Wednesday, December 26, 2012

How Shall I Greet Thee?

We've been receiving a few annual christmas letters from friends around the country.  Mostly folks from our "former lives" -- friends from husband's high school, our friends from a church we attended 30 years ago, friends that we only hear from during christmas. Most of the letters talk about what folks did during the year - travels, new grandkids, retirement, volunteer work.

I guess this dates me. Younger folks no longer mail christmas cards and letters. They tweet, facebook, instagram, pinterest, etc. Why wait for year-end to regal your friends with the highlights of your year when you can do it on a daily basis?

I've been thinking of how to greet my friends this holiday season. I will have to write different kinds of letters -- to the high school classmates that I've reconnected with, to former office mates when I worked for a corporation, to childhood friends from back home, to friends in various organizations that I belong, to colleagues at work, to former church-mates, to new friends, etc.

These are the parts of myself that connect with these different groups. They knew me when ...and so if I reciprocate with a letter of my own, shouldn't I let them know how I have changed over the years? But would they want to know? I am not sure. When I read these letters, I don't get that sense of wanting to connect at that level. It may be enough for them that we know that they are still alive and active; that they are living meaningful and fun-filled lives. That they have the money and privilege to do so.

If I write this letter, my preference is to take this opportunity to reconnect at a much deeper and more meaningful level. To speak from my heart about what really matters to me at this time of my life. But I hesitate and I'm wondering why.  It's the same dilemma I wrestle with when a friend asks: Leny, how come you don't talk or write about your inner spiritual practice? In response, I said that, on the contrary, I've been quite public about my inner processes/reflections. For the past twenty years, I've written about my process of decolonization and indigenization. To me, this is spiritual work. It is integral. It is wholistic. It is political. It is personal. It is sacred.

The more I move away colonial thinking (binary, linear, fragmented, hierarchical, non-indigenous), the more I find it hard to talk in terms of what is spiritual and what isn't.

Same with these holidays. Christmas is part of my Methodist childhood. So there is always a part of me that gets nostalgic for the church Christmas programs, the caroling, Handel's messiah, simbang gabi. I've since deconstructed the religion of my childhood - how Protestant Christianity is married to capitalism and empire -  so, of course, the shopping frenzy (to feed the near-death capitalist system) didn't escape me.  I tried to be as wise as I could be about it. I didn't contribute to the coffers of mall shops and bought mostly from local merchants.

So this going local was the theme of these holidays for me. This is part of my growing commitment to sustainability, to creating a smaller carbon footprint, to lesser use of resources. It is part of a commitment to develop a relationship to a Place.

For the past decades, the search for a Place of one's own was more or less a symbolic process for me. The search for connection to a Home and Land, to Homeland, led to a desire to acquire knowledge about Filipino indigenous knowledge systems and practices. But this couldn't remain an academic pursuit alone. The idea of belonging to a Place  became a call to consider the Indigenous worldview as a starting point. What does it mean to be indigenous to a place? Can I be indigenous to a Place that originally belonged to the Coast Miwok, Pomo, Kashaya, Wintun, Wappo, Numlaki, and other tribes in this region of Northern California?

Yesterday, I looked at the pile of books next to the bed and noticed how they are mostly by Native authors writing about indigenizing the academy, Original Instructions, ceremony, native science, traditional ecological knowledge, and other related topics. I noted that this is a marked departure from my previous academic interests. Maybe this is a good sign. No, not maybe. It is a good sign. It feels so.

A friend forwarded me an essay about how the idea/image of Santa Claus was influenced by the shamans of the northern tribes who inhaled a lot of mushrooms that made them see fat and floating beings. Hah, I thought, so there goes the indigenous roots of a modern christmas icon. There is a continuity here, a sort of shape-shifting, that if acknowledged can signal that boundaries are quite porous. Having said so, I am ever more vigilant in seeing how open and generous frameworks from the indigenous worldview often get abused and appropriated by modern, colonial thinking folks.

See, I have circled back again. This is the politics of the sacred.

So how shall I greet Thee?

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