After talking together about the practices of awakening, empowerment, relinquishment, and paradox, the women who gathered for WeConnect at the GCN Conference moved to another layer of the wheel representing seasons in our lives. This layer made use of ideas and symbols from the Medicine Wheel of our North American First Nations people. Now I am hardly an expert on the medicine wheel. But in my crazy little home congregation we are passionate about reconciliation with our First Nations sisters and brothers and we have used the Medicine Wheel as part of our worship.
The medicine wheel differentiates the four quadrants of the circle with the colours white, yellow, red, and black. These colours make connections to seasons, directions, times of day, and elements of the created world. One of the things that has struck me about the opportunities that I’ve had to worship God our Creator with the medicine wheel is how intimately it connects us with the earth. God has given us two sources of revelation. The first is that vast beauty and wonder of his creation. “The heavens declare the Glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalm 19:1) The second is the written word, God’s story through the scriptures. In much of the western church we have so over-emphasized the scriptures that we have become impoverished in our connection to God through all that he has made. I get Richard Rohr’s daily meditation sent to me – and interestingly enough – this week he is focusing on calling us back to a robust connection with creation as a spiritual practice of remaining in God’s presence.
The white portion of the wheel corresponds with the season of winter; the direction of north; the time of day, the morning; and the element of wind. Now with simply these four ideas there is a wealth of possibility for the contemplative imagination. Growing up in farming country, I felt a lot more connection to the land as a kid than I do in my suburban concrete jungle. This quadrant brought us the spiritual practice of awakening. It now calls us to the freshness of a new day – the morning. It reminds us that despite the dormancy of winter, there is a preparation for newness. Think Bette Midler singing, “…. In the winter, far beneath the bitter snow, lies a seed that with the sun’s love, in the spring, becomes a rose.” The image of wind is so rich – think of God’s breath bringing forth life, think of a Chinook that brings life-giving warmth into frigid temperatures (that’s for you my Calgary friends), think of the breezes that bring respite in the midst of stifling humidity (that’s for you my friends in the south).
The yellow portion of the wheel corresponds with the season of spring; the direction of east; the time of day, noon; and the element of fire. Again – let your imagination fly. Tilling the earth, sowing seeds, baby lambs, life-giving rains, fresh blossoms. A time to be nourished with a lunch best picked directly from the fields. And of course, as a die-hard Survivor fan (don’t judge), the reminder that fire means life. This quadrant brings us the spiritual practice of empowerment – and you begin to see the incredible interconnection of ideas and symbols and something stirs in our spirit ….. we want to find ourselves alive and engaged in this quadrant – gratefully receiving the gifts of the earth.
The red portion of the wheel corresponds with the season of summer; the direction of south; the time of day, the afternoon; and the element of earth. If you’re a farmer, you know that the summer is a time of nurturing the crops you’ve sown. You weed, you water, you fertilize, you ward off insects and birds looking to freeload. But it is also a time to wait – and sometimes you feel helpless. A hail-storm comes and there is nothing you can do, an early frost, too little rain or too much. Summer is a time you must let go, there are too many things beyond your control. This quadrant brings us the spiritual practice of relinquishment. Indeed, the earth reminds us that God is on the throne – we are not. And we can choose to put our trust in and wait upon a God we believe is loving and good or not. And when storms come, when crops are destroyed, we empty ourselves waiting for God’s faithfulness and goodness to sustain us – beyond our control and our own capacity to make things well for ourselves.
The black portion of the wheel corresponds with the season of autumn; the direction of the west; the time of the day, evening; and the element of water. Finally harvest. Sowing and cultivating and nurturing and waiting …. and now the fruit. We carry the gifts into the next seasons and we are sustained. We see the beauty (at least in Canada where the leaves actually do change colour) and yet recollect that the harshness of winter is (likely) right around the corner. But a harvest bolsters our faith. It builds a trust in the goodness of God. We live in the now and the not yet. We receive and we face the unknown. This quadrant brings us the spiritual practice of paradox. We know and trust a good God and yet we suffer. We know a truth deep in our being (We are the BELOVED) and yet doubt and uncertainty nips at our heels. We rejoice and we mourn. We move and we wait. We sing and we lament. We rejoice and we sit in silence.
These images may connect more to some of us than to others. For some, the call back to the tangibility of the creation grounds us (no pun intended – well, maybe a little pun). It woos us back into the faithful rhythms we see in the seasons, in the compass, in the hours in a day. The medicine wheel helps us to pray – connected with the ways God makes himself visible through all that he has made and the trust-worthy movement embedded within.
In the next post, we’ll move to the next layer: Key questions that connect us to our true selves.