Steven Charleston

Four Vision Quests of Jesus

Written by Steven Charleston, citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and ordained at Wakpala, South Dakota on Standing Rock Reservation. He has served as national director for Native American ministries in the Episcopal Church, tenured professor of Systematic Theology at Luther Seminary, Bishop of Alaska, and President and Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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A friend recommended this book to me. I’m only half-way through yet this book has unmoored my faith and at the same time rooted me more firmly in God as made known through the life of Jesus.

A Native American Spirituality

I am struck by the care with which Charleston writes. He shares of his own experiences as a citizen of the Choctaw Nation, raised as a Christian. His tribe, friendly with the Spanish, French, and English people, and allies fighting alongside American soldiers during the War of 1812, had invited Presbyterian ministers to their nation because they wanted to learn more about European religious practices. Because Christian theology “resonated with our own religious traditions, we quickly adopted Protestantism.”

But then in the 1830s, the Choctaw people were among many Native American nations, betrayed by the American government, were forced to take the Trail of Tears.

Charleston also deconstructs the non-Native understanding of quest and teaches the components of a classic Native American vision quest: preparation, community, challenge, lament.

Not a long book (162 pages), the first chapters give us context and setting, share Native American telling of history, and deconstruct terms understood a particular way within the Native American communities.

I believe Jesus both corrects and confirms the original covenants God made with God’s people. Israel and Native America are not alone in having a sacred memory of the encounter with God. There are many “old testaments.”

Having just finished the chapter on the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus, I’m now at the point to read about the four vision quests of Jesus.

If you have a desire to strengthen your spirituality or better understand a Native American approach to Christianity, I highly recommend this book.