Inherent in the concept of tradition is continuity. Nothing remains old. If we follow tradition, old becomes new again. It is revival.
Around the world there are many traditions that are followed. One of them I was familiar with from my childhood and surprised to experience it in Australia. The Smoking Ceremony.
In Asian countries the use of smoke to ward of evil is commonly practiced. I can recall aromatic spices being placed on smoking wood chips and waved around a newborn to ward off evil and keep the child safe. Similarly smoke is used in weddings to bless a new beginning.
Smoke is an integral component of the ceremony at any Mass in a church and in Catholic homes. A candle often burned in celebration or memory of a loved one, in a special corner of the home. My mother had the Parish Priest visit the home once a year. He’d walk around the home with a brass container with smoking incense that he swung gently before him and bless the home. We’d follow him through the house, like sheep. She would have a grand lunch for him after. As he left, she would give him a wad of cash, placed discreetly in an envelope. My father’s silent disapproving stare would be met with a fierce defensive whisper, “It’s once a year!”
As a child I was raised to seek the blessings of the elders in the family, even if we were going to school. “Grandpa, bless me!” was a familiar goodbye. He would place his wrinkled, soft hand on our head and say a short prayer of protection. The wedding album was not complete if there were no photographs of the bride and groom being blessed by their individual parents and then by their new in-laws.
One of the things I look forward to when attending major conferences or events in government settings in Australia is the Welcome Ceremony. An indigenous elder welcomes the attendees by acknowledging ancestors and asks for blessings. A more recent addition is the acknowledgement of the elders, past and future. I recall sitting next to an American man once who wiped away tears saying, he had never experienced this in any other country. It moves me too. Every time. It makes me feel secure. It is an anchoring moment. The past, the present and the future.
The indigenous Smoking Ceremony is more interactive. One walks past the smoke from various native plants. Some fan the smoke towards them. It is a cleansing and healing ceremony.
On this occasion I watched several hundred people walk through the smoke. We were there because we wanted to make a difference in delivering health care. Individually our desire was to contribute to a bigger and more inclusive ‘oneness’.
So can we.
Until next time
a dawn bird
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