Monday, July 6, 2015

the spices and ointment

He said it quietly. Over his supper. Not quite a question. More of a statement. "When does the suffering end..."

He is seven.

I had finished walking late Friday afternoon. Grateful. For all those who had accompanied me. Grateful. For all those who helped. Grateful for the end of the strenuous prayer --like at the end of a fast, a was ready to re-enter... I was ready to begin to change my pace.

I had a blister on the ball of my foot. I had worn a hole in it. When I took my shoe off in the car on the way home, there was serum and blood all over my sock. I decided to wait to take my sock off... and laughed at myself. Well girly, when you offered your whole self in prayer, you knew it might cost you a little flesh and blood.

The People here understand that. In the Sun Dance, those who dance offer their flesh and blood, literally, for the sake of the People. So, my walking days past the time it just hurt would not be extra-ordinary. This type of prayer, this type of offering your whole self is formation and practice... as well as the real deal.

It is not mortification. It is different. I don't quite have the words for it. There is an exaltative joy in it.

And then we had dinner. S had arrived. I was still spinning. We all went to bed early.

Early Saturday morning --about 4am, I received a call to meet a family at the ER. Baby had stopped breathing. I didn't rush. I knew they were coming from Cherry Creek. I was deliberate in my preparations, saying my morning prayers as I stuffed healing oil in my pocket, found my keys and wallet in the half-light of pre-dawn.

In the hospital parking lot, I saw the ambulance had just arrived. The dad was pulling the truck in to the lot at the ER entrance. He parked it crazy-like, askew between lines that didn't matter and bolted for the doors.

I had to wait in the waiting room. The grandma arrived with the weeping teenage girls/aunties/sisters. The grandma was called back. The girls waited, crowded in to a corner by the TV running its neon green ads amid orange and blue headline banners.

They called me in to the back. I breathed. Deeply. Not knowing what to expect. As I rounded the corner in the exam rooms, I heard the infant scream. I looked at the nurse who was escorting me. 'That's good news!' I said. 'Exam room one,' she said. All business.

A seizure caused by a high fever. We would wait to see if her fever would go down. It did. She had a bad ear infection. She would be alright. The parents wept. Buckets.

I returned home, did some preparation work for Sunday and all else that might come. Then S and I went to the family powwow in Iron Lightening. Traditional powwows lift the spirit. They are partly family reunion. Partly a time for teenagers to test a first love. Partly a time to honor accomplishments. Partly a time to celebrate and teach culture. Partly a time to pray, to name, to wipe away tears.

It felt good to sit in the heat. To shake hands. Someone wanted me to come and speak into the microphone and tell folks about the walking. I didn't. It didn't feel right to blast it electronically all over the place. I spoke one on one to those who asked.

When the women Traditional Dancers --mostly elders, got up to dance, S asked me --is that it?! In the women's Traditional, the moves are subtle. The knees move to the down beat, heels lifted. It is extremely difficult to do --it takes tremendous stamina and skill to keep the down beat going when the drum changes to an up-beat, which it does... frequently. I think I giggled at S's question. I think I said 'Lakota women don't run, they don't shout or talk loud; they don't draw attention to themselves. This is the dance of humility.'

The back bone of The People. Humility. Gentleness. Generosity. Stamina. Endurance.

'This is really a patriarchal society, isn't it?' I heard asked. 'Yes. And sometimes matriarchal --depending upon the type of leadership that is needed...' I explained that there were no such things as 'chiefs'. When the People needed to change camps, the one who was best at that led them. When major decisions were made, the elders conferred --sometimes the grandmothers, sometimes the grandfathers, sometimes together --depending upon the decisions. When the hunt was on, those who had those gifts led the People. Leadership was shared. Depending upon the circumstances.

'It's like the sign on the airplane --put your own oxygen mask on before you try to help others... the men are put first in line in somethings, to feed them first, because of the jobs they are required to do... sometimes it's the elders first, sometimes it's the children first --it depends....'

The Traditional Dance of the women --it is prayer, it is preparation, it is practice, it is offering, it is the outward and visible sign of the way to be.... It is the real deal.

For the children, it is glory....

The heat of the day bore down on us. We watched the foot race. We watched the champions being honored. From the memorial softball tourney. Hand-shaking all around. Then the volleyball tourney. All the games. Children's division. Adult's division... Then the "suicide" horse race --up and down hills that usually unseat a rider or two --or, some horses refuse to go all...

--the woman has won that race four years in a row now... !!!!

We went home  after the horse race... and crashed in to bed. The fireworks ground the night to bits. The dogs cowered. Refused to go out....

Sunday, I returned to the powwow grounds. We have church there. Once a year. I have baptisms there -almost always. This time, there was lightening and rain all around. Thunder. We took refuge under the tent that usually provides shade. It is an old tent, greatly repaired, still full of holes. The winds were so fierce, the tent perimeter poles began to fall. We gathered towards the center. We asked the storm to go around us. It poured harder. The water in the baptismal font was being stirred by the wind...

And so we began. And we baptized. And by the time we shared bread and wine, the sun had come out. Everything was fresh. And new.

A meal was provided. And we sat and watched the men take the rest of the tent down. I sat with the women... a whole row of us... 'Hey,' I said, 'I was taught that the women were supposed to take down and put up the tent.' We all laughed. That is the Tradition. The house belongs to the woman; she puts it up, she puts it down, she decides who can sleep and eat in it. One of the younger women said, 'Yeah, but if we had taken it down, it would be done already.' And we all laughed....

I had to move on to the next service. I thanked everyone. The horse shoe games began. I drove through the mud, the places where it had rained, the puddles along the road the evidence of the downpours. As I neared town, Joel called me. 'Go to the hospital. You are needed.' I still had time before the next service....

Was she sixteen? Was she seventeen? I don't know. But her life had ended. No one was sure if it were suicide or murder. There had been an awful fight. She was found in the morning, hung in a playground on a side street in Eagle Butte. The FBI would not let the family view the body. Suspicious circumstances required a forensic autopsy.

I prayed. One of the grandmothers sang the mourning song. Where have you gone? I look for you, but I do not see you. Tunkasila (Grandfather), look at me and pity me. Absolute. Devastation.

I returned home. The next service had been relocated due to the rain. The children ran to my fence. Mother! Mother! We walked/ran over. Sang. Prayed. Shared what we heard, shared bread and wine. Amid the chaos of late afternoon shadows and crying, running, pew-hopping children.

Over dinner, the adults talked. Their fears and hopes for their grandchildren. Tears were close. The boy sat next to me. He said it quietly. Over his supper. Not quite a question. More of a statement. "When does the suffering end..."

He is seven. He has suffered greatly. Already.

I looked at my plate. I had even eaten a huge serving of cake and ice cream. I opened my mouth to respond, not even yet knowing what would come out.

"When does the suffering end..."

"When our hearts change," I said.

He nodded his head. "I need to learn to read," he said. He turned towards me. "I failed First Grade." I knew that already; his grandmother had told me. He had lived six places this year --six different schools before he came to live with her just before Easter....

"We can do that," I said.

And I prayed.

At prayer this morning (Luke 23:44-56a)

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last.

When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.”

And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid.

It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

Today, I will prepare the spices and ointments.
Today. In exaltative joy.

Saturday, July 4, 2015



So. Very. Done.

At the very end of the walk, thinking in anticipation of the trail coming to the River, we missed the gate, and I walked a mile beyond.... That was a funny joke, God. Haha.

I am so grateful to all the children who walked with me. I am so grateful to their grandparents who supported and followed me. I am so grateful to have had the time, opportunity and health to do this walk and prayer. I am so grateful for the prayers of support for the People and for me from the on-line community.

Wopila! Pilamayaye!!! Whoooot! Thank you!

And, I am glad to welcome S to our little home on the prairie.

Phone rang at 4am... little O, who turns 1 today, ran a high fever and quit breathing. I thank God for all those who responded. She is stable now and her fever is going down. Poor lil' girl --not the way to celebrate your birthday, heh?!

So, I am sitting in bed --trying to catch a nap before whatever else comes my way today!

At prayer (James 5:9-10)

As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance.


(and I have a blister nearly the size of the palm of my hand covering the sole of my left foot. Ouch.)

Friday, July 3, 2015

Day Three: Are you Spirit?

I left Bear Creek alone. Well... not really. Only in as much as any of us are alone....

I followed the gravel road north, then turned west... then north again on the section road. By this time, the roads were just dirt. It had rained --not enough to make mud, but just enough to settle the dust.

The only sounds that could be heard were my footsteps, my breathing, the birds and the wind.

A deafening chorus.

There appeared on the road before me something on the ridge --the horizon line. It was tall and walking right towards me. Soon it took the shape of a deer. It stopped... when we were within a hundred feet of each other, I stopped too. It was a young buck, his antler buds covered with felt.

He didn't move. Neither did I. I half expected him to speak.

Well... maybe he did....

'Good morning,' I said... then said, 'Unsimala' --have mercy on me. He stamped his feet. We stood looking at each other. It was terrifyingly wonderful.

'I don't know if you are spirit or deer,' I said. I felt the wind on my neck. 'If you are deer, please don't trust us humans. You should run when you see us. If you are spirit --pilamayaye.' (Thank you.)

We stood looking at each other. I don't know how long. Then he turned and did that pronking leap into the field to the north, and literally and suddenly disappeared. The crop wasn't that tall... how could it disappear like that....

I kept walking... praying... for the health and well-being of the people. Those with diabetes. On dialysis. The guy in the 4-wheel accident having surgery. The newborn baby taken by ambulance to Bismark. Those addicted to drugs and alcohol. For the teachers and spiritual leaders, the doctors and nurses, the counselors, for all those who help. For those living with uninterrupted grief. Those in despair. Those confused and lost. For the children. That they might have the right food to eat and safe places to sleep. And family to love them. For the children... oh God, the children....

And the road cut through a swampy place. Water all around. The birds grew thick over my head --screaming a warning, telling me to get away. 'Not my nest!' They began to make swooping dives at my head. I lifted my staff with the cross, prayer ties and feathers we have found --swung it around and over my head. They kept diving, screaming.

It was frightening, in a way. Their vicious, protective, screaming swipes. I've seen them take on birds ten times their own size... these ones had long bills for grubbing through the mud... they could take a good chunk of my head... this continued for a good half mile --long past the swampy place.

So, I stopped and prayed. Thank you, I said. Thank you. Would that all mothers be like this... and then it was like a blow to the back of the legs... I am called Mother in this place. The day before, one of the children had told me I was Mother to everything... Oh No! I had said... That job is tooooo big!

--and the birds disappeared.

I turned again to the road north. Carrying the gaze of the deer and the cry of the birds. About a mile away on this stretch of road, I saw something in the road --maybe a tall gangly weed growing where it shouldn't really... ferrel corn? As I got closer, I realized the small birds were flopping around, or flying and screaming around ahead... the tall gangly weed was a bald eagle....

It screamed at me. It looked right through me. Took off, circling around and around... piercing the air with its cry --and then it flew north.

Oh gee.... I thought to myself.... Oh....

And then sang the Thank you song I have been taught. And started my prayers-with-words again --for the health and well-being of the people. Those with diabetes. On dialysis. The guy in the 4-wheel accident having surgery. The newborn baby taken by ambulance to Bismark. Those addicted to drugs and alcohol. For the teachers and spiritual leaders, the doctors and nurses, the counselors, for all those who help. For those living with uninterrupted grief. Those in despair. Those confused and lost. For the children. That they might have the right food to eat and safe places to sleep. And family to love them. For the children... oh God, the children.... and for myself... that all I do or say may be to your greater glory Father.... Let my prayer rise up, like incense before you....

I ate lunch where I had to cross the highway. The weeds were mown there. I could sit down and get up easier because of the berm.... my feet hurt, my legs hurt, and I had twelve more miles to go....

--and then these two little ones joined me....

--and they walked. It was hot. And they walked. Got in and out of the truck sixteen times. Had to poop. Had to pee. Threw rocks at each other. Walked some more. Pouted about who got to walk first. Who got to carry the staff. Who got to hold my hand. Needed water. Fought over which one got the pink fruity water, and which one had to drink the orange one... fortunately, there were two pink fruity waters...

--and then they slept...

And my prayers were made perfect in their hubbub, in their offering, in their presence.

From morning prayer (Canticle: Second Song of Isaiah, Isaiah 55:6-11)

Seek the Lord while he wills to be found; *
call upon him when he draws near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways *
and the evil ones their thoughts;
And let them turn to the Lord, and he will have compassion, *
and to our God, for he will richly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, *
nor your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, *
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as rain and snow fall from the heavens *
and return not again, but water the earth,
Bringing forth life and giving growth, *
seed for sowing and bread for eating,
So is my word that goes forth from my mouth; *
it will not return to me empty;
But it will accomplish that which I have purposed, *
and prosper in that for which I sent it.

And this.... (Canticle: A Song to the Lamb, Revelation 4:11,5:9-10,13)

Splendor and honor and kingly power *
are yours by right, O Lord our God,
For you created everything that is, *
and by your will they were created and have their being;
And yours by right, O Lamb that was slain, *
for with your blood you have redeemed for God,
From every family, language, people, and nation, *
a kingdom of priests to serve our God.
And so, to him who sits upon the throne, *
and to Christ the Lamb,
Be worship and praise, dominion and splendor, *
for ever and for evermore.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Day Four.
Off I go.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

we are here

Day three begins today.
Yesterday was mostly cross-country.
It was really challenging walking.
The children hadn't seen nettles before...
--but we saw deer prints, and coyote prints...

At one point, the truck left us to go run errands. We were told the way was down a section road --there were telephone poles there. We saw the road, but saw the bulls, too. They were bumping heads while all the cows watched, nervously. When we got closer, we saw that the section road was separate from the pasture, so we took the road. It ended in a gate.... and then it was truly cross country. We walked close to fence lines in case I had to put our bodies on the other side of something...

We walked a couple of miles and the fence line ended in a prairie pond with a dead cow stuck in it... so we followed up the ridge to the south, about a mile (to the next section road) and we crawled under the gate we found there. There was a field of grain on the other side, so I knew we were now safe from bulls and the like. That part was a relief. And because we were coming out on top of a rise, I turned my phone on.

The children were scared. Had been scared. Wanted to turn around. We stopped and talked, swatted mosquitoes and worked out the difference between giving up and turning around because there are no other options. We decided to keep going.

The phone rang. 'Where are you?' 'We are here!' we said, laughing. It had become a joke. I had a little nylon backpack that had "You Are Here" printed on it --and the children didn't understand... now they were beginning to get it.

We continued to the top of the rise. We called again. 'We are here!' The folks in the truck were honking their horn, but we couldn't hear it. We walked to the next rise. We were in a fallow field. And I saw the white flag moving through the fields about two miles north of us. We called on the phone.

It took us a while, but we finally caught up to each other. We kept moving west. Finally hit a county road --after several more fences. We were getting good at helping each other crawl under the fences without getting stuck on the barbed wire.

But one of the kids got sick from eating the meal too quickly. And the other was tired... So, I walked a couple of miles by myself...

I have been amazed at these children... in the past two days, they have walked at least 20 miles with me...

The walkers and prayers, ages 3, 5 and 10 and well... almost 60.

The landscape has been awesome. Terrifyingly beautiful. Dangerous.
The prayer has been heartfelt, deep, persistent. Dangerous.
The children spontaneously pray for things I have left unspoken.
They know.
The mental and spiritual exhaustion from the work I do here, is being worked out with my body.
Step by step.
I am so grateful.
Giving it to God.
Step by step.

At prayer (Psalm 95:1-7)

Come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before God’s presence with thanksgiving;
and raise to the Lord a shout with psalms.
For the Lord is a great God;
you are great above all gods.
In your hand are the caverns of the earth;
and the heights of the hills are yours also.
The sea is yours, for you made it,
and your hands have molded the dry land.
Come, let us bow down and bend the knee,
and kneel before the Lord our Maker.
For you are our God,
and we are the people of your pasture, and the sheep of your hand.
Oh, that today we would hearken to your voice!

The Lakota word the early translators used for "sheep" is the word the Lakota used for the pronghorn --the antelope.

Hmmmm.... yes. The caverns, the hills, the way the land has been shaped... the pasture.
We are the pronghorn of your hand...

--but-- I am okay without hearing your voice... because doesn't that make one's head explode?!

Off I go.

Hard walking today --about 15 miles, I think --may be more.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

walking and praying

The first mile, I walked by myself. The pungent sweetness of the sun and clover was not yet in its fullness. The mosquitoes and biting flies were happy to see me --until they got close enough to realize I was well doused in repellent.

It is a wondrous thing to be filled with the sounds of the prairie --the birds, the cattle, the snort of the horses. I let all of it wash me, through and through.

The night before, Ir. had offered me his staff to carry. One always carries a staff in prayer. He pointed to it in the corner of the room, wrapped in bits of buffalo skin with eagle feathers dangling from it. I had been aghast --I was wordless. He started to laugh at me. 'Yeah,' he said. 'I know.' 'I have a staff,' I said, stumbling with my thoughts. He was still laughing at me.

It would be presumptuous of me to carry his staff, even though it was offered. There are somethings, in our current age, that white people shouldn't do. There are boundaries due to historic circumstances. It would be spiritually greedy of me to say yes. That would not be a good thing --the walk is hard enough, demanding enough....

We pray together. He comes to church and receives communion. I go to inipi with him, let go of all that I am carrying in a different way. He is near 70 years old --and was raised by his grandparents. They taught him the ancient ways, and taught him to honor Christianity. He was never told to choose --he was told he could honor both. So, he does.

And, he has offered to follow me in his truck. And his grandchildren are walking and praying with me, too. Well, sometimes they walk. Mostly they skip. Or run. The older boy rides his bike. They walked/skipped/rode eleven miles. And prayed --fervently. Spilling their enthusiasm and joy all over the place.

Even when their grandfather had to go run an errand, they chose to walk and pray. Making up games along the way, telling me their secrets when they thought no one else could hear.

As we walked, folks stopped to see what we were doing --if we were okay --if they could give us a ride. They were so grateful for our prayer. One apologized --Oh! I am sorry! I didn't mean to interrupt! 't said. 'No, don't be sorry --now you are part of our prayers,' I said. And laughed inwardly, because it was in southern California, walking along a trail at sunset, I stumbled upon some buddhists sitting silently. 'Oh! I'm sorry!' I had said. 'I didn't mean to interrupt!' And the one sitting closest to me had said --you didn't interrupt, now you are part of our prayers... and I had been deeply moved --prayerfully and spiritual formed by that one instance...

In prayer, there is no interruption.... It is all one.

And we prayed --the children and I, the grandma and grandpa too, standing by the truck. Once, the grandpa sang the song we usually sing in the inipi --Grandfather, have mercy on us; I do this so I can live; have mercy....

The children sing along. In Lakota.... It makes my heart soar. It makes my heart sore.

So. Today, we continue walking and praying. It will be difficult today because we are going cross-country, cutting through the open prairie and over a ridge. 'There will be bulls,' he said. I thought he said 'wolves'... he laughed.

At prayer, uninterrupted (Luke 23:1-12)

Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.”

Then Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

He answered, “You say so.”

Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man.”

But they were insistent and said, “He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.” When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time.

When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate.

That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.

Oh geeeee....
Pray for us.
Day two.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Walking. And praying. On pilgrimage.

Walking. And praying. On pilgrimage.

After about 100 funerals here, I knew I had to enter incarnate prayer --a walk. That was two years ago. It is a challenging way to pray --taking everything the prairie can throw at you --storms, bugs, snakes, the endless vista and sky.

This will be my second year of walking.

Please keep me and all who join me in your prayers.

From morning prayer

Psalm 121

1 I lift up my eyes to the hills; *
from where is my help to come?
2 My help comes from the LORD, *
the maker of heaven and earth.
3 The LORD will not let your foot be moved *
and the One who watches over you will not fall asleep.
4 Behold, the One who keeps watch over Israel *
shall neither slumber nor sleep;
5 It is the LORD who watches over you; *
the LORD is your shade at your right hand,
6 So that the sun shall not strike you by day, *
nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; *
the LORD shall keep you safe.
8 The LORD shall watch over your going out and your coming in, *
from this time forth for evermore.

Psalm 122

1 I was glad when they said to me, *
“Let us go to the house of the LORD.”
2 Now our feet are standing *
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
3 Jerusalem is built as a city *
that is at unity with itself;
4 To which the tribes go up,
the tribes of the LORD, *
the assembly of Israel,
to praise the Name of the LORD.
5 For there are the thrones of judgment, *
the thrones of the house of David.
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: *
“May they prosper who love you.
7 Peace be within your walls *
and quietness within your towers.
8 For the sake of my kindred and companions, *
I pray for your prosperity.
9 Because of the house of the LORD our God, *
I will seek to do you good.”

Psalm 123

1 To you I lift up my eyes, *
to you enthroned in the heavens.
2 As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, *
and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
3 So our eyes look to you, O LORD our God, *
until you show us your mercy.
4 Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy, *
for we have had more than enough of contempt,
5 Too much of the scorn of the indolent rich, *
and of the derision of the proud.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Off I go.

Monday, June 29, 2015

odd, odd, odd...


Thursday evening. A lay reader had already received the body by the time I got there. Things were set up. The lay reader had told the veterans that it was not appropriate to drape the flag over the coffin in church; they had protested, but lay reader stood her ground. She didn't know all the reasons, but had seen me do this before. They still insisted... so she ran over to Joel for confirmation....

Oh yeah. He told her. Which, when reduced to its skeleton, was: in the church, during Christian services when away from the church proper, one is a child of God before all else. No nation, no tribe --no other affiliation is recognized... and we cover the coffin with the pall for the same reasons we cover the consecrated bread and wine --the Body of Christ, before us....

So, she went back and stood her ground, again. They took the flag off.

When I arrived, and Joel told me what had happened, I told her she had death with one of the most difficult conflicts of all --for some reason, soldiers don't like to take the flag off, and push back. Sometimes with the force with which they have been formed. I told her she had 'done good'....

And the funeral was very early on Friday, because we had to leave before 10am in the morning in order to get to the National Cemetery near Sturgis before 1pm. If you are even a minute late, your chance for a burial is gone for the day. So, we always have to plan with an extra thirty minutes in case of a cattle drive, road construction, accident --or delay of any kind. And between now and the end of August, Sturgis is VERY congested with motorcycles....

So, I was able to do the whole funeral in an hour... get on the road... arrive at the cemetery... we were done at 2. I was exhausted... couldn't think about driving another three hours back to Eagle Butte, so we drove to Rapid to the cottage to spend the night. I'm glad we did. At just after 9pm, I had to take Joel to the ER. Excruciating pain. A broken tooth.

The ER released him at about 2am. His pain still unresolved. Saturday morning he was still in bad shape, but stable-ish. We knew he had to stay in Rapid to get to a dentist --so I drove home for Sunday and the other work I knew I had to do.

I called him when I arrived back in Eagle Butte... and called him... and called him... I began to guess that something was wrong.... When I finally spoke to him at 4pm, he was sitting in the yard outside the house... he had found a dentist that would see him, so he called a taxi, the taxi company had jerked him around, telling lies about driving by the house and calling him --the dentist finally gave him a ride, couldn't do the tooth but administered a long acting nerve block --but then when arriving at home, Joel realized he had locked himself out of the house. He was wondering which windows to break....

It was near ninety degrees out, too... and he had no water, and the heat could send him into a myasthenia crisis.... and that would mean the ICU.

I told him if he broke a window, I would kill him myself... made calls for Sunday morning services --one of the calls had a daughter in Rapid --she would go check on Joel --and when all was done as best as I could make it, I got back in the car and drove back to Rapid....

I arrived in time to put Joel to bed... and tried to unwind...

Sunday was odd --not waking up to the Sunday pressures --good pressures, but pressure none the less. I got some food down Joel --he had been in such pain, he had found it too difficult to eat.... and then he slept in the pain-med induced fog...

--and I moved dirt around in the yard... a peaceable, unthinking yet creative, muscle-exhausting task... until it got too hot to be outside....

--and Joel kept sleeping....

This morning, he was able to get an appointment with a dentist... and we will so what's next from there.

God willing, I will start a 100 mile or so walk tomorrow --Tuesday-- a continuation of the pilgrimage I began (with the help of young people and a crowd of walkers) last year, praying for the health and well-being of the People of Cheyenne River. But... first things first.

My theological ponderings of these circumstances lead me only to one thing: Hmmmmmm.... Perhaps I have a relative named Job.... Nah... quit whining margaret... don't worry, be happy --love God and do what's next.... always, all ways....

At prayer this morning (on the day we remember St Peter and St Paul, so, from the lectionary, beginning at 2 Timothy 4:1)
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.

--whoops, there it is...

Off I go.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Symbols... and signs....

In a theological sense, symbols take part, are of the substance of that to which they point. At least, that is what I was taught. And sometimes we use the words symbol and sign interchangeably --like, sacraments are outward and visible signs (BCP, 857)....

I think about it frequently.

Bread and wine. Eucharist.
Water and oil. Baptism.
Fire. The Light of Christ.
Earth. Mortality.

We use these signs/symbols liturgically... ceremonially (too)....

The other night, at a wake/funeral (it was a one-night service offered for someone who would be carried home to another Reservation for burial), I was blessed to enter into a conversation with the local Baptist pastor who came to be present at the service with some of his flock. He stopped me in the parking lot, concerned over the number of funerals --and the murders in the previous week. I thanked him for his concern --and began ruminating with him on the holy work of burial... He asked me how it was that I allowed certain things --like the drum-- to be present at the church.

'Well, you know,' I said,  '--as Paul said, when in Rome... you understand the signs and symbols of the People to show them how God is already working in their lives. He affirmed what they already knew of God.' His jaw dropped.

'But,' he said, 'Don't you believe the symbols partake of that which they represent? And, if they are not even praying to God....'

I side-stepped. I said I trusted and believed them when they said they prayed to the Creator. I spoke of the conflict between Peter and Paul, and asked him to remember that Paul was chastised for his mission to non-Jews, and was told to go prove himself at the Temple, to quiet his detractors. 'So, Paul, a believing follower of Christ, went and partook of the Temple rites....' I said. 'It is not a matter of who knows what is right or wrong,' I continued, 'but inspiring all to do their very best --to be a face of love and hope rather than death, judgement and destruction.'

The small voice in my head was screaming --YOU WILL LOSE TALKING TO A BAPTIST ABOUT SCRIPTURE.... but, I could tell he was suddenly disoriented.... 'Acts,' I said. 'It's in the Book of Acts.' I went on about Paul's dream --that nothing God made was unclean or forbidden... and that what we see all around us is the local "Old Covenant" --of God, for the sake of the People.... and we use "Old Covenant" stuff in our Christian worship all the time.

Our conversation was ruptured by someone coming up and asking him to go buy plastic spoons and forks for the meal.

When he returned, the service was in greater preparation --the people were beginning to give every indication they would be ready to begin --by the clock we were long past the hour we should have begun. But... "Indian Time" --it begins when it begins when enough of those who should be there are there.

So, I invited him to sit up front and speak during the service at the time afforded if he felt so moved. We had worked together before. And, he did --cautioning them to remember God's judgement and their legacy. Others spoke too. And I spoke, encouraging folks to remember to love --to be love-- that they didn't make or break love, but that we are all held in God's love, we swim in God's love....

(I had read a gospel lesson intended for a marriage liturgy --John 15:9-12, Love one another as I have loved you-- this had been a suspicious death in a marriage rampant with domestic violence, and all sides of every family were there... the anger was thick in the air... we had thought about calling the police, just in case, to sit in the back of the church....)

--and speaking of love seemed essential in that context.... Risky, but essential. Not cute hearts and bows and ribbons and angels and hearts going pitter-patter kind of love... but the kind of love that puts self aside for the sake of another, even your enemy....

And then we offered bread and wine --food for the journey, the sustenance of God's own self, love shown in bread and wine --the 'stuff' of the cosmos....

--and even though I expected him to graciously refuse, I offered communion to the Baptist pastor. But he held his hands out...

I don't recall him doing that before....

--and we shared bread and wine from the table.

This has kept coming back at me all week. For me, it was a miracle... (same root as mira, in Spanish, "Look!") A sign within a sign within a sign. And I have decided not to try to analyze or dissect it, but merely to thank God....

--and remember that one day, all sacraments, all signs, all symbols shall cease... and on that night, for the sake of the People, with the People, we were so very close to that thin place....

At prayer this morning (Luke 22:24-30)

A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

“You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

The kingdom....

In that place, I will chose to leave the judging to others... honestly, I believe it has already been done... over, out, for all time... and we are all subject to God's mercy and forgiveness.

--all of us.
Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

in the wake of the Holy

Joel had the tv going when I came in. And he had that "look" that I know, because it is not a gaze outward, but a blinding gaze inward... and through.

And he talked for an hour. Processing.

I had prepared him as best I could --with an outline, a skeleton of what usually/might happen. He had found out at the wake on Monday night that the funeral itself would be over in the school auditorium --the church was just too small. Which meant that not even a semblance of a prayer book liturgy would take place. He had been upset --letting go of that. He had wanted, deep in his soul, to do a "Christian" burial service. I told him it would be a Christian burial service --just not one ever written in any book.

This was for the seventeen year old recent grad from high school that got murdered last week. I was busy with another funeral. I was so grateful Joel felt well enough to step in....

And no matter how prepared you are --not only do you have to dig way deeper than is comfortable in order to be present at the funerals, there are always things that happen, requests, necessary ceremony and cultural events that come in from the side --or the top --or bubble up from the foundation... so, one is never prepared.

For example... Someone decides to mark their grief by cutting their hair. There is ceremony for that. We have been given the guidelines not to mix Christian with Traditional Lakota ceremony, and that is all well and good... but you have already said an opening collect, and while a song is being sung, a family member comes forward to tell you this... --and it can't wait. ....

And neither what you are doing as part of a Christian funeral, nor the expectations of being able to cut your hair, should be compromised.

Or, a naming ceremony....
Or, the uncle, who is late, who needs to speak.
Or, they just found what they needed to play the video after all, and you thought you were just going to read the gospel, even though you have already told them it could be played during the meal, they desperately want it as part of the service....

And this is what happens while in the church --where the turf itself helps set boundaries and parameters. When the funeral is moved to the auditorium or cultural center, all is changed.... All bets are off.

And he had that look...

The work of the Sacred --of the Holy of Holies, in, by, through, with, making open space for it --does that. Hollows you out.

And he told me... everything. That the outline was great... but only as helpful as a page-size map of the State while looking for backroads in Dewey County.... you could approximated where you were and try to get back to the main road.

--there were even visitors from Italy mixed in there, some how, asking in broken English what he thought about Christianity and Traditional Lakota --where was he in all that...

(--because there seems to be three ways... condemn one or the other, think they are the same, or become a wannabe lusting after what can never be. But this is a whole other tangent....)

And he must have talked for an hour.... I finally quit pretending, and turned the tv off for him so that I could listen.

And I could only listen. Because I know I had that "look" too... at least, I should have. Not the least for that child that asked me if she, the auntie there, had ashes in her, pointing to the coffin. 'No, no ashes,' I said, wondering where it was going.... I feared where it was going.... How do I talk about cremation without terrifying the child....

'To get ashes, do you stick 'em on a stick like a hot dog, and cook them over the fire?' the child asked.

Ohmygodohmygodohmygod........ I tried to keep a straight face. 'No, it's done very respectfully, and if I'm there, it is always done with prayer.' I said ponderously, carefully, looking at his face. He was searching for something.

'No ashes?' the child asked again.

'No --we will bury her whole, in the ground, in that coffin.'
'Aaaahhhh,' he said. And took his stick and walked away....

Ohmygodohmygodohmygod...... I looked for his mother, and thinking there might be some potential crisis, told her of his question. She started to laugh. 'Oh! His auntie was cremated, and we caught him looking it up on google, and now he won't stop asking questions. He found a video of a horse being cremated...' And we laughed.

Later, as we had just put this auntie in to the ground, this family surprised me with the custom of everyone coming up and praying and grabbing a fistful of dirt and throwing it in the grave hole. This child came up, with great gravity, and with one hand stuck in his pocket, picked up dirt and said a prayer, looked sideways at the weeping grandma, and threw the dirt in the hole. Then he scooped up another fistful, looked the other way at the grandpas, and did it again.

No one even noticed him --they were all caught up in their grief. He was the only child present who ventured forward to participate. The other children clutched a skirt, watched the men, or played hide and seek further out in the cemetery.

Caught up in the holy....

That, and so many other instances. One after another. And another. And another. The scent of the mown grass. The jokes. The plates of food. The tears. The prayers. The songs.

At prayer this morning (John 3:22-30)

After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized—John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison.

Now a discussion about purification arose between John’s disciples and a Jew. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”

John answered, “No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.”

There we are.

That look.
John must have had it too...
'Decreasing' is a good way to think in the wake of the Holy.


Monday, June 22, 2015

the crowd merely watching the spectacle of the suffering one


There have been three murders in this place in the past ten days. In three different places, three different incidences. I have been tasked with the burial of them all.

But, I know the pain and shock of the good people of Charleston. In a different way. Because these have been hate crimes of a different sort. Related. But different.

I have consistently heard, here, the notion that there was not any domestic violence within the Tribes. There was not suicide. There was not poverty. There was not murder. There was not war. That these things were not known within the Tribes until the white people came.

And I have heard all that with some skepticism. I have heard all that with skepticism because when one listens quietly to the elders, there are the stories about what they used to do under such circumstances. And the old stories are full of anecdotal evidence of the existence of all of these violent behaviors. The story of the White Buffalo Calf Woman itself has evidence that some men objectified women long before the appearance of white people.

There are the stories of what was done when someone was murdered --the murderer or a member of their family was made forfeit --and given to the victim's family. And they could either kill that person, make them a slave--a living punishment of labor --or that person was expected to take the place of the victim within their family. Fully incorporated.

There are these and many stories that contain evidence of the human condition....

But, I am beginning to understand and hear what is being said in the lament --we didn't have these things before the white man came. Because the old ways, the traditional ways of dealing with these circumstances have been removed, outlawed, made inaccessible to The People. So, the People are virtually powerless and subject to the violence, twice. And forced to accept solutions that are not working... jail and prison... more isolation... more removal from the remnant cultural ways...

And, the conditions which catapult the violence are the definite result of centuries of racial genocide. Concentration camps to hold prisoners, and purposeful isolated ghettos where experimentation of extreme nationalism, imperialism and capitalism could be wrought under the gloss of so-called westernization and modernization. These concentration camps became the Reservation system. A forced dependency. A violent and cruelly dehumanizing policy unparalleled in modern history due to its longevity.

And fostered by BIA and Federal policies that gave access to resources and control and authority to a few among the People, and then those authorities would back away and watch the "Indians" fight amongst themselves... like Pilate, washing his hands....

So. Yes. A hate crime. Decades in the making. Perpetrated by the conditions created by the oppressors. Yes. These crimes, these conditions did not exist before the white man came.

And, the young white man, the face of the larger crime in South Carolina... I know what runs through my own head when I look upon him --my own shame, thinking he is some how a part of me... blame in that he is the result of a system of hate and privilege and blindness and power... And, what comes out of his mouth has a stench that is abhorrent, unacceptable. I wonder what he must have suffered to make him like that... because children are taught hate, children are taught violence. Why was it not interrupted? How can we interrupt it...?

It is very much the same feelings as I look upon the conditions here... shame and blame... and I wrestle with it all.

But, this week, these next few days, I must put all that in the pocket close to my heart, so to speak. I must carry all that lightly. It is my "stuff." I have other work to do that is different from righting the wrongs of the present moment. I must walk among the People in the way that most here have welcomed me --as someone who is here to walk beside them in the worst moments of their lives... to lead them through the valley of the shadow of death, in love... and com-passion....

--because I have walked here before... I have buried more than two hundred persons in my time here... I have some experience of the pitfalls, the sand traps, the falling boulders, the treachery of an unsympathetic world which turns only a blind eye, washing their hands and throwing the waste in to the cup from which we must drink...

--and it is not the number of funerals of all sorts and conditions which oppresses me... no, that is holy work. It is hard work, but sacred work.

What is oppressive is that the deaths here are unnoticed by most in the world "out there"... there is no smoking gun in the hands of a young man that we can point to, chase down, incarcerate and think something has been accomplished, that justice has been served.

What is oppressive is that there is no one to point to, chase down, incarcerate --except all those who have contributed to and perpetuate the status quo --all those who are unwilling to open their eyes and enter in to the work of reconciliation and justice...

--which is most all of us... the crowd merely watching the spectacle of the suffering one struggle by with a cross which is too big and a death undeserved....

At prayer this morning (Luke 21:29-36)

Then Jesus told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Who among us cannot read the signs of the times?

--but our hearts are so weighed down... we are all so distracted we cannot see or deal with all that is before us.... we pretend it isn't our "fault"... we tell ourselves and others that it is out of our hands... that there is nothing we can do...

--and, therefor, we will be caught unawares. What will we say when we come to stand before the Son of Man? It wasn't me--that one over there did it... that line has been tried before. It didn't work then, either....


Off I go.
Pray for us.

(And, pray for Joel. One of the funeral homes here has not been very cooperative, and scheduled, without asking, the funeral for the murdered sixteen year old at the very time I already had another funeral scheduled. So, Joel is doing his first wake and funeral here. Please keep him and our mourning families in your prayers.)

Friday, June 19, 2015

Uncomfortable to the core

Ten "key" excerpts from the Washington Post on Pope Francis's statement on climate change:

1. Climate change is a global problem that affects nearly every facet of our lives: economic, social, environmental and political. The poor will suffer the most, have done the least to cause these circumstances, are subject to the powers that have created the problems, and have the fewest resources to deal with or remedy the impact.

2. Rich countries are destroying poor countries, importing resources and exporting waste.

3. The fundamentalist idea that God gave us the "right" to dominate the earth must be rejected.

4. The privatization and capitalization of fundamental resources such as water is ungodly and a sin.

5. Economic systems and technology will not solve the problems --in fact, they contribute to the problems of poverty and pollution. The "market" is not the solution.

6. Forcing the poor to have fewer babies is not a solution. Extreme consumerism and waste must be blamed before population growth.

7. Honoring our bodies is part of respecting the earth. Gender differences are a marvelous mystery and part of our human calling.

8. The international community has lacked the will to do anything. The church is not called to "settle" scientific or political debate, but that doesn't mean it can't have an opinion and encourage debate for the common good.

9. Individuals must act to break the cycle of violence, exploitation and selfishness. We can carpool, take public transportation, recycle and plant trees.

10. What is the purpose of our life? What is the goal of our work and effort? What does the earth need from us? What are we leaving for future generations? Are we living with dignity and allowing others that same dignity?

The full and official text of the document can be found here in English. It is written to "every person living on this planet," calling us to look at the "ethical and spiritual roots" of the problem of global deterioration. We must and should replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with sharing --coming to a liberation from fear and greed. He calls us to look at St. Francis as a model of care of the vulnerable and the earth.

And, he says we can make these changes. We can and should and must. We are able.


Yes, and amen.

I pity those who are objecting... I pity and am angered that those same are the ones who control our economy and politics. The little steps we do at home are not enough. There must be radical, systemic change --and on the part of the rich, sacrifice (and, yes, even at my $30K something a year, I am rich compared to so much of the world).

At prayer this morning (Canticle: Second Song of Isaiah, Isaiah 55:6-11)

Seek the Lord while he wills to be found; *
call upon him when he draws near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways *
and the evil ones their thoughts;
And let them turn to the Lord, and he will have compassion, *
and to our God, for he will richly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, *
nor your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, *
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as rain and snow fall from the heavens *
and return not again, but water the earth,
Bringing forth life and giving growth, *
seed for sowing and bread for eating,
So is my word that goes forth from my mouth; *
it will not return to me empty;
But it will accomplish that which I have purposed, *
and prosper in that for which I sent it.

And this (Luke 21:5-19)

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

The edifices we build, all will be thrown down. Arrest, persecution, prison, testifying about things we cannot prepare for... betrayal... hatred and death.

But in this, we shall not truly perish.... We shall gain our souls.


That is not very comforting... .

So, off I go. Uncomfortable to the core.
We cannot wait for "them" to listen.
We are the ones who must act. And we can. Should. Must.
We know what to expect.

But, we shall gain our souls.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Everything. It's the only way.

Joel read something to me the other day (as he is want to do)... I think it was Walter Wink... something about the spirituality of demons... and how damaging it is to think of demons (or angels for that matter) having separate bodies or identities other than the systems, institutions and flesh and blood we ourselves create.

All of it  --good, bad, ugly, taboo, wonderful, mysterious, etc.--  is not something "other" that infects us. It is us.

It would seem to me that is precisely what the Incarnation is all about. There is no "other" out there.

When we blame it on something "out there" it means we can divest ourselves of responsibility for it, in so many ways. It is a form of denial.

We can also label it all as systemic issues: racism, poverty, classism etc. And then just say it is the human condition.

Or, of course, it must be mental illness. Or drugs.

But... even so. It is us.

Living in the world we have created.
And... we DO have the means to change it.

Today I bury a young man stabbed to death.
Yesterday, a sixteen year-old was stabbed to death here in Eagle Butte. Purportedly by other teens.
And a young woman drank herself to death. I will bury her next week.
And we awake to the news of a cop shooting his ex in front of his daughter.
And to the news of a young man entering a church and shooting nine people dead.

We just lack the will to decide how or what to do.

So, we continue to criminalize drug/alcohol addiction and abuse.

We closed mental hospitals --dumped folks on to the streets or gave them to their families to care for. And then we are shocked and surprised when the number of our prisons and jails grows exponentially. (Yes, there are many other facets to the growth of the prison industry. This is just one. But, watch this documentary on prisons on PBS...)

And, we watch violence. Play violence. Sell toy guns and knives and military gear and action figures to children. We keep telling ourselves we need weapons of mass destruction for self defense.... And then we are surprised when they are turned on us. Turned on children. Husbands against wives. Children against children.

Last night, at the wake service, in the middle of the wake service while someone was speaking, a toddler came forward and pretended to shoot me with a squirt gun. Made the gun sounds and everything. And everyone laughed. As though it were normal and cute to pretend to shoot someone.

If we continue to avoid dealing with this violence, we do so at our own peril. There is only one place it will end.

At prayer this morning (from Luke 20-21)

In the hearing of all the people he [Jesus] said to the disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”


We all must give everything we have.


It's the only way.

And, even so, we mustn't expect the hearts of those who give out of their 'extra' to be moved or changed.

Oh, don't I sound all moralistic and authoritarian... I don't mean it that way. I am keening in to the rising sun.

This is my lament.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

the awkward mysterious devastating perfection of it all in this thin and holy place

We reburied him at the top of the hill. There was a level place that afforded a complete view of the prairie that was punctuated with crevices lined with trees that ran towards the river to the south. This hill dropped off quickly to the east, in to a ravine. Even so, it felt like one could see forever. A place that brought to mind eternity.

We had come down the gravel road eight or nine miles. It had stopped raining. Finally. There were places in the road that had given way to standing water and gumbo. When we turned off the road, she stopped the truck and switched to 4-wheel drive. We slid through the tall grass and mud, up the hill to the portable cattle stanchions. They protected the first grave there --his brother. Now we would put him next to his brother. On the hill where one could see eternity. In the place where they had grown up. Free.

The wind took our words and songs. Carried them east. The men smoothed out the mound of his grave with an unforeseen delicacy, the shovels like artist's tools in their hands. They slipped evenly on the mud and cow patties like surfers on waves, a practiced posture of strength and agility reeking with meat and potatoes. These were ranchers. They knew shovels. They knew muck. They buried that son and now this son. They had all buried sons.

Then we all traveled the better roads home--back to the church to eat. I had seen the owl on the way out. Conversation in the truck had stopped. It was not a good sign to see owls. Messengers. Of things no one wanted to hear or know. Of death. I refrained from questions and comments that always arise in me when the currents of culture inundate. It was just better to let the silence be. Details would be opinion.

And, we ate. Beans in the thick brown fatty syrup. Pulled meat. Mashed potatoes--not the instant kind folks get from the government, but real potatoes with bits of skin. Fruit mixed with marshmallows. Pasta salad. Spicy menudo with hominy. Cake. Fry bread.

They loaded us all up with leftovers--wateca (wah tay cha, meaning 'food'). They had nice containers for everyone to carry it all in. The food itself a gift. And enough left over still that they asked me to carry it to the shelter or something.

I took some food home. Retrieved my phone messages --sometimes it takes a day or two for messages to register in the answering service, but these messages were all recent. The plumber had tried to call--I've been waiting ten days.... The next one--she couldn't open a bank account with less than $100. Okay. A desperate call from the hospital. I began with that.

Another death. Her daughter.

I let the image of the owl looking at me in full flight fill me. Said my prayers.

And called the plumber --yes, come now, I have another service this evening. So, I helped him pull out the stainless steel sink and drainboard. It had taken me six months to find a wall-mounted faucet that would fit --and when I did finally find one and purchased it, the pipes coming out of the wall were too small for it, so it needed couplings I didn't have, couldn't get... and I broke the plastic fasteners accidentally... so, I had to wait ten days for the plumber to come and the old faucet hung like a limp raggedy-Ann faucet from the wall. ---yes, come now...

The spider egg sacs were thick behind the splash-board. They stuck to the plumber's shirt. I picked them off of him and crushed them. Sorry iktomi. Sorry.

While the plumber had returned to his shop to get the right couplings, and the other gear he didn't have in his truck, I had set up for the service of healing. I knew there would be at least one wheel chair, so I brought a table down before the step, and set up a circle of chairs there, with space for the wheel chair. I wouldn't do the full Eucharist service --we had enough in reserve... brought out the oil. Set it all up. We got the faucet fixed moments before the next service began.

When the children began to arrive, they spilled in to the church space, laughing and playing, full of questions. When the questions dimmed and the running and jumping became too boisterous, I called the oldest one to read the sign on the door. She fumbled the word "sacred" .... 'Please be respectful of our scared space. No running or jumping....' I complimented her on her reading, and all the children rolled their eyes and exited the sanctuary....

They knew already. Their energy was the nervous hashtag to the sadness of the adults dealing with a diagnosis of terminal cancer among them. I had already prepared the lessons we would read. I had printed them on nice paper so the matriarch could carry them away with her. The gospel was the story of Jesus falling down on the ground in the garden, asking God to take this suffering from him --and then surrendering....

It was near dark as we finished praying. I was exhausted. Spent. I straggled home. The tree by the gate to our yard. That is the last place I saw the snake. Climbing up the trunk. I showed it to Joel, who hates snakes.

And I  --no it wasn't really a laugh... it was relief... joy... exhaustion... grief not my own... the awkward devastating fullness of time....

The images of the day piled up on one another. Of the snake in the tree. In our garden. By our gate. Jesus face down in the garden. Praying. Each garden the echo of the other. The shovel-artist ranchers surfing cow waste. The locket the mother wore around her neck with the picture of both of her sons, both dead from suicide. The other mother who lost her daughter to alcohol. The children rolling their eyes. The eternity from the hill top.

The awkward mysterious devastating perfection of it all. No, perfection is not the right word... fullness is not either... but, perhaps they are the only words....

At prayer this morning (from Luke 20)

[Jesus said,] "And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

I have another service beginning tonight. The man stabbed to death.

Life at the cross roads.

In this thin and holy place.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

food for thought

It's raining. Hard. Which means the roads are going to be awful. And we have work to do today....

In a few minutes, a caravan will begin at the National Cemetery near Sturgis. A caravan led by a hearse. A year ago, we buried a young veteran there --dead by his own hand. At that time, I wrote this:

It's Memorial Day. I have no hurdles to cross in mourning the loss of lives in war.

My hurdles are those having to do with war itself, and those who glorify war, make war, love war. And, I confess the burden of anger because of our Nation's treatment, or, really --lack of treatment for those who chose to risk all for the sake of others --anger that most often the 'sake of others' or 'for the sake of the Nation' is a pack of capitalistic crap devised by billionaires to protect or line their purses and jimmy-rigged by the political lackeys they have purchased.

(Perhaps... perhaps the suicide rate is so awful because these young people know in their heart of hearts that they are pawns in an unjust, corrupt, vicious, blatant act of force and power without a moral or any other defensible cause.)

Just sayin'.

I keep returning to what I want to say tonight... . Sticking my hoe in to the dirt of my words, turning it over. How might I cultivate new life in the midst of a culture of death? I hope the Spirit doesn't leave me unsure and bereft... what I am confident of is that I must speak right from my gut, and hope that it at least points to the borderlands of truth.

Usually, we would be gathering for a memorial feast --a give-away to mark the end of the tunnel of mourning, a return to the community, to the routines of life.

So... you can guess.... we would be gathering to do that... but there is more. Just after Easter of this year, his younger brother committed suicide, too. He had come to church. He had been asking questions of me, as I told the stories of the old ways, what the signs and symbols of the church meant, the reality those signs pointed to... partook of.

I had no clue. No clue....

So, here we are. As part of her journey of grief, their mother wants her sons together, at home, in the family cemetery. At the anniversary of his death, they are bringing him home. And we shall take him out through the long road, and put him to rest. Beside his brother.

Because they had been inseparable.

The people of the church, in times past in northern Europe and all, would dig up saints, divide up the remains, carry them here or there, insisting upon miracles from the bones or strangely preserved flesh, on healing, on prayers answered.

How could I not do other than that....

At prayer this morning (1 Samuel 1)

So the woman remained and nursed her son, until she weaned him. When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine. She brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh; and the child was young. Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli.

And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the LORD. For this child I prayed; and the LORD has granted me the petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he lives, he is given to the LORD.”

She left him there for the LORD.

So.... (from the Book of Common Prayer, p 491)

As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.
After my awaking, he will raise me up;
and in my body I shall see God.
I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him
who is my friend and not a stranger.

For none of us has life in himself,
and none becomes his own master when he dies.
For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,
and if we die, we die in the Lord.
So, then, whether we live or die,
we are the Lord's possession.

And please pray for SH's mom --she recently received a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. We will gather tonight and have healing prayers, keeping in mind the difference between a healing and a cure.

Hmmmm... food for thought with regard to death... a healing, not a cure for death, too.... Reconciliation. Restoration.... Hmmmmm.....

Off I go.

Monday, June 15, 2015

(because I deplore the word 'faith')

The sudden storm thrashed us just before the sun cleared the horizon. Or was it that the constant lightening made it look like dawn... I don't remember now.  I do remember the violence was so great that I stumbled from the bed and closed the window. The curtains were being blown nearly horizontal and I had to rummage through them to grasp the window and slide it shut.

The dogs were terrified and crammed close as I crawled back in to bed. I thought of trying to get through this storm in a tent... a tipi would be best, even better than the high-tech half-globes they make now-a-days. Tipis could withstand ninety mile an hour straight line winds --in essence its structure being interlocking tripods dug in to the earth. Much better than our flat walls and square corners....

I blinked as the lightening flashed its eerie gray through the room, drinking in the colors with a fleetingly robust shadow. I heard something crash against the house. 'That must be a branch,' I thought. There is a massive cottonwood tree that grows in the narrow place between the garage and the house. It is not a good place to have a tree. It is a dangerous place to have a tree. It is a wonder it has not broken through the foundation of the house.

I think maybe I should cower and cringe like the dogs. Each have taken a place by me, forcing me on to my back, forcing me to shelter each of them, wrapping an arm around each, their noses in my armpits, butts in my elbows, trembling. I am left belly up, prone and exposed. 'But if the tree comes down, there will be no place to hide anyway,' I muse. 'It will be, or it won't be....'

And I wonder about the little birds, and the nests in the trees... the robins, the meadowlarks... those other tiny birds I don't know the name of that remind me of my grandmother...

Saturday afternoon, Joel and I had watched a baby robin outside the kitchen window. The mass of feathers made it appear to be as large as its parent that struggled to keep up with its open-mouth demands. We laughed. But the picking is good in our yard --especially because Joel had just mowed the weeds low. The baby grasshoppers are in bloom. The worms captive to the over-wet soil. Good pickings.

Saturday afternoon, I also went to the store, and two children ran up to me, yelling in excitement that they had seen me. I hug them both. Rub their heads with my hand. They tell me they are hungry. 'What would your grandpa tell you to do?' I ask the younger one. He is about nine, maybe eight. The other one, I know why he is hungry. He has begun to cultivate the rage, the harvest of unending betrayal. He is eleven.

'He took gum and put it in his pocket,' the younger one says, naively. I cuss inside my head... and then tell the younger one to go home, meaning to speak to the older one alone. But they both run away, half skipping, touching the air with their fingertips.

Little birds. Out of the nest. Open mouths. No parent bird in sight.... A landscape full of danger and all the wrong food. I catch a fleeting glimpse of their futures in the soles of their shoes. Harrowing. Full of dangerous life-defying decisions. So, there, in the supermarket, in the aisles full of boxes and crammed shelves, I pray as I push my cart.

Back to the storm and the present moment. As I lay prone on the bed, I pray for all the little birds. All the little birds. In this cruel world of betrayal. An hour of frightful prayer and crashing branches.

The storm, at least, moves on. We rise to the Day of Resurrection. A new day. The guy who had come to the door, asking for a bible or a cross to protect him --there was a demon in his house-- said he would come to be baptized. It was his idea. I tell him its not magic and all that.... But he is not there. I didn't think he would come.

But, we stand and sing. As I preach, I dare to move in to that place aloud. That place I am afraid of. As prone and vulnerable as the time in the storm. That harrowing place. Full of decision. And then, like little birds, we gather around the altar with our mouths open. Out of the corner of my eye, I see to my great astonishment the Demon in His House Man come forward to be fed. I feed him. And all the others.

And while we thank God for feeding us, I get the bottle of water from the Easter font and the oil. I put them by the font. I go ask His House Man if he has ever been baptized, any where, and if he still desires to be baptized. He says he has not ever, and that yes, he does. I notice he has put on a clean shirt. He has made an enormous effort.

So, I call him forward. I tell the congregation we are going to shake things up, do things backwards. I tell them I had told him to be here at 10 if he wished to be baptized, but as a sign that even those who show up at the last hour get the same reward, we would baptize him now. Joel starts to weep.

I ask him the questions. He makes the promises. I pour the water on his head and it runs down over his shoulders and chest. I pour the oil on his crown as tears fall down his face. I rub the oil in his hair. The perfume odor of the oil fills the room. And then everyone comes forward and greets him, shakes his hand. Welcomes him home.

After we clean up the altar, I go with the baptismal record book to where the people have gathered, eating donuts, drinking coffee and laughter. But His House Man has run away. Joel had quickly gathered his information, scribbling his name and birthday in the margins of a bulletin before His House Man lifted his heels in flight....

Sunday evening. As the sun sets. And I am prone on the floor of the inipi, covered in sweat and dirt. We had prayed. I felt cleansed, as I always do when I pray in that way. It is so hard to hold on to things in that heat. In that dark. I have more than just a tenuous grasp on relief, it has permeated me --it really is as it said in the gospel that morning... you plant the seeds and go on about your business sleeping and rising, and the earth itself will push up the grain. First the stalk, then the head, then the full head of grain.

Even enough for the little birds left outside the harvest.

We are the seed. We are the weed. We are the grain. We are the harvest. We are the sickle. We are the one who sleeps and rises and doesn't know. We are the harvester.

And to the earth we shall return. All have died.
And none of it is okay.
And all of it is redeemed.
Everything has become new.

Trust God.
Walk by trust... (because I deplore the word 'faith')

At prayer this morning (Canticle: First Song of Isaiah, Isaiah 12:2-6)
Surely, it is God who saves me; *
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, *
and he will be my Savior.
Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing *
from the springs of salvation.
And on that day you shall say, *
Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;
Make his deeds known among the peoples; *
see that they remember that his Name is exalted.
Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, *
and this is known in all the world.
Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, *
for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.

Off I go.