I had spoken with the mother of the deceased --a woman not much older than myself, and she affirmed that she wanted Communion at the funeral. With the presence of the UCC pastor, I thought the path was clear. But the subtle signs that are becoming more evident to me were there --signs I don't even know how to articulate. Yes, there was the styrofoam cross covered with the 'forever flowers' --yes, there was the cross with a woven dream-catcher like design and leather feathers --yes, there were things "Christian" strewn about laden with cross-cultural manifestations --yes, there was the abalone shell filled with the ash of sage and sweet grass, the local version of incense --yes, there were the young men and women who were polite but very distant.... but none of those things are clues to the greater work of tradition and faith.
Instead, it is a groundswell of fog... unnoticed, creeping in from the edges, a beautiful, quiet insistence that certain things will be done --not in public for fear of them being abducted by those without training or background --hijacked, as so many things from First Peoples have been, so things will be done in the moonlight, prayers offered when the crowd has gone....
And I remember the apologias of the first few generations of Christians --and the Gospel and the Traditions and teachings were said and done in closed rooms --not just in fear for their lives, but also because they were afraid of mis-interpretation, misapprehension --someone sometimes had to live the Christian life fully for three years, demonstrating their understanding of the teachings BEFORE they were baptized --hence the baptism by their own blood stuff that emerged from the early martyrs.
It is that kind of secrecy. Born out of the centuries of persecution and death and threats --and now that it is no longer illegal to express and embody Lakota beliefs, strangers from other places are openly attracted to the power of the ceremonies, and have, for the past generation, stolen the form of prayer and rituals and used them out of context. So, here, once again, they are done in secret. And it is said they are for the Lakota only. The Great Mystery gave them to the Lakota only. And that others should do what God gave them.
And so, I am left to realize in hind-sight that the person I'm burying is not of the Christian faith or Tradition --that I am there as a courtesy to some members of the family... and my mouth and actions are full of historic offenses, but politely tolerated out of respect for the mother or auntie or whomever....
And, I cringe when the open mike is offered, and folks get up and give their Christian conversion confessions, that all should come to Jesus and that kind of thing.... That's not evangelism... that is taking grief captive.
Yesterday, when I was full-up on cringing, and we went to the cemetery for the burial --a wild, open, overgrown, broken-fence area --and half the family walked the half-mile over to the trees growing down in a prairie crevice to get some branches to mark the corners of the grave, an old man came up to me and began to speak.
He told me that heaven and hell do not exist. He told me that my god was a man-made thing --and that his God had created the day-star called Lucen and that is who I worshipped, but that I was very kind, and he appreciated my being there. He told me that the constellation I call the Big Dipper is actually the gateway --the door for the people to come here and try on life. He told me that everything I do is fake and wrapped in fakeness and that my world is coming to an end. He told me that he doesn't pray --he speaks to the Great Mystery, and his words are heard. That my prayers were telling my god what I wanted --what I expected. He told me that anyone could be buried here. Even those that committed suicide.
It was his own conversion speech... How was he to know I would not be offended nor try to defend nor condemn?
And I looked around at the graves --metal crosses painted white with the circular hoop painted in the Four Direction colors joining the arms of the cross --metal eagle feathers hanging from the arms of the cross. Other graves with their plastic markers broken and scattered known only because they were still a lump or were seriously caved in.... And I wondered what it all meant.... where does one tradition begin and the other continue? --a seamless expression of wind and sky and body and spirit.... We return to the earth from which we came. What happens after that --we try to describe through metaphor and dream. And anyone who says, 'this is the way it is' really has no understanding of The Mystery.
I think he was surprised when I didn't become flustered or offended, but just said 'thank you'.
I think I was surprised at how very sad I had become.... How can I let folks know up front that there are other things I would do if I knew I was burying someone who did not profess the Christian Way? --other things I would do knowing that I had the privilege to accompany them in this time. That that was not outside my jurisdiction --even as a priest --it's an offering I can make --it's even in the Prayer Book. How can I let folks know that I am here to serve?
But, by then the wind was biting through my jeans. My nose was red-cold and dripping. My hands were stinging even through my gloves. (thank you) Most had retreated to their cars to watch the grave be filled. I stand with those who work at the grave, or to be with those who watch at the edge through their veil of tears. And I finished my prayers laced with personal regret. And humble thanksgiving to the Creator. That our lives be made ever richer. And that healing and restoration help us all move to a place of love. Not love as we would have it --but that love that encourages us to pour ourselves out --become empty. Or is that only a Christian prayer....? Or, is it not?
At prayer this morning (John 1:19-28)
This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”
He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.”
And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.”
Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said.
Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?”
John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”
This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
--the voice of one crying out in the wilderness --make the way of the Lord....
Sounds easy enough... but we all know what happened to John --lost his head for it.
Hey God, it's margaret here. Ummmm... every time I get to the place where I think I might see my next twenty steps or so, I am surprised --either by the full moon, or no moon --by the stars, or the clouds --by the intimacy of the vastness of the prairie, or by the shallowness of my breath --by the shortcomings of my own abilities to bridge gaps, or by the grace that makes straight the way.... Help me remember I am not worthy to untie the the thong of his sandal, or touch his moccasin, or much else --but help me remember only love, and that the water I drink today is the same water that has coursed the earth in oceans, rivers and fallen from the sky since the beginning --and it is that water, that source, that life and death we enter. And always have.
There we are.
(ooooooo --it's Fat Tuesday! Gonna eat me some pancakes and sausage tonight!)