Changing The River Course

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Water is one of the most common metaphors for God in the Bible and is used to convey a range of experiences: being nourished by life-giving rain; being swept along by a powerful river joining in the flow of justice, or still water reviving our souls. Just as a body of water can buoy us, refresh us, and sustain us, it can also become fearsome in a storm and overwhelm us.

Storms can come into our lives in the form of a calamity or hardship of some kind. It might be a trauma-related, medical issue, a marital problem, a legal issue, or something else. The list goes on and on. 

Today for Indigenous people, the water is roaring!

Attorney and activist Sherri Mitchell from the Penobscot Nation writes about the collective trauma and undercurrent wound that Native Americans and Indigenous people have suffered:

“My group, Native Americans, have suffered an unrecognized holocaust in this country. The brutal genocide of Native peoples is hard to acknowledge for many, especially for those who have inherited some value from the loss and destruction that occurred here. How do you acknowledge the injustice of genocide, disruption of culture, and the destruction of a way of life when you’re living on the lands of those who have been victimized? It is hard for people to accept that horror and continue to live with the outcome, so they choose to ignore it or minimize the story. The simple truth is that this country was founded on genocide and slavery. . . . [1]

When we don’t allow ourselves to acknowledge the pain—the deep, agonizing soul pain that results from historical trauma—we aren’t able to recognize that we are all carrying some measure of that pain within us. Instead, we allow it to isolate us and keep us cut off from one another. We also fail to recognize that the cause of that pain is not only a violation against us, it is a violation against life itself, and its mournful cries echo through our DNA, and become lodged in our genetic memory. [2]”

Unless you're an Indigenous person, if you were born in America, somewhere in your lineage, you can trace back to ancestors who came here from across the seas to start a new life. Their decision affected all future generations in your ancestry, including you. Your stream in life has taken different ebbs and flow because of the choices made by those who came before you.

Isn't that ancient history?

Unfortunately, I have heard well-intentionally Christian brothers and sisters say, “Just get over it!” 

I have often found that people who say “Just move on” don’t have any solutions; they don’t ever offer suggestions on what method to get over it or deal with it. Many times they read the Bible from the vantage point of comfort and filter out those parts that threaten themselves. They only offer dispraising and quick fixes advice which remind me of my childhood and how I was never right, never good enough and never entitled to or taught about feelings or pain. I was not entitled to realize that I had been wronged. I was always told that I was the one who was wrong no matter what the situation was.

And once again this all began in childhood. Being conditioned this way as a child prepared me to accept that something was wrong with me, so statements like “Just move on” trigger the same feelings of “not good enough.” These unhealthy teachings, carried on into my adulthood.  Until I learned that I do have feelings and rights, that I am as equally valuable as everyone else and that I am permitted to and allowed to feel the pain, hurt, sadness of the past and get angry about it.  Through various healing journeys, resilience, forgiveness, and with the work of the Spirit, I came to a place where I could “get over it” but until I embraced those truths, I was stuck in the sick dysfunctional system.

But there are other soul wounds where the waters run deep. There are bitter water wounds that we don’t know about or don’t remember but that are deep because they are carried in our earthly bodies. These wounds also run in perpetrators of these unspeakable crimes, and those who continue to benefit from those crimes.

Think about drinking downstream, turning from fallen thinking in these words:

“Okay, let me try to lay this out straight for you,” Dan said. “I’m not saying any of this is your fault or even that your grandparents did any of it. I’m saying it happened, and it happened on your people’s watch. You’re the one who benefited from it. It doesn’t matter that you’re way downstream from the actual events. You’re still drinking the water."

“I don’t care if you feel guilty. I just care that you take some responsibility. Responsibility’s about what you do now, not about feeling bad about what happened in the past. You can’t erase the footprints that have already been made. What you’ve got to do is take a close look at those footprints and make sure you’re more careful where you walk in the future.”

—Lakota Elder Dan to settler author Kent Nerburn [3]

You can take this as a burden and decline to answer the call. This is how the wound keeps reproducing itself. Or you can see this as a gift and an honor, an opportunity to contribute to those you'll never see or know, those who are downstream, not born yet. And you can choose to do the work of healing yourself and them.

Some Native Americans believe that our actions affect the seven generations in both directions. Think about that possibility. Is it possible that we can evolve our lineage backwards in time as well as forwards?

The floods are here now, the time has now come to break the cycle, and once again claim our sanity and humanity. Breaking this cycle and claiming our humanity will require much work from all of us. Those who have been the victims of years, decades, and centuries of oppression first must heal from injuries received first-hand, as well as those passed down through the ages. Those who have been the perpetrators of these unspeakable crimes, and those who continue to benefit from those crimes, have to honestly confront their deeds and heal from the psychic wounds that come with being the mainspring and beneficiaries of such great pain and suffering. 

Whether we currently identify as a victim or a victor, we are all wounded. If we could see our wounds as the way through, as Jesus did, then they would become sacred wounds, and not something to deny, mask, or dispense to others. Like the Covid virus, if we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly infect those closest to us. Perhaps we all come from a lineage of those who are emotionally wounded and have spiritual pain. Please recognize, needing help is no indicator of your faith or spiritual life. You might come from a lineage of anger or violence, from people who kept score and settled them in ways that were destructive to themselves and others. 

It takes courage to do the work of healing. It's not comfortable, convenient, or without turbulence. It's not maintaining the status quo. It means being radically honest with yourself and those around you. This kind of honesty will make others profoundly uncomfortable, but it will transform your soul.

If we're healing and transforming the wounds, we carry from those who came before, we're also changing the river course of those who come after. Those who follow will have a different standard as the foundation for the linage. If we break the chain of addiction, violence or other inherited, limiting beliefs, our children, and their children and those who follow them are given access to possibilities not available to the ancestors. And thus, the entire lineage emerges.

For Jesus, forgiveness is all about the restoration of relationship. And he calls us to follow in his footsteps. This is how God’s healing is established.  I invite you to consider making this choice for the masses of people you represent. Imagine that standing behind you are the people from your past and your future. Many of them haven't even been born yet.

Will you choose to step in faith, do the conscious work of healing and remove the chain of bondage of generations as numerous as the stars in the sky?

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