Here and Now: Native American Religions

Before changing gears in this series, I want to highlight the belief in here-and-now living found in Native American religions.  As with the other religions we have looked at, there are variations between and among tribes.  But we can see the thread of present-moment living running through them all.  We see it particularly by looking at their prayers.

Most notably, they prayed that they might live in the Sacred Space.  This Lakota Prayer expresses the desire….

“Wakan Tanka, Great Mystery, Teach me how to trust My heart, My mind, My intuition, My inner knowing, The senses of my body, The blessings of my spirit. Teach me to trust these things So that I may enter my Sacred Space And love beyond my fear, And thus Walk in Balance With the passing of each glorious Sun.”

Sacred Space is the space between breathing in and breathing out, something we only do in the present moment.  The prayer is expressing the desire to be fully alive moment by moment, what the prayer refers to as walking “in Balance with the passing of each glorious Sun.”

Oglala Sioux leader, Black Elk, called living in the present moment “the first peace,” describing it in these words….

“The first peace, which is the most important, Is that which comes within the souls of people When they realize their relationship, Their oneness, with the universe and all its powers.

And when they realize that at the center Of the universe dwells Wakan-Taka (the Great Spirit), And that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us. This is the real peace, and the others are but reflections of this.”

Notice the present-tense verbs.  Black Elk spoke of an experience happening here-and-now, in the Great Spirit, and within each of us.

From this kind of praying and living, Native American religions mirrored the others we have looked at, believing that living in the present moment yielded the ability to see our oneness with everyone and everything, the motivation to act with kindness and compassion toward all, and the openness to receive everything that the Earth is created to give us.  [1]

[1] My understanding of Native American religions has been significantly shaped by Kent Nerburn’s book, ‘The Wisdom of the Native Americans’ (New World Library, 1999).  An earlier book co-authored by him and Louise Mengelkoch, ‘Native American Wisdom’ (New World Library, 1991) has also been helpful.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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