While studying Baha’i prayers and writings, I am often reminded of the key elements of the Native American Sweat Lodge ceremony, which awakened my soul.
For me, that indigenous ceremony validates being able to know the bounty of Baha’u’llah’s message, as well as the progressive revelation of the many messengers of God sent to all the cities of the nations within the world throughout the ages.
When I participated in the Sweat Lodge ceremony, I always tried to take part in the heightened conversation it caused, which often deepened the meaning of the spirituality of the ceremony for me. The ceremony was always diverse, something akin to the Baha’i faith. Around the lodge I met indigenous people with different tribal backgrounds and history including Mexico, Navajo, Hawaii, and also an elder who was part African-American and part indigenous American, whose father was a real Buffalo Soldier. I met people from varying faith backgrounds, from those that studied with gurus in India to Christians, agnostics, Buddhists, and most recently Baha’is.
The pain and suffering that is only truly remedied in turning to God is readily validated in this ancient indigenous tradition. Sweat lodge isn’t easy—and life is tricky. Life is especially challenging in the pursuit of conquering the evil passions and desires of the self, the lower nature of being. This perhaps is the ground of warriors, conquering the lower nature of being and attaining the spiritual qualities and attributes of the Creator. Like life, a sweat lodge can be miserable—it can make you feel like you are going to die. It forces the weaknesses of self to leave. Even though you’re already sitting on the ground, you want to make yourself even lower as the heat intensifies, burning up selfish desire and self-cherishing. It can be painful and yet we supplicate to God in gratitude to remove our shortcomings and ease our suffering.
Through the various indigenous songs sung to Grandfather during the sweat lodge, we pray for others and all our relations. I later learned that I could reinforce my prayers by knowing that:
… the scattering angels of the Almighty shall scatter abroad the fragrance of the words uttered by his mouth, and shall cause the heart of every righteous man to throb. Though he may, at first, remain unaware of its effect, yet the virtue of the grace vouchsafed unto him must needs sooner or later exercise its influence upon his soul. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 295.
The last ceremony I attended and contributed to before finding the Baha’i Faith was in 2016. I was staying in a mostly decent trailer in Northern California, and I didn’t have a vehicle, so I would bicycle to the Sweat Lodge property twelve miles northwest of me in Santa Rosa. I was secretly hoping I wouldn’t have to tend the fire as fireman that day, and could just focus on praying in the sweat lodge while someone else served as fireman, fetching the rocks for each round and tending to the ceremonial flames.
I knew, though, that learning and practicing the privilege of tending the sacred fire continues to be a challenging blessing. “Treat the fire like how you want your life,” says my spiritual uncle, who is part African-American and Hawaiian. The Baha’i teachings say:
But that day, not only would the bounty of service to the ceremonial fire fall to me, it would be my first “dry lodge.” A dry lodge, where no one drinks water despite the heat of the fire, infuses the potency of prayer for a specific purpose, usually of a healing nature. After the energy expended in building the fire and tending to it before the ceremony began, I was looking forward to that first sip of water within the sacred space of the lodge.
Then I learned this will be a dry lodge, and I thought “O My God—can I do this?” During the ceremony, I had to go out of the sweat lodge three more times to get rocks from the fire for the next rounds. It gets tremendously hot, a glorious combination of dry and humid heat.
The dry lodge was called to intensify the prayers for a specific purpose—a relative was in the hospital hooked up to a blood transfusion machine, and the situation was looking grim. I was powerfully thirsty, but I knew that all I could do was surrender, and offer myself up to the Creator. If I die, I thought, then it’s a good day to die, to paraphrase an indigenous saying.
How am I going to get through this? Spirit! I would ask for the strength required to serve my community. Service. With those thoughts in mind, I got through it. After the ceremony, I ate and drank water, and during the sharing of food after being inside the lodge we found out the person in the hospital was off the machine and doing better.
As I rode my bike the 12+ miles back home and for months afterwards, I rode that wave of blessing—culminating in my discovery of the Baha’i Faith.