By Caroline N. Sharp
Advent is my favourite liturgical season; it always has been since I was a little girl.
The story of Christ’s birth reminds me that in this time of frigidity and death, warmth and life are stirring in the depths of it. Mary and Joseph are presented with some challenges during Advent and the birth of our Saviour is the happily ever after, tying this story up with a pretty little bow.
I was a CNE kid – we went to church for Christmas and Easter – so the story of baby Jesus’ birth really was a happily ever after for me. I rarely made it to the wise men or the family’s escape to Egypt. Although Luke’s Gospel account of this magical moment is my favourite, I’ve really come to love John’s account as I mature and become more aware of the world around me:
In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and darkness can never extinguish it.
Before anything is said, John starts with the Holy Trinity and ties the birth of Christ to Genesis 1:1. John reminds us of where everything comes from, including Jesus – the Word.
This past year especially, God’s Creation and the various tales of how everything began have resonated intensely in my mind. This is because I have been learning the ways of my First Nations ancestors – the Mi’kmaq.
The creation stories of various First Nations Peoples are similar and, in many ways, remind me of our Christian story of creation.
In the Mi’kmaq story, there are seven stages of creation:
1) Gisoolg is the giver of life who created all things.
2) Grandfather sun is born and gives life and our shadows. The spirit and physical worlds become connected.
3) Mother Earth – the drum is her heartbeat, and her children recognize her through this.
4) The first man, Glooscap, is created from a bolt of lightning and receives a feather from Gisoolg.
5) Glooscap meets his grandmother who teaches him. The seven bolts of lightning that created Glooscap are reused to make the Great Spirit Fire.
6) Glooscap meets his nephew who Is a prophet in some ways with visions of the future.
7) Glooscap meets his mother and a feast is had to celebrate. Gifts are given to her children that will help them to live the “good life.”
The number seven is prevalent in this story just like in Genesis and each day brings something new.
Gisoolg is like God in many ways as the Creator and Glooscap is similar to Jesus in that he educates and provides for the people of earth. Glooscap’s mother reminds me of Eve who is the mother of all, and his nephew is akin to John the Baptist who helps Jesus’ ministry. Either way, the goal is to live a good life.
What I love about these stories is that they connect and ground us. Everything is connected! We are all from the Creator who has asked us to care for all of creation – to show every living human, animal and plant the love which Creator has for us.
The concept that we are connected to everything that lives (even the mountains and oceans) and that if they fall, so do we, teaches us from the very beginning that we need to work on our relationships with the environment.
Believe it or not, the Bible (especially the OT) links people to the land. Most bibles even come with maps so we can visualize this connection! About five years ago I did a pilgrimage in the Holy Land (Israel) and we did A LOT of walking. I was convinced that Jesus must have been part goat for all the rocky hills and mountains there were. But, most importantly, the land had a story to tell.
Mary was from some tiny backwoods town and was likely not refined and well educated. Jesus, the Nazarene, fought with stereotypes his whole life that nothing good could possibly come from this place.
The Jordan River is still a popular site to this day where people go to be baptized or renew their baptism. There is a connection to the land there that is inescapable. How is it we can become so connected to certain parts of the world but not others? How is it we can connect to the land in Israel but not at home in North America?
A friend and mentor (who was born in England) once told me that North Americans are strange in that they normally speak of their ancestry before arriving here and even though a couple of generations or more have passed, they will still claim to be English or Irish or fill in the blank. We are not tied to this land … yet. Speaking of the Irish – they believe in something called a “thin spot” where the realm between heaven and earth come closer. My “thin spot” is by a river or lake. This is where I feel most strongly connected to our Creator.
Glooscap was given a feather which gives him strength and serves as a symbol of connection between his people and the Giver of Life, Grandfather Sun and Mother Earth. The feather may have been his thin spot. Many First Nations Peoples believe that the eagle is like the Holy Spirit who intercedes for us – the eagle is a communicator between our world and the Creator’s.
Christians might not have an eagle feather to hold on to to remind them of being connected to everything around us but we did have something else – incense. Not many churches still use this symbolism as we’ve learned over the years that smoke isn’t the best thing for our health and living the good life. But we haven’t replaced incense with anything else and in some ways, this disconnects us further from the natural world. We’ve lost our link so we must now go out into the world to find it.
I highly encourage you to find your thin spot! Become connected with the world around you and listen for those still, small voices. Some believe that everything resonates its own vibration or frequency – meditate in the right spot and you just might feel it – this is creation talking to you. What does it say?
Caroline N. Sharp is a tri-chair of SEJH.