Feeling deep gratitude for my family, Church of All Nations, as I reflect on the Santa Lucia celebration we shared together recently.
Santa Lucia is a Swedish holiday recognizing the Italian St. Lucy, known for aiding persecuted Christians during the Roman Empire. It is also a welcoming back of the sun during the darkest time of winter. I’m feeling grateful to my church for opening up space to celebrate this tradition for the first time, and for the ways they lead, encourage, challenge, and shape me as I seek to reconnect with my roots in an appropriate and meaningful way.
I used to naively believe that if those of us who are white Americans can recover some of the culture we had before we were “white,” then perhaps we wouldn’t need to grasp at white supremacy to supplement our low self-esteem and lack of purpose. Perhaps by going back on the invitation to trade in our unique identities for participation in hegemony’s power or hegemony’s mercy, then the legacy of that decision might be undone as we find meaning and connection through the cultures we lost, rather than at the expense of others.
However, after visiting Scandinavia with my pastor-mentor and church colleagues earlier this year, where the neo-Nazi movement has been growing at an alarming rate, I experienced serious pause.
For the sake of keeping non-European immigrants out of their borders, people from my ancestral homeland are calling upon the purity of their ethnic lineages to determine who should be in and who should be out. (“Don’t have a sufficient quota of Viking blood? Sorry, you don’t belong among us superior people of the north.”)
And just like I’m doing, they draw upon our ancient stories, traditions, and ancestors to find grounding for their cultural identity. I do it to undo white supremacy. They do it to reinforce it. So I halted. Who am I inadvertently aligning myself with?
I mistook the primary dysfunction of white Americans to be the extreme disconnections held in our bodies. Disconnection from each other, from the earth, from spirit, from our ancestors, from our histories, from our bodies. I thought if we could heal these, then we could dismantle supremacy.
With all of this richness in one’s life, where is there room or desire for superiority? And while I still think there is deep truth to that, I realize now something my elders were trying to warn me about: that there is a lot of room for deviation between beginning the path of re-connection and of being in right relationship with all of creation through a living heritage.
So much of what I’ve been taught about the harmony of culture, ritual, ancestors, spirit, community, and land has been through my church’s relationship with wise Lakota, Dakota, Ojibwe and other indigenous leaders who hold these connections as a matter of survival in empire. And not just physical survival but also spiritual survival, heart survival – for the sake of not being turned in to the evil that has oppressed them.
In my humble understanding, it seems the traditions are all oriented toward an embodiment of “Mitakuye Oyasin,” that all living things from the birds to the stars, the worms to the water, the people in the next tribe over with different myths and traditions to the others under my roof, that we are all related and should thus be treated with the love, respect, and warmth of kin.
Without that orientation, what are our “white” traditions except another path to shoring up a ridiculous sense of our own supremacy?
Will coming into deeper spiritual connection with one another, with history, and with land be a way to strengthen another perverse and deadly ethnic purity project?
Will it be a liberal superiority project where we find our traditions cute and oh-so-special, but still sit on high?
Will we shed imperial traditions but keep an imperial spirit?
Or will our pasts be a way to follow the Spirit into grounded humility and deep connection with the rest of creation, neither above nor below any other living thing?
Our church’s Santa Lucia celebration was powerful for me. It was perhaps the first time I felt connected to an embodied practice from my cultural background. One that had roots more than a few generations deep that, with others, I helped uncover with intention.
The Saturday prior, my friends and fellow church members, Caroline and Elise and I spent the afternoon preparing: kneading dough for saffron buns (whose yellow color represents the coming sun), getting high on the scent of the evergreen, cinnamon, and citrus we were using to make wreaths, and shaping our telling of Saint Lucy, whose story time and patriarchy have obscured and perverted, into a courage-giving story for the times we live in now.
It was all a deeply healing process for me. Taking threads from the past and weaving them into my present understanding of myself as a fifth-generation Swedish immigrant on Turtle Island. Knowing my history, the lineages and traditions that live in me, strengthens me to live well. It strengthens me not for the violence of supremacy, but to resist being swayed by empire’s seduction, propaganda, and trickery.
As does anyone, I choose what to do with my roots. In my community, we reconnect with what has been lost for the sake of being in right connection with all that is. Like the sage of our indigenous relatives clears negative energy, so too should the smell of pine and the kneading of dough clear away our egos, our othering, our superficiality, our jealousies, our reactivity.
My true kin are not those who have Viking heritage or who welcome the winter solstice with candles and singing, but those from any tradition who also follow the way of love, the way of the heart, as a beloved friend puts it.
In hanging our pine wreaths at midnight, lighting candles early in the morning, calling upon the saints and ancestors of good purpose, and in doing so with two women that I love for the sake of the diverse church we love – a community who loves us and shapes us – I felt the spirit of the ancient traditions come alive in me.
I thank God for my heritage. It’s a lot of work to find it and to live it well, but with the help of mentors, friends, and community, we find the way.
May white supremacy die, may the spirit-sick seek healing, and may the Holy Spirit lead us into kinship with all our diverse relatives.