Recently, I had a conversation with an Indigenous friend and theologian. We discussed the Indigenous experience of salvation in Christ, knowing that some folks are a bit nervous about such language. We agreed that the Indigenous experience of the Gospel has a particular character: salvation is almost always experienced as tangible and practical freedom from very present and oppressive forces.
The forces that impact Indigenous Peoples are often expressed in personal difficulties, spiritual or moral weakness, addictions, sickness and despair. The power of these is often amplified by poverty, marginalization and the experience of feeling like a stranger in the only land you or your ancestors have ever known. These forces are powerful, but the experience of God’s power is greater. Salvation is not a metaphor for feeling forgiven or feeling good about the certainty of heaven. It is that, but it is also knowing that life could have a very different meaning apart from God’s intervention in your life.
Indigenous folks have this experience, I suppose, because of a mixture of the urgency of their personal and communal circumstances, as well as a readiness of mind and heart to see the spiritual. This experience is not isolated to them, by any means. Go to an AA meeting and you are likely to hear similar stories. This is something that often and even commonly characterizes the experience and understanding of Indigenous Christians. It certainly is a part of the communal expression of Christian faith that we experience in the Indigenous network.
This is not mentioned here to claim any advantage or priority in the Christian faith and life. At least part of the circumstances that give rise to it should not be desired by anyone. It is, however, something that should be understood by our fellow Christians. It does influence our view of life and our faith. It means that there is a desire, an expectation and a hope for liveliness to faith, being both a practical and miraculous faith. Faith should be healing.
This experience of faith often means that people are willing to forgive quite a lot about the past, before people come to active faith; it also means that quite a lot is expected after people come to faith. In addition, the immediacy of spiritual reality is expected in every aspect of the faith experience and journey. It is why our meetings always begin with a healthy period of time engaging the Gospel of the day. It is also why we believe God wishes to do something big in all of us-the whole church-to bring goodness to this Land.
Bishop Mark MacDonald is national indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.