I was waiting for a hamburger and fries in a general store on the western edge of the Siksika First Nations Reserve east of Calgary. On the walls hung crafts and artworks. One in particular caught my eye.
It was a collage of a Christian Cross made of twisted tree branches, prairie grass, barbed wire, an eagle feather, maybe a tooth and bear claw. “Ahhh,” I thought to myself, “there it is!”
The ‘it’ I was referring to was the biggest most profound idea practically no one has ever heard of, and it lives and breathes and shapes the vision and outlook inside everyone with roots in Western Civilization.
The word for this idea is ‘pseudomorphosis’, but the reality is simpler than that tongue twister sounds. Another word might be ‘false form.’
Imagine a people such as the Siksika inhabiting and sharing a vast prairie landscape with uncountable millions of animals, bison, elk, deer, antelope, wolves, coyotes, cougars, bears, you name it. Their entire world is the land and its creatures, the forested mountains and hills, the rivers and creeks, the air with its birds and insects, the clouds overhead bringing rain and storms, the winds and of course the merciless life bringing sun. For tens of thousands of years children are born and brought up into a way of life in balance with this teeming implacable nature.
Then within a two hundred year span it is all swept away by the arrival of new peoples with new and powerful technologies and a new vision of life seemingly centred around a single book.
That’s what I saw when I looked at the Cross collage. Having had Christianity and the Cross imposed upon them the Siksika cannot vitally understand it and the message doesn’t resonate within their wild hearted breasts. If the form of the work is a cross it is a false form, because the material used speaks of something else, something deeper alive in their hearts and struggling to find expression.
A simple notion really, on an individual or collective level, when one’s natural aptitudes and inclinations, one’s inner sense of the self and its relationship with the world is thwarted or denied by the imposition of someone else’s foreign vision.
Following such an imposition there is frequently a protracted struggle to throw off that which the heart feels as false and experiences as chains or an unnatural and suffocating straight jacket.
I see that throwing off all around today as peoples around the world struggle and fight for the right to live their own lives.
But here’s the thing.
Imagine the collage again, with the First Nation’s vital experience of the vast land bursting forth from the stark Christian symbol. You could say something seeking the light of day is emerging from that Cross.
And this is what has been completely overlooked in every school we Western folk have ever set up. Almost no one has grasped this simple fact:
That is our story too!
In reading anything for the last thousand years, in looking at any work of art created, that is what we are actually looking at, something struggling to find expression and break free of the Cross. And until we grasp that fact our so-called educational system will continue to go ‘round and ‘round and never truly get to the heart of anything.
And what is that something struggling to find expression? ….
What else but Life!