Burning Faith

“When Christians ‘borrow’ parts of sacred Indigenous American ceremonies, commercially exploit them, imitate them, and put their trust in them instead of in God, they both disobey God and disrespect the sacred beliefs and traditions of that other culture.”

Man burning white sage incense


When God commands that we have no other God except Him, He is telling us to trust and put our faith in only Him.

         You may worship no other god than me. (20 Exodus: 3)

Throughout our lives, we will be encouraged or tempted to place our faith elsewhere, completely or in part. Unless we are careful, we may not even realize that we are doing so.

Much has been made of money as a potential false god — and it is. But there are other false gods as well, including ceremonial practices borrowed from other cultures.

Ceremonial practices borrowed from other cultures can undermine our relationship with God, or at a minimum challenge it, if we are not mindful of the difference between the spiritual beliefs they represent and Christ’s teachings. There may be nothing inherently wrong about them but depending on the circumstances, they may dilute our trust in God, which is foolish and sinful in nature.

For example, the burning of sage is increasingly promoted for the purpose of cleansing a home of evil spirits. To this end, many people – including some Christians — burn sage bundles and then wave the smoke from it throughout their home as a way of “purifying” it and removing from it negative energy or evil spirits. Rather than praying to God to bless their home and trusting God to protect them, they place their faith in burning sage or other herbs and naturals. When people trust burning sage or other herbs and naturals to protect or cleanse them from sin instead of God, they equate or elevate the rituals to god-like status.

The reason some Christians do not rely on prayer in these instances is known only to them.

It’s foolish not to rely on God because God has promised to protect us, including against evil spirits.

                     But the Lord is faithful; he will make you strong and guard you from satanic attacks of every kind. (2 Thessalonians 3:3)

However, unless we trust God, follow Christ’s teachings, and seek God’s protection, we will not be protected from our own foolishness.

It appears that people’s trust in sage (or other herbs and naturals) to protect against evil spirits or negativity is often misguided and misappropriated. Many North American Indigenous spiritual leaders have spoken out against it. They allege that this practice, when commercially exploited or performed by non-Indigenous people, is often based on a bastardization of sacred spiritual practices of Indigenous cultures – mostly in the Americas. Often times it is based on a blatant disregard for, or partial understanding of, their underlying spiritual beliefs. Lacking wisdom about such matters, people can unintentionally betray their faith in God and disrespect Indigenous cultures by commercially exploiting and mimicking parts of their sacred ceremonies.                          

In Indigenous North American cultures for example, similar, traditional practices have their origins in sacred, spiritual beliefs. Ceremonial “smudging” (which similarly involves burning sage or other herbs and naturals) is sometimes used by those cultures for purifying or cleansing the soul. Depending on the tribe or nation, the burning of sacred medicines in a spiritual environment is accompanied by sacred beliefs, blessings, and traditions that have been passed down for generations. Sacred medicines vary but can include common and white sage local to a region that are harvested in a specific manner, at specific times, and in specific locations. It might also include other items.

When Christians “borrow” parts of sacred Indigenous American ceremonies, commercially exploit them, imitate them, and put their trust in them instead of in God, they both disobey God and disrespect the sacred beliefs and traditions of that other culture. When they seek spiritual cleansing through smudging instead of Christ’s forgiveness, it trivializes Christ’s sacrifice.

Still, there is money to be made in imitating sacred Indigenous “smudging” practices by the uninformed and the unscrupulous. Unfortunately, the promotion of these practices and sale by non-Indigenous people of sage “smudge sticks” or “sage bundles” for purifying their homes of evil spirits or negative energy is on the rise – despite the objections of many Indigenous people and despite God’s warnings to put our faith in God for spiritual protection and to have no other gods except Him.

It is incumbent on Christians as followers of Christ’s teachings to be aware of and deliberate in anything we do that even hints of a spiritual nature. It is also incumbent on us not to be unnecessarily disrespectful of the spiritual beliefs of other people.

It is in spirit that our soul resides, and it is in spirit that our relationship with God is reflected and our love for God and others is nurtured. If we place our spiritual faith in something other than God, we are lost.


Photo: Monika Wisniewska

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s