When you hear the word “shaman,” what image pops up in your mind:
- A short skinny guy wearing a grass skirt dancing dangerously close to a fire?
- The dark hidden face of an ancient medicine man or woman chanting softly to the spirits?
- Jesus? (Gasp! Yes, Jesus was a shaman . . . probably the best ever.)
In fact, the Society of Jesus and shamanism have common ways of being in the world. Before you stone me as a heathen, read on.
The online Merriam-Webster dictionary has a woefully antiquated, inadequate, and unenlightened definition of a shaman: “a priest or priestess who uses magic for the purpose of curing the sick, divining the hidden, and controlling events.”
Yikes. Uses magic? Nope. According to the Foundation for Shamanic Studies:
“In a holistic approach to healing, the shaman uses the spiritual means at his or her disposal in cooperation with people in the community who have other techniques such as plant healing, massage, and bone setting. The shaman’s purpose is to help the patient get well.” (Shamanic Healing: We Are Not Alone).
Jesuits come from all walks of life. Shamans can be anyone and rarely use a title such as priest or priestess. I personally know of one shaman traipsing the halls and classrooms of Loyola University with the title “student.”
Like shamanism, Ignatian spirituality is incarnational – God is not “out there” somewhere; God is right here in ALL things: people, events, objects, elements, animals, insects, and the stars. Jesuits are “contemplative in action” and take their meditative and reflective way of being into the world to guide their actions. Shamans converse with the spirits of plants, animals, and divine beings and apply that guidance in life and administering to the sick.
A shaman does not “cure” anybody but instead provides the energy and knowledge that support healing just as a Jesuit might bring the presence of God through prayer to help people heal. Divining the hidden in shamanism is no more than providing something for a person to reflect on and respond to which is similar to pastoral counseling.
Although Jesus could control events, his primary interest was letting life unfold in accordance with God’s love, even when this resulted in his crucifixion. Almost 2,000 years later, today’s shaman will follow his lead and consult him as a spiritual teacher when it comes to life’s events.
Just ask me.