In Christian circles, the biggest hurdle in working with Indigenous Peoples is the notion that Indigenous Peoples’ spirituality is not “from God.” Many then either shy away from talking about Indigenous spirituality or categorically deny that God is in any of it. The former leaves us marginalizing this group by our absence, while the latter likely damages what God has already been doing in that Indigenous person’s life.
Make no mistake; God is there ahead of us. We as a church believe that there are people following God who may not know God by the name Jesus (John 1:29; Rom. 1:20; 2:12-16).1 Shouldn’t we be looking and listening, then, for where God is working in a person’s life and meet God in that amazing new relationship?
“Heaven’s plan of salvation is broad enough to embrace the whole world. God longs to breathe into prostrate humanity the breath of life. And He will not permit any soul to be disappointed who is sincere in his longing for something higher and nobler than anything the world can offer. Constantly He is sending His angels to those who, while surrounded by circumstances the most discouraging, pray in faith for some power higher than themselves to take possession of them and bring deliverance and peace. In various ways, God will reveal Himself to them and will place them in touch with providences that will establish their confidence in the One who has given Himself a ransom for all.”2
According to this statement, the Holy Spirit does all of this before we even get there — and irrespective of whether we ever do get there. Without taking anything away from Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for us and all humanity, we can sit across from another person different from us in race, gender, and even spirituality — and respectfully learn about the amazing things the Creator has been up to in all of our lives. In that common space of the shared presence of the Holy Spirit, we can see where God has shown us similar things. Of course, there will be differences, but we can start with common ground — like ceremony.
Non-Indigenous people often mistake the purpose of ceremony for Indigenous people. Daily, seasonally, and at crucial moments of life, a focused connection with our Creator is needed. Although there are many different types of ceremony across the diverse Indigenous nations and peoples, Blair Stonechild, a professor at First Nations University of Canada, has this to share about the intent of ceremony from his Plains Cree and Saulteaux principles: “One of the most important functions of ceremony is to constantly remind people about their true nature as spiritual beings and to reinforce our understanding of our role in Creation.”3
An intentional effort made to live in balance with the Creator of all things — that’s ceremony. Many Indigenous people see prayer and fasting as other forms of ceremony, as ways to help us stay connected to our Creator, knowing He is Creator and we the creation.
God has spoken to us and said there are ways for us to stay connected, ways to remember, “I am your God; and you, my child.” We are all seeking to live with God at the very center of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:29, 30).
As I let this sink in, I have come to understand that Sabbath, one of the most important practices we have as Adventists, is ceremony. Among the many things that help me stay connected, know my Creator, and experience what He has and continues to do for me is Sabbath. Sabbath is ceremony.
Campbell Page is the Indigenous Relations director for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada.
1. See also Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1898), 638.
2. Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1917), 377. Emphasis supplied.
3. Blair Stonechild, Loss of Indigenous Eden and the Fall of Spirituality (Regina, SK: University of Regina Press, 2020), 32, 33.