Charleston, who serves as serves as the theologian in residence at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University, is one of the most prolific Native American authors of spirituality and spiritual practice. This book has grown out of “the idea that people can survive an apocalypse” — a topic that a Native elder knows very well indeed.
In this regard, Charleston’s book reminded us of one published in 1995: The Jew in the Lotus, by Rodger Kamenetz. It revealed conversations between H.H. the Dalai Lama and Jewish leaders, when the Dalai Lama asked the Jews, who knew something about suffering and diaspora living, what spiritual practices they have for dealing with afflictive states of mind.
Similarly, here, Steven Charleston presents Native American teachings and wisdom for how to survive a coming disaster. Native Americans know all about this, having lived through the apocalypse of settler colonialism. All of us are facing the predicament of a world being destroyed if we don’t do something fast to stop the march of climate change.
As Charleston writes in the middle of this work, “The emotional context of any apocalypse, either as event or revelation, is fear. We either see something fearful coming our way or we are in the midst of experiencing it: either way, the core emotion is the same.” His context for discussing this fear is the practice of the Ghost Dance in the days leading up to the massacre at Wounded Knee. And in the days following it. This is chapter 5, “Wovoka: To Go beyond What We Think Is Possible,” in the book. Charleston says that the Ghost Dance gave Native nations what they needed most of all: hope.
He writes for all of us when he says: “This central vision offers desperate people what they long to see, a way out of fear into belief in a future.”
This is a book full of lessons that say, for life to continue or thrive, hope must always be within reach, and spiritual leaders will help others to find it.