Circles are strong. Spheres are too. Muskox arrange themselves in a circle, tails toward the centre, so they can surround and protect their young. Life on this fragile and strong planet is protected by the wafer-thin sphere of ozone. And the aboriginal tradition of meeting in circles protects each participant so that they can contribute without fear of reprisal or criticism. In so doing something bigger is created. As the eminent Canadian aboriginal architect, Douglas Cardinal says, “When you put your knowledge in a circle, it’s not yours anymore, it’s shared by everyone.”
Such meetings happen when a group of people arrange themselves in a circle and pass a symbolic object to someone who wishes to speak. Once finished the object is respectfully passed around the circle in sequence to the others who may wish to speak. The process of using an object slows the pace and focuses the attention on the person who is sharing. Widely used in restorative justice circles, this method is also being used in schools as an alternative learning practice.
June 15th, 2014, was Aboriginal Sunday in the United Church of Canada. It was also Father’s Day. Rather than spend 20 minutes listening to a sermon, at Merrickville UnitedChurch, we formed a circle so that we might honour men and have a taste of the power of Aboriginal circles. We left our front-facing pews (most of us rather begrudgingly) and formed a circle where each person answered with words or silence the following questions: “What do you appreciate about your father, or father-figure?” “What would you wish for all young men?”
The tension we felt doing something so new soon melted as people passed a small wooden cross and recounted short summaries of the fathers they had known. Shoulders relaxed and people leaned forward as they heard of a father who had swelled with pride over his daughter’s art work and another of a man who often didn’t see eye-to-eye with his son, yet passed on his respect for the land, animals and hard work. The process caused me to sort and sift my thoughts until I understood that I most valued my father’s strength and integrity and wished that my son would find his own strength and purpose.
The circle was filled with respect, humility, compassion, honesty, truth, sharing, hospitality and divine love. Can anything be more holy?
Thank you to the Aboriginal members of this Canadian family for being good relations and sharing the process with us so that our own spheres might contain good relations. Just imagine if we could use this respectful approach to protect your land and resources!