I am a slow learner, especially when what I to learn concerns myself. Several years ago—closer to seven years ago— Sister Jose Hobday, a Native American Medicine Woman and Catholic nun, formally, if spontaneously, dubbed me a Holy Rascal. A few years later a Native American Medicine Man gave me the title Coyote Rebbe. What both of these wonderful and wise teachers were trying to tell me was that I am at heart a shaman and a trickster.
I have heard this before. Usually the frame is, “Your humor is so disarming, yet if I listen closely to what you said that made me laugh I realize that you just pulled the rug of faith out from under me.” You can get away with a lot if you make people laugh while you are doing it.
But there is more to being a Coyote Rebbe than being funny. You also have to know how to create ritual and sacred space and time, and help people enter into it. It is a rare skill, and one that too many people claim to master. Most ritual is tedious, self–conscious, and narcissistic: feeding the ego rather than slaying it. Good ritual is good theater. Great ritual is great fun.
Play lies at the heart of what I do; sacred play, holy play, but play nonetheless. This is what my Native American teachers were trying to tell me, and this is what finally sank in this week while I was teaching in Chartres, France.
It was a week of heady learning, that is learning that took place almost always in the head. I love intellectual talk, but I don’t take it all that seriously. What I do take seriously is chant, song, silence, storytelling, and imaginative readings of sacred text. These are the core of what I do, and doing them in Chartres was a powerful experience.
As the week unfolded I realized more and more strongly that my gift is not that of a scholar or deep thinker. My gift is that of a deep player. I can, almost unconsciously, create a safe and sacred space in which people can drop the maps they follow and spend a few minutes actually walking the landscape.
I share this with you not to pat myself on the back, but to help me remember what I learned this week. It has been a long time coming.