I read this passage...somewhere, I have no idea where. It was years ago, and it has vividly stuck in my mind every since I first read it from some blog or compilation or whatever. I read A New Kind of Christian for the first time last week and was stunned and pleased to see this in it. I knew I had never read this book, but I know I had read this story. It was a great case of literary deja vu for me and sparked my previous post on syncretism.
So I want to share it. If you never read the book, at least you'll read this. Maybe it will stick with you as it has done with me. Or maybe you'll actually go read this book and see how deeper the story gets than just this one part...
"I got a call one Friday morning saying that a group of Native American pastors was coming to D.C. for some special meetings and their accommodations fell through. Would I be willing to host them? I said sure and that evening I picked up seven of them at the airport. I'll never forget the crowded ride home in the van -- I don't think I've ever been around such happy, fun loving me. The jokes and puns and laughter just flowed. When we got home and they saw my guitars and mandolin, they immediately started to play and sing. I never would have guessed that Indians like cowboy music!
On Saturday they had their meetings downtown, and then they did some sightseeing. On Sunday we sang an old country and western gospel song together at my church, with me playing the mandolin. It was a riot, the people just loved it. The guys had to leave on Monday morning, so we stayed up well after midnight that Sunday night, singing and talking. When the music quieted down, I asked them a question: 'Do any of you use Native American culture in your church services back home?' There was this awkward silence, and they looked around at each other -- no joking now; everyone was very serious.
Finally one of them said, 'No, we don't.' And then, all around the room, they started to admit that they didn't use any Native culture in their services, that the missionaries had told them it was all of the devil, that sort of thing. Then one of the men made a confession. I could tell that it took some courage for him to say this. He said, 'Actually, I do still go to "the sweats," and for me it is part of my worship.' He then explained the ritual of the sweat lodge: 'I take off my clothes--which is like getting honest before God. Then I got down into the sweat, which is like going down deep into my heart. I am there, naked, with all my brothers, which is a reminder that I am part of a community and I can have no pride or pretense in front of them. Then we pour water on hot rocks over a fire, and the rocks make steam. This is like prayer, and as I pour the water, I confess my sins to God. The more I confess, the hotter it gets, and the hotter it gets the more I sweat. The sweat is like purification. So for me, this is a meaningful part of my worship now that I'm a Christian. I've never told anyone this--you might think that this is terrible.'
Then one of the other pastors spoke up and said it really did concern him. It sounded to him like syncretism, like adulterating pure Christianity with pagan elements. He said that we shouldn't mix worship of the One True God with elements from other religions. The silence became uncomfortable until this same fellow started to speak again, with tears now streaming down his face. 'I'm sorry,' he said. 'That wasn't me speaking, that was my seminary speaking through me. Please forgive me. I really think what you just said about the sweats was beautiful.'
It took him a couple of minutes to finish speaking, he was so choked up--it was really quite moving to see how emotional this was, not just for the two men who had spoken but for all of them. Then this man continued, 'I am Hopi, and one of the most meaningful memories in my life is being a boy, before our family became Christians, and being at the pow-wow. We would dance and dance for hours each day. You see, in Hopi culture, dance isn't just symbolic. Dance is actually a form of prayer. Every time my foot stamps on the ground, I'm saying something to the great spirit that I could never put into words. My whole body is praying as I move around the circle.'
By this time, he was standing and demonstrating the movements. Then he sat down again and put his head in his hands. 'One of my greatest dream,' he said, 'would be someday to lead my congregation in a Hopi dance of worship to my Savior.' Then he really started to weep, and the other men went around him and put their hands on his shoulder, and one of them prayed for him. What a moment that was. I'll never forget it."