Letting Go of Your Own Understanding

Letting Go of Your Own Understanding

BY TERESA THOMPSON | June 19, 2023
Sunday’s Readings

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.Letting Go of Your Own UnderstandingI 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.

For Reflection:

  • 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?
6 replies
  1. Dr. Eileen Quinn Knight
    Dr. Eileen Quinn Knight says:

    Teresa’s reflection makes me think about the meetings I have gone to where I have learned about the group I am with. It happened when I was with the Project Push many years ago and being with them was inspiritional, informative and leading me to prayer and action. The people that were in change knew what they were doing and invited me and otherss to be at one with them.I did realize that they had spent hours upon hours figuring out what was best for the group. They were kind, thoughtful and merciful. I was no where near their understanding and love for the people they were serving. I was somewhat surprised that I needed a lot more prayer and service to ‘understand’ the goodness of the people. I would say that this group opened my eyes to a new understanding of the way to be with others we formerly didn’t understand.

  2. sonja
    sonja says:

    When I discovered from the police that most sex offenders were once victims of sexual abuse, predominantly from women, my worldview was radically changed. There is no black and white, only varying shades of grey in our world and there but for the grace of God go I. We are all one. And healing begins with compassion, no matter who we are, or what labels are imposed upon us.
    The lost sheep are the many survivors who are encouraged to dump anger on their offenders, instead of learning to have compassion for themselves, so they can then in turn offer compassion to others, including their offenders.

  3. Brigid Haragan
    Brigid Haragan says:

    So why is the distinction made that the address is not a prayer? How is ‘prayer’ being defined? Just curious.

  4. Dr.Cajetan Coelho
    Dr.Cajetan Coelho says:

    The humble sheep are members of God’s creation. Guarding and streamlining the working of the flock of shepherds is a challenging mission.


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