I spent an afternoon recently at the Skä•noñh Great Law of Peace Center, located near Syracuse, NY. The heritage center shares the history and culture of the Haudenosaunee people, the original inhabitants of much of the land that makes up Central New York. As a non-Indigenous person, I was thrilled to learn more about experiences and perspectives different than my own, and as a Catholic, I was intrigued to notice values similar to my faith—such as the emphasis on creating and maintaining peace, and honoring the equal worth of all human beings.
One exhibit shared the meaning of the traditional Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address, a salutation to numerous elements of nature such as the Earth Mother, the plants, the animals, the Four Winds, the stars, and the Creator. The Address is spoken at many formal Haudenosaunee gatherings, but—the exhibit carefully noted with emphasis—it is NOT a prayer.I was taken aback to notice how unreceptive I felt to that information. Reading through the lyrical and loving words of the Thanksgiving Address, I had started imagining it as a prayer to and with nature. It was jarring to be asked to engage with Haudenosaunee culture not by just comparing and relating it to my worldview, but by actually stepping outside of what I already know and letting myself be guided into new terrain.
Elsewhere in the Skä•noñh Center, exhibits told the grim tales of European settlement – the Doctrine of Discovery, the residential boarding schools. The misery and death wreaked by other Catholics and Christians who were too wed to their own ideas and understanding about life. Those who defied the command Jesus spoke in Matthew’s Gospel: to search for their own lost sheep of the House of Israel instead of prowling unwanted in pagan territory and Samaritan towns.
Lord, deliver us from their grave errors—help us understand in which spaces we are called to lead, counseled to learn, and commanded to leave.
- When have you needed to let go of your own understanding and instead embrace the distinct perspective, experience, or worldview of another person?
- How can you heed Jesus’ command to search for lost sheep in your own house? In what spaces are you called to lead, counseled to learn, and commanded to leave?
Teresa Thompson is a therapist and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. She works for racial justice through a faith-based lens at her parish, the Church of St. Francis Xavier, and through her involvement with Call To Action. Originally hailing from the Caribbean and Ireland, Teresa worked in New York City’s public mental health system for six years before transitioning into private practice. She loves being a friend, sister, daughter, wife, and dog mom.