Smudging is a cleansing ceremony practiced by some Indigenous cultures in which herbs such as cedar, sage or sweetgrass are burned, the flame extinguished, and then the smoke which heals the mind, heart and body, is wafted over the person, either by hand or with an eagle feather. The person being smudged waves the smoke towards themselves and gently inhales the smoke.
Some Christians strongly maintain that Indigenous spiritual practices such as smudging are incompatible with Christianity—even going so far as to associate them with witchcraft—and must be rejected in order to protect correct theology and practice in the church.
Others see parallels between the smudging ceremony and incense rituals practiced the Israelites.
The Lord says to Moses: Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha…and make an incense blended as by the perfumer…it shall be for you most holy. ….it shall be regarded by you as holy. Exodus 30: 34 – 38
Cheryl Bear, from Nadleh Whut’en First Nation, Christian academic, song writer, speaker, teacher, in her book chapter on the smudge ceremony points out that "Jesus did not dismiss the meaning of the cleansing ceremonies found in the Old Testament, but rather he deepened them.”
Cleansing ceremonies point to our need for cleansing from sin—from the sins we have committed before God and the sins that have been perpetrated upon us. We know we need this cleansing. The beauty of the smudge ceremony lies first of all in the Indigenous person recognizing this great need to turn to Creator—the One who started everything, the One who made everything, the One who holds everything, the One who watches over us, the Great Spirit, the Great Mystery, the Being up on High. ~ Cheryl Bear
We see, then how from a Christian perspective smudging can be equated with confession, the act of standing in right relationship with the Creator with full knowledge of Jesus as Savior. And as in the Lutheran tradition, which places the rite of Confession before worship begins, smudging informs people that an act of worship is about to begin and invites participants to prepare themselves by creating sacred space.
our Father in heaven,
we come to you as your children.
We confess that we are weak and broken images of you.
We pray for the forgiveness and healing you give in Jesus Christ.
May his Spirit clean our spirits, minds, hearts, and bodies.
We pray that your Holy Spirit
will help us to worship in spirit and truth.
We pray in the name of Jesus,
so that his Spirit will carry our prayers to you. Amen.