Last year, I was taught oosimch, a sacred bathing ritual, by Kauxaht (Daniel Blackstone) of the Saxoa and Mowachat/Muchalt People. Daniel generously gave me permission to teach it to others. The basic form is to go to the river, remove clothes, and submerge 4 times, once in each direction, during which prayers are made for men, for women, for our other than human relations, and for ourselves. After each dip, cedar is used as a brush off. One of things Daniel said was that there can be no wrong way to oosimch, only wrong intention, from which a spiritual event can not take place. He also taught me that the ritual is meant to evolve and change given the need and context. In this way the ceremony does not become rote and remains alive.

On a more humorous note, when I asked Daniel what to do when the water is freezing, he said, “Pray harder.” There are days late fall through early summer when I pray real hard and real fast. During these cold weather times my prayers consist mostly of cries, gasps, yelps, and a little opera sounding song but always end in laughter and a big smile. This kind of prayer is no less sacred than a longer one filled with eloquent words.

Earlier this month, I went to the river to pray and posted a reflection on Facebook. Here's what I wrote:

I go to the river to pray. Vulnerable and naked my body senses the wild, cold, water. “Too cold,” I say. “Pray harder,” I remind myself. “Surrender.” With one breath I cross the threshold, submerge, and pause just long enough in the quiet to notice how radiantly the water sparkles in the brilliant sunshine. I emerge, and exclaim, “I am alive!” Wild, happy, and radiantly sparkling, I return home.

As a result of this post, my mom asked me a question that got me thinking. She asked who I prayed to and whether God was included? When I host people at Ravenwood, I stand side by side with friends who are praying to God, to the Universe, to the Great Spirit, to the Ancestors and Future Generations, to Our Other Than Human Relations, to Nature Spirits, and more. I realize I have come to a place in my life where to whom people pray is of no difference. The act of praying is sacred and needed; that is all that matters.

My relationship with prayer hasn’t always been comfortable. Up until a few years ago I hesitated to use the word. I know now that this was because I was most familiar with prayer within the context of my childhood experience with Catholicism. As an adult, I needed to learn what prayer genuinely meant to me and how to authentically pray.

I have come to know prayer as a sacred communion between me and the great and vast mystery to which we all belong. It is a non-ordinary way of entering into conversation with the holy. Because it is non-ordinary, to truly pray we need to leave behind the ego of our mind and enter our heart space. This takes practice. I like to sit in silence, rattle, drum and sing to prepare myself. It doesn’t always have to be this elaborate though. Sometimes, I simply shift my awareness, take a deep breath, and begin.

I remember my mom telling me the story of how it is not bold and brazen Eagle that carries the prayers of the Métis people to the Great Spirit, but that our prayers are carried in the wings of quiet and humble Butterfly. To stand by the river naked and speak the truth that is in my heart from a place of quiet faith has shown me what humility and vulnerability mean. I am grateful to Butterfly for this reminder.

Sometimes prayer comes through as a voice of joy, peace, or gratitude. Other times, it comes through as heart-wrenching pain or grief. Regardless of whether it sounds like laughter or tears, the things we rejoice for and the things we grieve are both born of love. So ultimately, prayer is an expression of love – Our love for others, for the world, and for how we feel about being alive in this world.

Praying with the crystal clear, cold waters of the Salmon River has also taught me about surrender. When the freezing water touches my skin, my senses come alive. As I wade in deep enough to the point where I can submerge my head, I often notice my fists are clenched and my body is tight. I remember to pray, I relax, surrender, and submerge. When I emerge from the water, gasping for air, it is in a small but profound way like being born again.

On the days when the water is warm enough to stay in, I like to experience the river on my skin. I float on my back, take in the stunning landscape that surrounds me, and feel beautiful and connected. My body has been through so much and it most certainly doesn’t look like it did when I was 21. Despite everything it’s been through though, it is still providing me with an amazing sensory way of experiencing the world and everything and everyone I love. How could I not be grateful for this resilient body?

We are taught that being naked outside the privacy of our bedrooms and bathrooms is immodest. But learning to be at ease with nudity in a sacred, heart-full, and humble way teaches modesty. I am grateful for the ritual of Oosmich, for the honour of being able to share it with others, and for everything it is teaching me about myself and how I want to be in this world.