the penultimate WORD
Series 2007 -
The Irvine Tartan • My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican
May it please thee that, by the wholesome medicines of the doctrine delivered by him, all the diseases of our souls may be healed...
Saint Luke the Evangelist
Book of Common Prayer
The hide had been cured in a teepee. The hard-wood smoke had permeated the supple hide, soften by chewing, and now decorated with bead work. Lined with cotton, and stitched with prayer, the medicine bag was encased in a shoe box that had been sent from the priest at Muskratdam Lake. Tommy Beady – his brother Gordon would later become Bishop of Keewatin – had shot the moose in the Severn River basin and the bead work was the careful handicraft of his wife. The medicine bag was a gift; I had been the sole non-native instructor at the Catechists’ School in the Diocese of Keewatin the month before. That was twenty-three years ago.
I had noticed that both priest and catechist carried with them a medicine bag as they entered St Matthew’s Church for the lectures and for the worship. Over three hundred visitors attending the School lefts billets in the village and each carried a medicine bag strapped over a shoulder. The bags were all made of moose hide. But the bead work varied and the knowing eye could identify the communities of Northwestern Ontario and Northeastern Manitoba. The colour and the design spoke of community and my medicine bag identifies with the indigenous community on the Severn River – Muskratdam Lake.
Natives recognized early the healing properties of the Gospel and the Sacraments and were able to assimilate the Christian ministry of healing and reconciliation without difficulty. They were able to connect healing with the spiritual aspect of people and the world about them. Of course there were cultural differences that were obvious as Missionaries worked their way south from Hudson Bay. The Church of England was a vehicle of cultural influence throughout the Commonwealth, and the native cultures they encountered provided a stark contrast in many ways, but one.
The wholesome medicines of the doctrine delivered by Luke, and others, had impacted multiple cultures from its genesis in Jerusalem centuries earlier. Where the sword allowed, hearts found a note of Truth that resonated with men and women in successive generations. Where coercion of local wills was absent, spirits of men and women in search of God found the Spirit that rested upon them.
Wholesome medicines filled each medicine bag. The Scriptures in Cree and the Prayer Book in Cree and three Hymn Books, all in Cree filled the bags. The diligence of priests and bishops in an earlier day spoke a familiar word to a native people who saw and heard in this news of Jesus fulfillment of what they had come to know. Their spiritual knowledge was confirmed and strengthened in the Scripture and Liturgy and they knew instinctively that this spoke of their healing… their restoration… their salvation.
Coupled with the Scriptures and the Prayer Book and the Hymn Books was Sweetgrass – holy grass. The Sweetgrass is most commonly found as braids. The herb’s sweet vanilla-like scent is the breath of the Earth Mother, and brings the blessing of the Earth Mother’s love as it is burned and smudged and the trailing smoke is washed over the object of the blessing: the Gospel as it is read; or over the Chalice and Paten at the time of the Offertory or over the People as we join in prayer. Reminiscent of incense, the plumes of smoke, less dense than Augustinian Mass Incense, engage the senses and the whole being in engaged in prayer and supplication. Prayers journey to God, carried visibly as word accompanies action and Liturgy draws us all in healing supplication to God who loves us and makes us whole.
In my medicine bag are several “souvenirs” – remembrances of a healing doctrine found in the Gospel and particularly borne witness by Luke. I have placed my Bible there, along with both my Book of Common Prayer as well as my Book of Alternative Services. I have also placed my braided rope of Sweetgrass and an Eagle’s Feather reminding me – as does the brass Eagle Lectern familiar across our diocese – that the Gospels lift us up and draw us nearer to the One Jesus so passionately wants us to draw near.
Miigwech, Jesus, Gchi Miigwech, Jesus.
Copyright © 2007 James T. Irvine
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Teachings at the Muskratdam Catechists’ School:
Midi: Sacred Ground