Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Representing Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers, Maryknoll Sisters, and Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Indigenous Spirituality Can Bring Us Home

A woman rabbi shares in an interview with Maryknoll Lay Missioner Kathy Bond what she would say, if given the opportunity, to Pope Francis and others meeting in Rome for the Synod on the Amazon, regarding the value of indigenous spirituality and traditions in helping to heal our broken world.

Rabbi Jenny Kuvin is a world renowned teacher of Jewish spirituality and mysticism, healer and certified interfaith counselor, specializing in trauma, addiction, and self-esteem issues. Rabbi Jenny’s work focuses on helping patients and professionals shift the paradigm of those who suffer from addiction and trauma from the role of victim to that of a visionary and hero. Her two books, “The Terrible and Wonderful, Ugly and Beautiful Story of My Life So Far” and “Ahavatar: Awakening to Your Divine Self” have helped many people heal from addiction and trauma. 

Rabbi Jenny has traveled the world studying with the healers and teachers and remains passionate and centered in her mission to help others heal from the past and realize their divinity. She attended seminary at the Rabbinical Seminary International and studied under 4th generation Hungarian Kabbalist and mystic Rabbi Joseph Gelberman. She is also a certified master teacher of energy medicine, student and practitioner of Andean shamanism, teacher and practitioner of vocal healing and holds a law degree.

Maryknoll Lay Missioner Kathy Bond interviewed Rabbi Jenny at the Convergence of International Women: We are Medicine this past September in Peru. The following is the response Rabbi Jenny gave to the question: What would you like to say to Pope Francis and all those meeting in Rome for the Synod on the Amazon about the value of Indigenous traditions in helping to heal our broken world?

Rabbi Jenny Kuvin:

Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to share my experience as a Jewish clergy member who uses indigenous medicine, ritual, and symbolism to access a healing level that many people find confusing at first look. I think that the easiest way that I can explain it to you is the way that I explain it to young people who suffer from substance abuse. My religion is about 6,000 years old, [Christianity] is about 2,000 years old, and indigenous people have been on the Mother Earth for 100,000 years. They are not a religion. 

When we speak about a practitioner of indigenous medicine, we are talking about someone who has literally walked the earth and uses the activities and power of the things on the earth. Their remedies are not manufactured. In the four directions in medicine, we have the snake. I always explain that there is a wisdom in the simplicity of just observing the environment and that is what medicine is. The snake sheds and to be the first man to see a snake shed would be very powerful. From that experience, one learns that we grow and change. 

As religious leaders, we have to embrace and be real about how long humans have existed. Like the colors of the rainbow or human evolution, some of the conceptual ideas and some of the timing of when the word of God came down on mountain tops has to include the beginning or we are not including the whole picture.

I believe that there is a difference between religion and spirituality. I think that religion is the worship of something. Worshipping something really means that it is above us. We have to do something to reach it and – believe me, I am a closet Catholic and I have Mary on my arm because I work very closely with her in my work – I love ritual, I love worship, which is why I am a Rabbi. 

But spirituality is relationship. It is something that we as clergy, whether Catholic or Jewish, struggle to teach people. We struggle to teach people how to be in relationship with the world through faith. Therefore, by merging indigenous spirituality with our traditional spiritual practices, we reach more people. We actually bring people back to the Church. 

I often counsel Catholics who are struggling with substance abuse. My Rabbi trained me in interfaith counseling. I am able to reach Catholics by working with Mary. We have to be able to try different things to reach people. People want to come home. That is what I know about people. They want to come home to their roots.

The wonderful thing about indigenous culture is that it goes beyond all of that. It focuses on this planet on which we all live. It speaks to young people, whether they are in the Amazon or the Americas or Europe. Getting back to the core is what everybody is craving. We have an opportunity, I believe, as clergy to think outside box and bring people back. I want to bring people back to Torah, you want to bring people back to the Church and still help heal the planet. I want to bring people back to the magic of Torah that I love, but I want to include the whole picture of the earth and help them heal.

Moses was a shaman. He turned a stick into a snake. That was a pretty big deal. He parted water. He manipulated matter and worked the earth. Jesus turned water into wine. That was a big thing. He pulled fish from the water. He healed people. It is because of these things I am what I am. We are all connected. When we sit and participate in a ceremony like we did with more than 500 indigenous women at the Convergence of International Women in Peru, there is no question that there is one energy. One.

We have a responsibility in our faith communities to embrace that one energy and then we will see transformation. We will bring people home because they want to come home. They want to hear the wisdom of the Bible. They want to hear the love of Mother Mary. They want to read Torah and learn the code and the law. People want this but it comes from a love grounded in the belief that we are all one. No one knows this more than the indigenous peoples. They live off of the earth, they live in it, and they live with the rhythm of it. They can get us back to ritual with the Earth.

I am passionate about this because I have seen people with addiction feel this themselves. By beginning there, they can go and find their faith. If you talk to any of my men whether they are born again or Catholic, they go back there. But I let them choose it for themselves. That is what indigenous spirituality does, it brings us back home. 

We must protect indigenous cultures because they are our beginning. We are so arrogant. I am arrogant as a Jew. You are arrogant as a Catholic. We are arrogant. But we are talking about 100,000 years of spiritual practice. Even Taoism is only 10,000 years old or so. There is no place for ego here. 

I think it will surprise most person of clergy how quickly people home to their heart when we actually start at the beginning. 

I am also passionate about interfaith dialogue as we are all one. One of the grandmothers at the Convergence explained it by describing a rainbow. She said we don't look at a rainbow and say, “I like yellow best.” We say that it is a rainbow. Like the rainbow, we have to come together. If the first color of the rainbow is white, then indigenous people are that color because they were here first. They started the whole experience. 

Photo: Rabbi Jenny Kuvin drawing. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Kuvin.