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Native American ritual and prayer were presented today to the Unitarian Universalist meeting in Bend, Oregon, by Chandra Smith.

Chandra Smith arrangement

Chandra Smith's arrangement of Native American symbols for UU Bend service.

At the center of a circular assembly Chandra created a small altar of symbolic items. There were many items surrounding the bear, most of which are outside of the photograph, such as a fourth candle which would be at the top of the picture, and each item symbolized a portion of the tradition and experience of these Native American people. They are the ones who inhabited this land for thousands of years before Westerners arrived and swept away these ancient traditions.

There was, perhaps, a well-intentioned effort to integrate Native Americans into Western society by sending their children to English-speaking schools, but that left these young people mentally stuck between a subdued Native American culture and an expanding Western one. That was unfortunate for these children, because when they became adults they felt that they didn’t really belong to either culture, which led to an era of lost traditions of the old culture and depression in the new one. Recently the Native Americans have been salvaging the old traditions, and finding new ways of applying traditional wisdom and thus living in greater harmony with nature. Modern western people, especially those locked into TV,  computer, and cell phone driven life styles have lost touch with the Universe of Sun, Moon and stars. However, these things are still there, beckoning us to join in the symphony of being.

After the service Chandra invited everyone to attend a Circle at her home, and I went. It was outdoors and I was especially welcome because to maintain balance in these types of meetings they needed members of both sexes, and I was the guy. The plan was that we were each going to play Native American instruments after we and the instruments had been spiritually cleansed by being smudged. That consisted of Chandra lighting a special herb-laden bundle, seen wrapped in red thread just behind the bear’s head in the photo, set on fire and set to smoldering and then the smoking smudge being solemnly moved about each person, one after the other.  It was quite friendly and pleasant. Then the instruments were smudged too, one by one, to make them pure.

Chandra started a rhythm on her drum and we each joined in on a great variety of individually chosen instruments. It was quite rhythmic in a random way and very pleasant and emotionally settling. We went for about ten minutes, paused, and offered some thoughts to the Circle, and then continued drumming. I could easily imagine doing this all night long under the wilderness stars beside a smouldering fire in the ancient days and having a very “in tune with the Universe” feeling.

I had chosen for my noise maker a little ping-pong paddle-like instrument with a small wooden pebble attached on strings to either edge. As I twisted the handle the two pebbles would swing, strike the surfaces and make a sound, but try as I might it was impossible to make a rhythmic sound. Each of these pebbles had its own direction and velocity and my twists just gave them energy, but I had little control over them, so in the midst of the other instruments rhythm my efforts were perfect chaos.

Many more things happened but that was the trend.

I am filling with a humble blue respect for the ancient ways of connecting.