The Kairos Blanket Exercise is a powerful, interactive, embodied educational experience that takes the participants through a 500-year story of what happened to the indigenous people of Turtle Island (North American Continent) after the European settlers arrived. I had the opportunity to experience this exercise on Friday morning in Toronto at the Annual Meeting of the Religious Education Association (REA).
This is the second time I have experienced this exercise. The first time was on the Pine Ridge Reservation in Wanblee, South Dakota when I was an adult leader of a high school mission trip at a YouthWorks site. The YouthWorks staff used the Kairos Blanket Exercise as a way to orient us to the worldview of the residents of the reservation. I was overwhelmed with white guilt and a sense of helplessness after that experience. My situation as a descendent of European settlers and a white, male, Lutheran pastor in a large, white, suburban, Minnesotan congregation gets exposed in all its latent complicity as the horrific story of the indigenous people unfolds.
Last Friday I experienced it again. This time I was not in a position of leadership or power in the context of the group. The REA is an international, interfaith organization. White, Christian Men do not control the group. A representative from every continent and every major world religion was standing on the blankets. My colleagues in this Association are the most educated people in Religious Education in the world. Many of them brought their own histories of ethnic and systemic oppression and injustice to those blankets. I felt all those stories interweave themselves into the pain that this land has experienced.
This was a very different experience than the first time. The woman who led the exercise opened it with a ritual smoke prayer where we physically waved the smoke over our heads and bodies to cleanse ourselves of the negative energy and pray for positive energy to empower us for the experience. She read a prayer of thanksgiving to all the parts of creation.
This image came to my mind while she was praying. I call it “The Ground on Which We Stand.” I invite you to explore the history of the indigenous people in your context and meditate on this image. What do you see? How does it make you feel? What wonderings does it evoke?