A friend of mine who was serving as chief of his band said that the heart of Indigenous Cree spirituality revolves around praying for good hunting in the fall, and giving thanks for good hunting in the spring.
When I relate this story, sometimes people ask, “How do you know it was good hunting?”
I replied, “If you make it through the winter alive, it was good hunting.”
In Indigenous Cree theology, we begin with the idea that it is a good world. The Creator made her, and she provides for us. Our response to enjoying the world that Creator has provided is to give thanks.
Thanksgiving fulfills the circle of relationships that characterize our journey here on the circle of the earth. Being unthankful can indicate a shift in focus, from the relationships that make up our world to focus upon ourselves.
Sin in a First Nations context refers to a “falling out of balance” into self-consciousness, which causes shame. Instead of seeing ourselves as part of the web of relationships, we only see ourselves. Repentance from sin then is to shift toward life, to reembrace relationships and attempt to walk in responsibility.
It occurs to me that in North America, repentance is primarily about the feeling of remorse over wrong. Thus, repentance is thought of primarily as a negative feeling that one must feel before forgiveness is applied to take away the negative feelings. One problem with this understanding of repentance is that it renders repentance primarily emotive of the negative kind, turning from sin and nasty emotions to feeling happy because of forgiveness.
But this does nothing to speak about the need to actually change one’s conduct or the way of living. Repentance is more than just a feeling of guilt that can be assuaged by talk of forgiveness. Could repentance also be conceived of as a turning away from sin toward life?
This seems to be a rather straightforward reading of Acts 11:18, in which repentance could be interpreted as taking responsibility for one’s life and work toward repairing the primary relationships of life. This includes the relationships with God the Creator, the relationships with other human beings, the relationships with the rest of creation, and the relationship with ourselves.
Can responsibility be included in the concept of repentance?
We are part of creation and as such we are responsible to live in relationship with the Creator and the created order. Karl Barth affirms that our identity as created individuals means we are responsible to God, the Creator. Barth affirms Acts 2:37, that every individual is confronted with the need to repent, to give up a life apart from God, to embrace the only life possible, the life with God.
Repentance can be seen as a return or a responding to God, and entering again into this responsibility. This does not mean that we are responsible for our own salvation — that is entirely the work of God — but that we can enter again the relationship with the Creator that brings our life into its proper frame of reference. That is, we are to live out our obedience to the Creator as response to His grace.
This idea of repentance as a return to responsibility is in keeping with the understanding of repentance as a turn to embrace indigenous identity.
In Canada, we are still attempting to move past wounds from the colonial past — times when Canada attempted to tame the “wild” land and “Christianize” the wild people. We treated the land like a commodity, no longer seen as nourishing and sustaining people. “It” was seen as a mere commodity, and Creation as an enemy, wild and needed to be subdued. And indigenous people were seen as savages needed to be socialized to Euro-Canadian society.
Today, we recognize that these beliefs were all misguided. It would have been better to seek and develop the proper relatedness of all things.
Repentance is turning to embrace our place as part of the created order, to give thanks, and to take responsibility to work toward healing relationships. As winter is coming in Canada, I pray for good hunting. And in the spring, I will give thanks for good hunting.