The Healing Circle

The Healing Circle

Rita O. |


Photo by Patrick J. Endres/Getty Images.

It’s the second Saturday in February, and hours from now, a full moon will rise over New York City.  Seventeen intertribal men and women, some old and some young, some with blonde hair, others with sleeve tattoos, gather on the second floor of an apartment building in Greenwich Village for tonight’s healing circle. They come from different Native American tribes. They gather here every second Saturday of the month but tonight is special. With the full moon approaching, it’s the perfect time for a cleansing. The moon brings renewal of spirit.

Itzhak, the circle leader, walks in five minutes past 7 p.m. All the members in the circle sit on the ground, legs folded, backs upright, waiting on Itzhak’s instruction. He plops down at the edge of the circle and immediately begins. In front of him is the altar. A ring of four lit white candles and one red one in the middle sit atop a Navajo blanket with particulars from the earth: sand, a variety of greens and red petals.

The room turns dim. The altar is bright.

Itzhak sets the mood. “We can drum or rattle. When we do that, we want to close our eyes. Let our body relax. And, whatever comes to your mind, is exactly what you need to have.”

The room readjusts with each word.

“If you see any visions, or whatever comes up, just go with it.”

He grabs his oversized drum and beater. “If you don’t have an instrument, please grab one from the altar.” At the altar are rattles and hand drums with adjoined beaters.

The drums are the heartbeat of such gatherings. They awaken the soul, Itzak later explains. “The rattles and the drums help us transcend our own reality and consciousness to a world of dreams and visions.”




He eases the room into that world with his drumming.



Do-do-do-do doom. Do-do-do-do doom. Do-do-do-do doom.

He drums. They rattle. On beat. He goes faster. They follow suit. He mellows out. So do they.

The room goes on in this manner for 15 minutes. Then, DOOM.

Before tonight’s journey to the lower world, the leaders must carry out the cleansing. 

Everyone rises.

One by one, Iwona and Jacho, two other leaders here tonight, mist the air around each person with sage, while Glori, another leader, serenades the room with a flute. Iwona and Jacho wave prayer feathers around each person. Then, like a brush to canvas, they wipe the old away from their clothed bodies, from the tips of their head to the soles of their feet. Vigorously rubbing away all that is unclean with the feather, before the “call in the four directions.”

Jacho leads the call. 

The call is a "thanks to all that gives.” To the water, the river, the sun and the moon. To all the things that make it possible to live. To the “grandmothers and ancestors.” 

“First, we call to the East. Eastern air, carries eagles flair with the feast of mind and broad in sight, for those who rise with father’s light. This spring is king and all is right. We call to the spirits of the East, the place of the rising sun, the place of the eagle, the plains. We call to those spirits that exists only for our highest good and well-being. We ask these spirits to come here and be with us and join us tonight.”

Everyone rattles. Then, echoes, “Aho.”

Jacho calls to the spirits of the South. To, “The place of fire,” and the place of the rattles and snakes, who “shed their skin.” Everyone rattles. Then, echoes, “Aho.”

Jacho moves on to the West. “We call to the spirits of the West. Land of Astro. Space of dreams. We call to the spirits that are aligned with the highest.” 

Then, to the North. “To the ancestors talking. To the ancestors before us. Teaching us, showing us the way.” And then he calls to the spirit above, “to the realm of the spirit guides and celestial beings that watch over us and protect us, and provide us with intuition. We invite those spirits.” Everyone lifts their hands and heads, high. Their eyes are tightly shut, in expectance. 

Finally, Jacho calls to Achamama, to mother earth. 

Everyone is on their knees now, their heads touching the altar. “We ask the spirit of mother earth who is always with us to be with us here tonight. To learn from her. For her wisdom and guidance.”

There is one final collective rattling, and an, “Aho.” Then, everyone returns to their seated position in the circle.

Glori takes a loud, deep breath. The room follows. Then, she softly instructs today’s journey.

“Tonight is about relationships,” she says. “We are here tonight to think about all the relationships that come into our lives. Everything that touches us. We sometimes forget to honor them.” Tonight, she continues, is about honoring every relationship in our lives.

“We’ll go into our journeys to find those relationships and find those sacred moments.”

Tonight’s journey “sinks us into that depth to learn from the lower world,” from animals, from anything that crawls or flies. “Go into the earth and go to your spirit guides. When you meet your animal, ask them to take you to one of those sacred relationships you need to learn from tonight.”




The room grows hushed. Everyone assumes a position. Some spread out on the floor. Others fold their knees to their chest. Eyes are shut.

The drum beats grow louder. 

Rat-a-tat. Rat-a-tat. Rat-a-tat. Rat-a-tat.

And then faster. Rat-a-tat rat-a-tat rat-a-tat rat-a-tat.

Then after about fifteen minutes.




Everyone returns from the lower world. Some members confess they rushed their goodbyes with their spirit guides with the last DOOM. 

After the first journey, Glori passes the drum beater around. The member with the beater in hand is the only one allowed to speak. Each person must speak about their encounter with their spirit guide. 

One woman weeps when describing her mother in the lower world. Her guide was a butterfly who took her to see her mother, brother and sister there. The butterfly instructed her to touch her mother’s belly the next time she sees her on earth because anytime now, she’ll be leaving to go to another world. But the butterfly left her comforted, saying she will be with her mother in the next world.

After the second journey, led by Glori in the same manner, another woman describes meeting a man named Robert after passing through a portal of “dark blue flames and purple forests,” and meeting her mountain lion guide. Robert, she explains, is from her previous life. He is stuck, she says. "Robert never knew love and had a bad life.” She needs to save him but because of the last DOOM, she didn’t have time. 

But “I duplicated my heart and left it with him and let him know I will come back and I told him, ‘I will bring you to Pachamama and Mamakia, and we’re going to get you out of here. You don’t belong here!’” 

She wants to get him out and hopes to do so on the next journey. The room comforts her with a ringing “Aho.”

Hillsong's Carl Lentz Can't Keep God to Himself

Hillsong's Carl Lentz Can't Keep God to Himself

Madeline Simpson |

Photo by Gary Houlder/Getty Images

Carl Lentz enters the stage of Hillsong NYC in the middle of a worship song. 

In a light-wash denim button-down and black skin-tight jeans, he worships onstage. He stands behind the worship leaders and raises his hands, his body almost convulsing with the rhythm as he dances and sings. He wears a few silver necklaces (one with a cross dangling from it) and a red bracelet.

When the music fades, he breaks through the line of musicians in front of him and shouts with a slight southern twang. 

“Come on! God is good! If you believe that, raise your voices!”

The crowd roars in response. He steps back behind the musicians and the music continues. 

Lentz is a celebrity pastor. His Instagram page boasts a blue checkmark, a follower count of 642,000, pictures of his son hanging out with Justin Bieber and basketball games with rapper Drake. 

Evangelical churches, especially evangelical megachurches, are often focused around a big personality who leads the church, teaching every Sunday. The sermons are typically based on Bible scripture and taught using engaging stories and analogies from the pastor’s own life.  

When the music portion of the service comes to a close, Lentz takes center stage. He is alone, except for a musician who plays keys throughout the sermon (a low-level melodic hum) and two security guards who sit on the far right and far left mini-staircases leading to the stage. 

Behind Lentz, a massive screen projects the words, “I Can’t Keep It to Myself” in neon blue cursive. 

The pastor opens with a question to the thousands in the crowd: What can you not keep to yourself? 

“If you know someone who is in love, if you know someone who is vegan, if you know someone who is a parent... they can’t keep it to themselves.”

Lentz launches into a story about his daughter’s dance recital, about how he could not sit quietly in his chair during the recital. About how he stood up and cheered for his daughter throughout the group performance. 

Then, he directs the audience to a bible verse on the screen from the book of Philemon. 

As he reads, the crowd responds. 

“Come on, pastor.”


“Really good.”

“That’s good, pastor.”

Some clap in response to Lentz. Some stand on their feet and shout encouragement at him. 

When he says something moving and few respond, Lentz calls out the crowd.

“Come on, somebody! You can clap. Twenty other people did!”

The message is a tutorial on how to evangelize. Lentz begins by comparing a life with sharing the story of Christ (“impact on others” leading to “deeper revelation”) to a life without (“minimal impact” leading to “hollow religious patterns”). He talks about how his parents were part of the “Jesus People” movement of the 1970s, about how their goal was to simply share the Good News about the Lord whenever they could.

The sermon is the third that Lentz preached that day—the church holds two-morning services (9:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.) and one evening service (5:00 p.m.). His voice is scratchy and becomes scratchier throughout the sermon. Every word is an inspirational shout. He moves around the stage as he preaches, waving his microphone-holding hand so much that his voice fades in and out of pick-up range.   

The ultimate teaching point comes when Lentz tells the crowd that their own stories are all they need to share the Gospel. 

“The part of your story that you think disqualifies you qualifies you more than anything else… You have to find your rhythm. Find the way you’re going to use your platform.”

The service was set to end at 6:30 p.m., but at 6:50 p.m., they’re still in the midst of song. By the time Lentz closes his sermon in prayer, his face glistens with sweat. 

Over the music, which again fills the theatre, he asks the crowd to bow their heads and calls out to anyone who wants to become a Christian—an altar call. 

“Raise your hand if you want to know the Lord tonight. That’s right, raise those hands.”

He leads the hand-raisers through the prayer that Christians believe welcomes you into the house of the Lord, thus guaranteeing an eternity in Heaven. A verse from the biblical book of Romans is displayed on the screen: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

The audience breaks into raucous cheers, welcoming their new brothers and sisters into the family of God. 

Lentz disappears behind the row of musicians, who close the night.