“Yesterday, I fell from the sky.”
I resonated with these striking words from Erik Mollenhauer, the leader of the “Voices From the Land” workshop I went to last weekend in Toronto. He opened his Saturday morning session with these words, referring not just to the plane that brought him to Toronto, but also retelling the story of Sky Woman. In the Aboriginal creation story, she drops from the sky, which leads to the formation of North America.
The Aboriginal story recounts Sky Woman’s disorientation after falling from Sky World, which is like Eden. She doesn’t know
how she will survive, but one event after another ensures that she is provided for. A flock of geese give her a soft landing, and animals band together to bring her bits of dirt which she places on turtle’s back and her new home is born. “Turtle Island” is the name given to North America.
The entire story of creation is rich in detail and apparently takes days to tell (proving it came from pre-TV days). Even if I didn’t fall through the hole in Sky World left by an uprooted tree like Sky Woman, all weekend I kept thinking that I had more in common with her than I realized.
Our van pulled up to the nature center in the early evening of Friday, and my Winnipeg friend Cathy and I stepped out into the crisp fall air. Maple leaves crunched underfoot and the smells of nature were instantly calming in the moonlit air. We were a group within a group – 8 of us teachers were being trained to present the workshop, but we would be also taking the workshop beginning on Saturday with 20 other participants.
We began the next morning standing in a circle outside to participate in a smudge led by an elderly Aboriginal woman named Sam. I’ve taken part in smudges before, but this was the most meaningful one. Sam first gave a talk about gratitude, and, standing in the circle in the misty morning, surrounded by huge white pine, cypress trees and birds, it was hard not to notice a growing sense of gratitude as she spoke. One by one, Sam invited us to be grateful for the aspects of our lives that we often take for granted.
The one that topped my list was being thankful for all the people who had freed us up to be at the workshop – the people who affirmed our vocation and helped us say yes. My husband had helped me to arrange the trip and encouraged me to go, along with my friends who helped me say yes and reminded me that my fear-inducing “to do” list was not as urgent as I thought.
Previous to the smudge, I had woken up on Saturday morning with the first line of a poem in my heart. I quickly emailed it to myself so I wouldn’t forget. This is not a normal occurrence for me! It was indicative of an atmosphere which allowed me to rest in the miracle of nature and poetry and excellent content from the workshop.
My group created some art using found objects in nature and then wrote a poem about it. I wasn’t looking forward to this part, but when we rehearsed and then performed our poem the next morning, it became an experience of being more deeply anchored in the gratitude Sam talked about. And being met with cheers from our audience must be what a poetry slam feels like! Surrounded by meaning and creativity, it felt like I was being provided for in abundance like Sky Woman.
Scripture says that God is continually creating and re-creating us, and I felt a bit like I was part of the creation story last weekend. Being in a new environment had an awakening effect on me; like I was finding who I am for the first time, or at least in a deeper way. I’ve wasted so much of my life mired in emotionalism. As I’ve been letting go of that old way this fall, I’ve been discovering the truth of what God says in scripture, “Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)
I hope that I can provide even a small taste of this experience for my students in the future, but more than that, I hope that I will continue to be reborn. Continue to take leaps of faith into new worlds and become more grateful for the provision all around me. Like the bits of soil the animals brought to Sky Woman, God’s gifts come our way so steadily. You could build a whole new continent; a whole new life, out of it.