Do you want to know more about Native American spirituality, as our Land Acknowledgement program takes shape? If so, The Four Vision Quests of Jesus is one of the most original and helpful books that I can recall.

The author, Steven Charleston, is a Choctaw. Even though his ancestors were Christians, they were ripped away from their homes in Mississippi and forced to walk the deadly “Trail of Tears” to Oklahoma. Today, he describes himself as a Native American elder, author, and retired Episcopal bishop (of Alaska).

The book first explores Jesus’ experience in the wilderness from the perspective of a vision quest. This is a rite of passage in which young Native Americans fast, pray and cry out to the spirits for a vision which will help them find their purpose in life and serve their People. Charleston stresses the need to enter into the “we” (of the indigenous communities) rather than just the “I” (of the individual believer).

As the second quest, he looks at the Transfiguration. This unique event acquires a universal importance when seen from the Native perspective of transcendent spirituality that impacts reality and shapes the mission of today’s Christians.

Gethsemane is the third quest. It embodies the Native tradition of holy women and men from many different nations. They find their freedom through discipline and live out their concerns for justice, compassion, and human dignity in new ways.

Golgotha is the final quest. It reflects the Native sacrament of sacrifice, such as the Sun Dance, as well as many other forms of indigenous resistance, protest, and suffering over the centuries. For Charleston, the crucifixion of Jesus must lead to a discussion of kinship, balance, and harmony. All of these themes are both crucial to Christian thought and deeply rooted in Native American theology.

written by Paul Holman