Richard Wagamese

I’ve often tried to describe writing as a spiritual practice for me. Almost never knowing what I will be led to say as I sit quietly each morning. Occasionally there will be a series related to a difficult, or inspiring subject, so I might know I will need to explore that over several days.

I don’t believe I have put it this way, but it is the same process as Quaker meeting for worship, where everyone in the meeting settles down in quiet for about an hour. It is difficult to describe this group worship, which has a different quality than silence alone. Ineffable, which means unable to express in words.

When I lived in Indianapolis, I was blessed to be led to connect with the Kheprw Institute (KI) community. A black youth mentoring and empowerment community. The Quaker meeting I attended there, North Meadow Circle of Friends, established a partnership with KI. One way we connected with each other was through book discussions organized by, and held at KI. This was a brilliant way for us to get to know each. That allowed us all to explore what the book that month meant to us. To tell our stories to each other. The focus was on the subject of the book, rather than each other.

After we had been doing this for more than a year, I was surprised when Imhotep said “these conversations are revolutionary.” But I immediately saw the truth in that.

I often share the following quotation from Richard Wagamese, because it beautifully expresses what I believe about change. Summarizes what I have learned about change, which is basically what my life has been about. So often we go about change in ways that are simply ineffective. Frustrating. Discouraging.

So I was profoundly grateful for the wisdom of these words when I read them several years ago. They define what I have come to know about how change occurs.


ALL THAT WE ARE IS STORY.

From the moment we are born to the time we continue on our spirit journey, we are involved in the creation of the story of our time here. It is what we arrive with. It is all we leave behind. We are not the things we accumulate. We are not the things we deem important. We are story. All of us. What comes to matter then is the creation of the best possible story we can while we’re here; you, me, us, together. When we can do that and we take the time to share those stories with each other, we get bigger inside, we see each other, we recognize our kinship — we change the world one story at a time.

Richard Wagamese (October 14, 1955-March 10, 2017)
Ojibwe from Wabeseemoong Independent Nations, Canada

I don’t know why it took so long to look for other writings by Richard Wagamese. I’m so grateful I finally did. Following is the introduction to his book “Embers”, where he eloquently writes about what I have tried to say.


Mornings have become my table.

At dawn each day, I creep from my bedroom down the hall to the kitchen, where I set my tea to brew and then move to the living room to wait. In the immaculate silence, I watch the world unfurl from shadow. I listen to the sounds of birds, the wind along the eaves, the creak of floorboards and joists and rafters in this small house I call my home.

When the tea is ready, I cradle the cup in my palms and inhale the scent of lavender. I place the cup on the living room table. Then I rise to retrieve the bundle that holds the sacred articles of my ceremonial life. I open it and remove my smudging bowl, my eagle wing fan, my rattle and the four sacred medicines of my people—sage, sweet grass, tobacco and cedar. I put small pinches of each together in the smudging bowl, which I set upon the table. I close my eyes and breathe for a few moments. Then I light the medicines, using a wooden match, and waft the smoke around and over my head and heart and body with the eagle wing fan. When I am finished, I set the fan on the table, too.

There are certain spiritually oriented books I read from each morning. I lift the books from the couch beside me and read from them in turn. Then I place the books on the table as well. I close my eyes and consider what the readings have to tell me that day. When I’m ready, I settle deeper into the burgeoning pool of quietude, and when I feel calm and centred and at peace, I say a prayer of gratitude for all the blessings that are present in my life. I ask to be guided through the day with the memory of this sacred time, this prayer, the smell of these medicines in the air, and the peace and calm in my heart. I pick up the role Creator has asked me to play in this reality.

The small meditations in this book come from my early mornings at that living room table. Later, at the desk in my writing space, I write the meditations as they come to me, before turning to the writing that is my life and passion and career. A meditation doesn’t come every morning. Sometimes one doesn’t arrive for days. But when my connection to those things on the table has been strongest, when I have been joined to those things completely, the meditations rise unbidden and form themselves on the page almost as if I were taking dictation. I believe they have been conjured in me. Everything I have come to know and rely upon as centring, spiritual, real and valid has its place on that table in my living room. The table is like my life: dented, scarred, battered and worn, but rich and full nonetheless, and singing its histories. In that way, mornings themselves have become my table. Enveloped in Ojibway ceremony, protocol and ritual, ringed by strong words on faith, love, resilience, mindfulness and calm, I reclaim myself each morning. I walk out into the world in a position of balance, ready to do what Creator asks of me that day.

The words in this book are embers from the tribal fires that used to burn in our villages. They are embers from the spiritual fires burning in the hearts, minds and souls of great writers on healing and love. They are embers from every story I have ever heard. They are embers from all the relationships that have sustained and defined me. They are heart songs. They are spirit songs. And, shared with you, they become honour songs for the ritual ways that spawned them. Bring these words into your life. Feel them. Sit with them. Use them.

For this is the morning, excellent and fair . . .

Wagamese, Richard. Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations (pp. 6-7). Douglas and McIntyre (2013) Ltd.. Kindle Edition.

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