Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Shamans and Christmas

This morning I had the opportunity for a quick trip to the coffee shop across the street from the hospital where I work.  It is sort of a cross between a national chain and an independent store.  The key factor in common with the local store is that there is a place to post ads for community events.  This morning one of those signs caught my eye.  It advertised an event called “Winter solstice and exploring the shaman within.” 

Now I know what the winter solstice is, being the shortest day of the year and marking the astronomical beginning of winter.  This year it falls on December 22nd.  I also know that in the summer there are a variety of groups that attach spiritual significance to the summer solstice, perhaps the most well-known being the druids[1] that gather at Stonehenge. 

Being the curious sort I looked on-line for more information on this event and found it at the website of a local religious group.  The winter event intends to use a variety of means for the participant to go on a type of journey, a “journey to rediscover – the shaman within.”

Not really being sure of what a shaman is, I looked on-line again and found this basic definition:  Shaman – “a person who acts as intermediary between the natural and supernatural worlds, using magic to cure illness, foretell the future, control spiritual forces, etc.”

Whoa!  Being a Christian, that definition really got my attention, as a person who fits the definition of a shaman stands in direct opposition to what I hold to as being the truth, a truth many Christians are perhaps a bit more mindful right now, as the season of Advent nears it’s end. 

As we move through Advent we are reminded of what God his bringing to his people on Christmas, which tonight I will describe within the confines of the definition of the shaman.

In Advent we await a person, sent by God to serve not as “an” intermediary between the natural and supernatural, but as “the” intermediary.  Jesus came as God’s only begotten, or “fathered by,” son, of whom Paul testifies in these words, “concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.”  We don’t need to find some sort of “inner presence” and believe that we have a mediator because God has already provided us with the only mediator, a mediator who is also perfect in every way. 

Similarly, we don’t need a presence or person to use magic to bring healing, because in Jesus we already have a direct relationship with the only one who can heal all that ails us.  And while I fully believe that Jesus can heal any physical, emotional and spiritual wound I also know, and see every day in my work at the hospital, that the healing we may so often and ardently long for may never happen.  At least not in the way in which we desire it to be.  And that’s because the healing that Jesus will bring will be on his timetable and according to his purposes.  The Lord’s Prayer reminds us that our prayer is “your will be done.”  As hard as that may be to grapple with it means that we should long for the will of God, knowing that living within his will, and not ours, is what brings him glory.

The shaman’s other purported abilities are also not found within ourselves but are clearly present only in Jesus.  The Christian does not need someone to foretell the future because God has already revealed the future in the words of the Bible.  It may not be enough information for the historian or biographer but it is sufficient for the one who has faith in Jesus.   

While the shaman may believe that he or she can control spiritual forces, the Bible witnesses to Jesus’ power over the supernatural.  One example is in Luke 8:26-39, where a demon confronted by Jesus acknowledges Jesus’ power over him, saying “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  I beg you, do not torment me.”

In the end, I find the “shaman within” to be empty, to be a fraud, something dressed in spiritual language but really just a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  People following this, or similar routes, in search of the spiritual will always come up empty. 

We who believe in Jesus have accepted God’s invitation to participate in something that is more wonderful, more amazing, more real, and more glorious than anything that the world or our own selves could ever produce.

If you are reading this and don’t believe in Jesus then I invite you to consider if God is calling to you, to consider if he is stirring within you a curiosity to journey with him.

John 1:9-13 beautifully describes what I, and Christians throughout the world await in Advent:

“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

I am thankful that I am not on a journey looking within myself to understand the world and the cosmos and my place within them.  God’s True Light has indeed come into the world and claimed me.  By God’s work, and according to his word, I know that my life is in his hands and that my purpose is to live for his glory, now and forever.

[1] I think that druids are an ancient and extinct group, so what we have today should perhaps more accurately be called neo-druids, or pseudo-druids. 

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