously from a pre-verbal baby in the room, who remained silent, except for a few key moments, where she literally seemed to respond to Joseph Medicine Robe’s words, cooing when he talked about the sacred circle of life, specifically of birth: “We acknowledge our own heritage while also acknowledging the first peoples. We give gratitude for being the offspring of our ancestors, for being part of the sacred circle, the sacred hoop of the continuum of life,” he said
Within this cyclical nature, he said, “Our spirit lives on in new dimensions, whether we call that Heaven or another form of being. The spirit never dies. It continues on a sacred continuum. There’s no beginning or end. In our understanding, there is no death, only a change of worlds, only a change of dimensions.”
As he turned once again to the flute, he encouraged attendees to “come to the circle, come to the center of your being, come to the center of love, compassion and joy … for the nations of beings are depending on you — the animals, the water, the trees, the stone people, all of our relatives,” he said, emphasizing the importance of literally and metaphorically coming to our senses by centering “because, in a way, we’ve gone a little crazy with what we’re doing to the planet, and to ourselves.”
He challenged people to find, and carry out, our “mission … for the short time we are on this Earth,” referencing Chief Sitting Bull, who asked people to consult their minds and hearts to “see what kind of life we can put together for our children and the next generations” and consider how our decisions now will affect the future of our planet. In the gentlest way, he urged people to care for each other and deal with injustice.
“Rise above conflict with love and compassion — and address it,” he said. “Make firm, courageous and joyful footsteps to the center to see what kind of reality we can create for future generations.”
He mentioned one of his teachers, Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who, along with his fellow monks during the Vietnam War, wondered if they should remain in their monastery and simply meditate or go out and help victims.
“They (realized they) needed to do both: Engage (with their community) and remain grounded in meditation practice,” he said, adding, “We don’t give up. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. It is up to us to stand up and do what needs to be done to preserve Mother Earth, this beautiful paradise that’s been here for us, but, that, in just a few hundred years, we’ve destroyed. We can’t do it perfectly, and you can’t wait till you’re perfect. Just help out.”
He ended with a prayer song as a reminder of our gift of awareness.
“We aspire to help our relatives that we may live each day fully with kindness and compassion, with a conscious heart,” he said. “Our spirituality is every day, every breath we take, every step we take. … It’s up to us to see the balance and understand the beauty of life, the gift of the sacred. With each sacred breath, we are made anew.”