Being a Child of the Great Lakes

(Dan Robinson)

Dr. Christopher Fici grew up in Michigan, and one of his “favorite childhood memories,” he said, was going to Saginaw Bay on Lake Huron with his family. Now, as an adult, he spends part of his summer with his sister and her children at a cottage at Port Austin. “My nieces and my nephews are total water babies, just like I am,” he said. “It’s even better, I think, when you’re an adult, because you realize just how amazing it is.”

“What has really become richer,” Dr. Fici said, “through my spiritual practice, through the studies I’ve been doing, is a deeper appreciation of the Great Lakes, of Lake Huron. And not just an intellectual appreciation, but I think my happy place in the world is swimming in Lake Huron.”

Dr. Fici was raised as a Catholic but now practices Bhakti Yoga as part of the Hindu traditions. He holds a PhD in Constructive and Comparative Theology/Religious Studies from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and he currently teaches at Iona College in New Rochelle, NY. Along with his teaching, he serves as the Director of the Hinduism and Ecology Society at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies.

Dr. Fici’s diverse religious experience sees the commonalities between traditions and how those traditions understand the place of water. “From my own practice as a Hindu, and then also bringing this back to my Catholic side as well, there’s a sense that the Lakes, water, are a place where you can meet the Sacred very directly. In Hindu traditions, people worship these sacred rivers, like the Ganges and the Yamuna River, with an understanding that these rivers are actually manifestations of divinity,” he said. “They can grant us everything we need for our material and spiritual well-being.”

Even in describing the various traditions within Hinduism, Dr. Fici resorted to a water image, saying there are “a million different types of Hinduism. I often describe it as an ocean of traditions.” 

For many practitioners of Bhakti Yoga, Dr. Fici said, “their main connection to the sacred is praying with the river, taking a sacred bath in the river because they understand through the tradition and through the text and the rituals that the Ganges and the Yamuna are actually manifestations of the Divine… It’s not this abstract thing,” he added. “It’s an act of worship. You’re placing yourself in a bodily connection with the rivers.”

For himself, Dr. Fici has transported that understanding and experience of water and place to the Great Lakes. “My experience of the Lakes now has become deeper because, in the very same sense that I would approach the Ganges River in India as being a sacred manifestation of divinity, that’s how I feel towards the Great Lakes.”

“There’s some differences, too,” he continued. “I may approach the Ganges maybe in a more specifically ritualistic or reverential way. And my relationship with Lake Huron is a place of play, too. But in the Hindu traditions, the sense of play, which we call Lila, is actually the most sacred manifestation of divinity. We perceive the Divine as being very playful. That’s something, too, where I’ve taken this knowledge that I’ve had from my Hindu practice and brought this back into my own home place, and it’s just kind of revealed to me the sacredness of the Great Lakes that was always there.”

“That whole deep understanding of the sacredness of water, and that we actually directly encounter and have intimate relationship with the Divine through water, that is something I take with me every time I go to the Lakes,” Dr. Fici said, before adding he’s “just become so appreciative of being a child of the Great Lakes.”

This article was originally published in November 2020 for the Great Lakes Spirituality Project. For the full article, including a video of the conversation with Dr. Fici, the second article from that interview, and other posts, go to the Project’s website glspirit.com

Dan Robinson is a writer, musician, educator, and community organizer who lives in Three Rivers and tends the Great Lakes Spirituality Project. You can reach him at dan@glspirit.com.