[saymaListserv] Re: [afmdiscussion] Quaker Sweat Lodge Reflections by Chuck Fager

Julia Ewen jewen at bellsouth.net
Sat Oct 2 12:01:31 JEST 2004

Free's and Chuck's letters bring out several of my own concerns.

I have in the past objected to appropriating the sweat lodge ritual for
Quaker youth both because it is an out of context use of somebody else's
sacred form without the cultural and spiritual life that grounds it, and
because it is a ritual. As unprogrammed Friends we are agreed not to rely on
rituals but on our own direct corporate and individual experience of the
Spirit, as free as possible from outward forms.

That said, I am heartened to see in Chuck's description that the practice
has included the Celtic and other European uses of sweating as a spiritual
discipline or tool and the Japanese. Participating in worship forms with
members of other religious groups and being open to the Spirit moving in
them is not in my view a bad thing. I was open to experiencing and learning
from African spirituality while I was living there in the early 70's. But I
still think  that is quite different from coopting a form, distorting and
diluting it, to make something quite different from the original and still
calling it the same thing. I think it would be appropriate to call this
method of spiritual gathering something other than a sweat lodge.
(Presumably Scandanavian Americans will not have a problem if we called it
something like a Sauna for Meditative Mysticism??--(grin). Or perhaps just
call it a Spiritual Sweat, and leave out the word "lodge" which in North
America is associated with Native American dwellings and gathering places)

I think that Ms Lopez has a point. European Americans feel much freer to
borrow and modify Native American culture's spirituality for our own
purposes than we do for example Catholic or Jewish ritual. We would
certainly understand if the Catholic diocese objected to our calling a
nonCatholic ritual a mass, particularly if we purported to pass around the
genuine blood and body of Jesus during same...There have been wars between
Catholics and Protestants over this very thing...There are also Jews who
doubtless feel offended when Gentiles purport to be celebrating Passover
with a seder.

However, I do agree with Chuck that the reaction to Ms Lopez's concern was
both pricipitous and irrational and circumvented our Quaker process, which
is there for good reason. So that we do not act out ill considered people
pleasing notions and act from Truth.

Three blind spots of FGC Quakers have been illuminated Ms Lopez's concern:

One, the assumption that Quakers because we have been civil rights activists
are never unaware of how our actions impact on members of other ethnicities;

Two, our assumption that the only kind of ethnic or power based arrogance
that merits our attention is racism against African Americans,

and Three, that any accusation about offending people not of European
descent is an automatic conviction and should be dealt with summarily.

We are working on number One in our Meeting.

Numbers Two and Three though have a strong grip on both Atlanta Meeting and
SAYMA as well as the FGC Gathering.

While, as I said, I have my doubts about the sweat lodge, at least under
that name, I think we should apply Quaker process and not just toss it out
summarily. The Spirit may show all of us something that will resolve the
matter much more lovingly and creatively than we can see how at the moment.

Julia Parker Ewen

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