Thursday, February 28, 2013

it has to be NOT okay

The movie last night... Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee....

--the obliteration of a People.... the continued oppression.... the purposeful extermination.

When I asked, after the movie was over, if there were any way through the pain, any way through this, the heads shook 'no'. And the lived stories came forth. The present suffering. The punishments endured for being Lakhota. The runaway attempts --from the schools, children sent even as far away as Pennsylvania. The cutting off of the hair.

The stealing of names. How the children had to have "Christian" names. I have seen that evidence in the baptismal records here. Before the 1890s, all the names were phonetically spelled Lakhota names. After the 1890s, all the names were European first names, and the surnames permanently assigned --taken from the mother or father's Lakhota name.

The stealing of the language --the children punished for speaking in Lakhota. (And even now, as I go to the symbols page to properly 'write' the word 'Lakhota', I cannot find an 'h' with a small 'v' shape over it indicating a soft guttural 'h' sound.... La-kh(g)o-ta.)

The stealing of the religion --imposing Christianity as part of the 'civilizing' process. Requiring church attendance.

When I read some of the Psalms, to put words to the anguish, I felt I had taken a wrong turn. Only. This. Present. Moment. Do not impose an historical perspective. So I backed away from that.

And, I admitted, that if I had even an ounce of Native blood in me, I would, if I could, dance the Ghost Dance --obliterate the white people, send them all to the nether world, restore the land, restore the buffalo, restore the people.

In February 1890, the United States government broke a Lakota treaty by adjusting the Great Sioux Reservation of South Dakota (an area that formerly encompassed the majority of the state) and breaking it up into five smaller reservations. The government was accommodating white homesteaders from the eastern United States; in addition, it intended to "break up tribal relationships" and "conform Indians to the white man's ways, peaceably if they will, or forcibly if they must." On the reduced reservations, the government allocated family units on 320-acre plots for individual households. The Lakota were expected to farm and raise livestock, and to send their children to boarding schools. With the goal of assimilation, the schools taught English and Christianity, as well as European-American cultural practices. Generally, they forbade inclusion of Native American traditional culture and language.

To help support the Sioux during the period of transition, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) was to supplement the Sioux with food and to hire white farmers as teachers for the people. The farming plan failed to take into account the difficulty which Sioux farmers would have in trying to cultivate crops in the semi-arid region of South Dakota. By the end of the 1890 growing season, a time of intense heat and low rainfall, it was clear that the land was unable to produce substantial agricultural yields. Unfortunately, this was also the time when the government's patience with supporting the so-called "lazy Indians" ran out. They cut rations for the Sioux in half. With the bison having been virtually eradicated a few years earlier, the Sioux were at risk of starvation.

The people turned to the Ghost Dance ritual, which frightened the supervising agents of the BIA. Kicking Bear was forced to leave Standing Rock, but when the dances continued unabated, Agent McLaughlin asked for more troops. He claimed the Hunkpapa spiritual leader Sitting Bull was the real leader of the movement. A former agent, Valentine McGillycuddy, saw nothing extraordinary in the dances and ridiculed the panic that seemed to have overcome the agencies, saying: "The coming of the troops has frightened the Indians. If the Seventh-Day Adventists prepare the ascension robes for the Second Coming of the Savior, the United States Army is not put in motion to prevent them. Why should not the Indians have the same privilege? If the troops remain, trouble is sure to come."

Nonetheless, thousands of additional U.S. Army troops were deployed to the reservation. On December 15, 1890, Sitting Bull was arrested for failing to stop his people from practicing the Ghost Dance. During the incident, one of Sitting Bull's men, Catch the Bear, fired at Lieutenant "Bull Head," striking his right side. He instantly wheeled and shot Sitting Bull, hitting him in the left side, between the tenth and eleventh ribs; this exchange resulted in deaths on both sides, including that of Sitting Bull.

Big Foot, also known as Spotted Elk, was a Miniconjou leader on the U.S. Army's list of "trouble-making" Indians. He was stopped while en route to convene with the remaining Sioux chiefs. U.S. Army officers forced him to relocate with his people to a small camp close to the Pine Ridge Agency. Here the soldiers could more closely watch the old chief. That evening, December 28, the small band of Sioux erected their tipis on the banks of Wounded Knee Creek. The following day, during an attempt by the officers to collect weapons from the band, one young, deaf Sioux warrior refused to relinquish his arms. A struggle followed in which somebody's weapon discharged into the air. One U.S. officer gave the command to open fire, and the Sioux responded by taking up previously confiscated weapons; the U.S. forces responded with carbine firearms and several rapid-fire light-artillery (Hotchkiss) guns mounted on the overlooking hill. When the fighting had concluded, 25 U.S. soldiers lay dead, many killed by friendly fire. Amongst the 153 dead Sioux, most were women and children. Following the massacre, chief Kicking Bear officially surrendered his weapon to General Nelson A. Miles.

Some put the death toll at closer to 300 dead Lakhota, because those fleeing the scene were hunted down and murdered in the days that followed.
Twenty U.S. soldiers received Medals of Honor for their actions. American Indian and human rights activists have referred to these as "Medals of Dis-Honor" and called for the awards to be rescinded, but none of them have ever been revoked.

Following the Wounded Knee Massacre, interest and participation in the Ghost Dance movement dropped dramatically for fear of continued violence against practitioners of the religion.

Historian Will G. Robinson noted that in contrast, only three Medals of Honor were awarded among the 64,000 South Dakotans who fought for four years of World War II.

For healing to truly begin, the pain must be acknowledged. The pain must be recognized. The pain must be hallowed. No romantic stuff. The agony and the death cry, the vomit of blood. It must be seen and heard.

And it has to be not okay. None of us can rush healing. It takes away the holiness. And the creative potential.

It has to be not okay. Right now, there is no way through.

And, yesterday, by a chance I knew nothing of, it was the 40th anniversary of the return of the site of the massacre and mass burial to the People.

At prayer this morning (fro Jeremiah 4)
I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void;
and to the heavens, and they had no light.
I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking,
and all the hills moved to and fro.
I looked, and lo, there was no one at all,
and all the birds of the air had fled.
I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert,
and all its cities were laid in ruins
before the LORD, before his fierce anger.

For thus says the LORD: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.

Because of this the earth shall mourn,
and the heavens above grow black;
for I have spoken, I have purposed;
I have not relented nor will I turn back.

--and this (from John 5)
Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.
It has to be not okay...

--amen.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

breaking the rules

It was supposed to be warm and about 40 degrees here today. But the weather has changed in the last hour, and now we have a 20% chance of snow, and temps not higher than about 31. I am constantly amazed at how swiftly things can happen here, weather wise.

It was blowy and snowy last Wednesday too --interfering with the Lenten movie/discussion. But it was cold cold cold last week --near zero temps. Tonight the air isn't supposed to be so brittle. We'll see. It might change again before then.

Tonight we are showing Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, a sometimes fictional narrative of a devastatingly true story. The scriptural reflection I will hand out will include the Psalms (one of them, any way) that deal with smashing one's enemy and restoration of the people in the land --which is the essence of the Ghost Dance  --and the Christian response, which is 'love your enemies'....

Last week was about forgiveness. This week about reconciliation.

Good Lenten themes, heh?

And, for some reason, I have an experience of Sun Dance in my mind this morning. I had gone to support my brother in his dance, and gone early --so I got to be there when the dancers came back from their vision quests, I got to participate in the inipi (not with them, but a cleansing inipi [sweat house ceremony] for those already in camp who were setting up the arbor, taking down the old tree and making the prayer ties). And, I got to go to the ceremony of choosing and then cutting down the new tree and carrying it back to camp. The new tree was quite tall and about 15 miles from camp, so they got someone with a flat bed trailer and hired them to carry the tree to within about a mile of camp.

For some reason, I got the irresistible urge to ride with the tree on its flat bed journey. I asked permission of the Head Man, and he looked at the helpers and head dancer, and then nodded his permission. I heard him say, 'she's just going where she ought to be any way.' I thought nothing of it.

The ride was exhilarating. When we got to the juncture where the truck ride stopped, the tree was unloaded and I went to my place with the other women to pick up the branches and leaves that might fall from the tree as it was carried in to camp and then to the arbor to be laden with prayer ties and erected in the middle of the sacred circle.

It was years later that I learned that it should have been only the dancers on the flat bed trailer ride, and really, only the men dancers, because men carry the tree --women don't. Dancers are those who pledge themselves to give their lives for the sake of the people.... And then literally offer their own flesh and blood in prayer during the dance.

It is amazing to me how many rules the Head Man ignored to let me accompany the tree in that manner.

And, maybe I am thinking about that because I am now the 'mother' and I keep getting asked questions like --is it okay to do such and such, and so many times such and such is against 'the rules' --and yet, I can see in each particular case that such and such would lead to a more abundant life --so, of course. Do it.

And, I can see how a rule follower would be driven crazy by such amorphous boundaries....

So, there we are. And tonight, we will discuss wanting revenge on our enemies... and how so many of the rules say we can do that... and how we are called to follow different boundaries, different rules.

At prayer this morning (from Romans 2)

Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.

You say, “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.” Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience?

Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
Forgiveness. Reconciliation. I guess next week I ought to touch upon repentance.... Yeah.... I mean, it is part and parcel of it all....

So, I pray for continued healing for D who gets fitted for his prosthetic leg this week; I pray for DC, E, S, the guy I talked to yesterday about sobriety, thanksgiving for the guys who helped me pick up the Cedar Tree Guys' trash yesterday, for the homeless here, for the grandma who is sick, for those who grieve, especially Collette's family.... for all those who are striving to seek a more abundant life, for those seeking forgiveness, reconciliation and repentance....

Hey God, it's margaret here. Please send us some moisture --snow, rain... you know. Amen.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

looking at the moon because we cannot look at the sun

The moonrise last night.

A full moon. Rising over the backbones of the hills and bluffs and table mountains of the plains. A red moon. I would say blood red. Except it wasn't blood red. Maybe she was draped in red silk. Perhaps the moon painted itself. For a wedding. Because there was no war. Marking her face with a bridal mask. A shared light. Not her own. Light that had escaped over the horizon. A patient, lonely, waiting light. Solitary in the dark of midnight.

She outshone the stars in their array. And she rose among them, casting aside her red mantel and mask. A full moon.

Deacon laughed at the moon's face and said, somebody turn out the street light please, it's blinding me. We all laughed. And the antelope stared, bowed their heads, bowed as we drove by, their white necks gleaming in the light of the moon.... They dare not laugh at the moon's light....

And I wasn't grieving in the light of the dark, but my soul was quiet with the goodbyes and hellos. So many words --the butterfly wing words caught in the branches of the leafless trees --or the words without wings tumbling and driven by the wind and caught against the stiff brown grass of last year along the fence. Words that are skeletons of hope and lost love. Generations gone and yet to come.

What are we to you, God, in this vast wilderness of cosmos, that we should dream of your love, or that you should notice us? That we are in any way draped as some kind of tilted pattern in the window of your concern? What are we to you, God, that our strife and desire, our end game of destruction and greed be overlooked and not snuffed out? What are we to you, God, except a whisper of some hope long lost to despair and oblivion?

Perhaps it is the image in my mind's eye of those children, up on the hill, playing outside in torn polyester party dresses many sizes too big for them, their unkempt hair standing at odds with their dark cherub faces. No jackets to fend off the winter. Lonely moon children. Cherub children without wings caught in the tall dead grass along the fence.

Perhaps it is the many funerals, of lost boys, drowned in tears.

Perhaps it is just the red full moon, pulling at my inner tides....

At prayer this morning (from Romans 1 after verse 16)
Ever since the creation of the world his [God's] eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.

So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

--exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being...

uuuummmmmmm.... which is precisely why I cannot worship Jesus. Just sayin'. I am a member of his Body, and worship God --caught up already as he is, in the divine...

Oh, well, there we are. Of course God takes notice of us... we are God's beloved child, flesh of his flesh, bone of his bone. Part and parcel of God's own being.

Back to the glory then. Of the moon.

And giving thanks to God. Because God is God. And we are like the moon, and not like the sun. And we wax and wane. But the light of the moon is not the light of the moon. It is the light of the sun. Reflected.

And all creation is a reflection of God's light.

--something about looking at the moon because we cannot look at the sun....
and then i am done

Monday, February 25, 2013

'old' covenant has been fulfilled, paid off, is null and void

Sitting in the motel in Rapid. Bringing DC back to the airport... sigh....

After two funerals and another death and comfort service, and then the Sunday routine, I slept like a log... except for the two dogs crowded around my hips, who couldn't press close enough. Thankfully, Joel took them out for the morning run while I fixed the hotel-room-coffee, which really isn't coffee at all, but might contain something resembling caffeine to get us going. And we did the coffee--dog cookie routine...

And, there we are. Grateful for the blue sky. Grateful for the good company and time together. Grateful for our life together.

At prayer this morning (Canticle: Song of Zechariah, Benedictus Dominus, Luke 1:68-79)

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; *
he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior, *
born of the house of his servant David.
Through his holy prophets he promised of old,
that he would save us from our enemies, *
from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers *
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham, *
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
Free to worship him without fear, *
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, *
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation *
by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God *
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, *
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Yesterday, I talked some about the 'old' covenant because of the first reading about Abraham. Then about the 'new' covenant we pray about in the Eucharistic prayer. The 'old' covenant has been fulfilled, paid off, is null and void (for Christians, anyway). We have a new relationship with God.

--and that is participating in Christ's eternal priesthood.

--just sayin'.

Peace out.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

seeking God in the mud

The sun on the snow this morning... it is like a stained glass window that one could not even imagine. Refracting the sun's own light. Back in to the blue sky. A blue so grand and yet fragile it is almost as though it will pixilate or fracture in a million tiny pieces at any moment. No clouds to interrupt its gaze upon us.

It got above freezing yesterday. The snow suffered for it, and began to disappear. Right now the parking lot is a sheet of ice. Cars and trucks slip and slide threatening to meet. It's time for the South Dakota Shuffle, one foot here, another there, never lifting one's weight entirely off one foot or the other.  And when the ice begins to disappear, it turns the strip of gravel between my driveway and the church lot into the most outrageously sticky mud. I dipped my feet into the puddles of melted wonder, walked through the snow all around in front of the church, scrubbed my boots against the stands of tall grass that border the fence... and still, when I entered the church, there was no mistaking it. Mud.

And it is supposed to get above freezing again today. It is 17 degrees right now... but it will get to 34 today....

Snow and mud. It does not bode well for a journey down the gravel road to Thunder Butte, across the open place and in to the cemetery. Someone once said I should just scream a little and go into the ditch and not worry about it. That's the way country girls drive.

Right. Maybe some time... but not on the way to bury someone. That would just be rude. Or something.

So... I gather my mud sailing equipment, and prepare. Prepare to drive the road. To give back to mother earth someone who grew up in the wild places.

At prayer this morning....

Canticle: A Song of Creation
Benedicite, omnia opera Domini
Song of the Three Young Men, 35-65

Invocation

Glorify the Lord, all you works of the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
In the firmament of his power, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

I The Cosmic Order

Glorify the Lord, you angels and all powers of the Lord, *
O heavens and all waters above the heavens.
Sun and moon and stars of the sky, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
Glorify the Lord, every shower of rain and fall of dew, *
all winds and fire and heat.
Winter and Summer, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
Glorify the Lord, O chill and cold, *
drops of dew and flakes of snow.
Frost and cold, ice and sleet, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.
Glorify the Lord, O nights and days, *
O shining light and enfolding dark.
Storm clouds and thunderbolts, glorify the Lord, *
praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

Off I go. To seek God in the mud and melting snow.
Maybe I just need to wipe a little of this mud on my eyes....

--nah.
Amen.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Let us approach the throne of grace with boldness

In that thin place between back to back funerals.

And it snowed last night --a good half inch of fresh snow. Light powder. Each flake like a gem, catching the sun and making bright colors.

Please pray that the hollow space in the hearts and guts of the people becomes a window to God, a place where Resurrection life begins anew in them.

At prayer this morning (Hebrews 4:11-16)
Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs.

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Let us approach the throne of grace with boldness... indeed.
Now, and always.
Amen.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

and he closes his eyes so that he can see

We watched the movie (Smoke Signals) and wept. Late in to the night. Spoke of our fathers. And forgiveness. Do we forgive our fathers in their deaths or at our own...? And the first step to forgiveness is --what? Compassion? Letting go? Stepping out of our own shoes, or in to our own shoes? --becoming who we really are....

And sometimes, while there is sweet relief, forgiving comes at a sacrifice... a letting go... and it has to do with power, and constructing the universe in our own image... or our own woundedness and feelings of self worth, or something like that.

Joel still blubbered like a baby, even though he has seen it several times in the last few weeks. He says it gets better every time he sees it. I think so too. One of the lingering images for me this morning is at the end, where the grandma takes the boy's face in her hands and says "tell me what happened, tell me what's GOING to happen" --and he closes his eyes so that he can see....

After the movie, we invited Da over to our house --it took so long to set up the computer and get it synced with the projector and it kept crashing until we re-booted --and all that kinda stuff... so we never got a chance to eat before the movie. So, we invited Da over to the house to eat with us. Joe's Special. Spinach with hamburger, onions, garlic and mushrooms set in scrambled eggs. One of my favorites.  DC had never had it --neither had Da --I think they liked it.... I hope they liked it. The sourdough bread that DC brought with her from Baltimore was perfect with it.

And it began to snow --wind and snow outside the windows shining with the half-light of the sparkling white air, and we talked and talked. Pushing the air around in the room, filling it with spirits and ceremony and humility and respect. Da spoke of the old way of asking someone to do something --because I had been asked to go to the court house yesterday afternoon --someone had died in the courtroom. I had been asked to go and pray for the first responders, for the family and relatives, for the workers, for the judge, for the spirit of the person who had died. We 'cleaned' the room with sage. So Da spoke of how it used to be done --how in times past someone was asked to do such a thing. And I was honored. To know.

And this morning, watching DC watch the sun rise like the moon, casting weak shadows and barely visible on the horizon for the storm... I find myself praying that the humility and plainness of the old ways not be lost. That I never betray the spirit and generosity --that I never speak out of turn or exploit or share inappropriately what has been shared here with me....

At prayer this morning (John 3:16-21)
Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in trusts him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in trust him are not condemned; but those who do not believe trust are condemned already, because they have not believed trusted in the name of the only Son of God.

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

My two favorites rants about the translation of the Gospel of John. 1) that the 'beloved disciple' is treated as male, when indeed it is written as a neutral modified by the neutral pronoun, articles, etc (as a word, 'disciple' is feminine, so choosing the neutral was purposeful --that anyone could see themselves in the place of the beloved disciple, as we are all supposed to be called to that loving devotion)  2) that the word pisteo is translated as 'believe' rather than 'trust' when indeed the word means 'trust', which is a whole different ball of wax.... --just sayin'....

And, this morning, I hear the words 'those who do not trust are condemned already' as a statement of a condition --like being among the walking dead --a spiritual zombie... because the 'judgment', the 'condemnation' is that the light has come into the world, and people love darkness rather than light....

--an affirmation of the already known condition of spiritual zombie-ness.... ears that do not hear, a heart of stone, eyes that cannot see --either open or closed....

--and when I trust Jesus, I trust that it is alright to hang out with sinners, and be touched by the 'untouchable' and eat with those who differ from me, and to condemn no one --but to be present, and to be changed --to be more and more aware of God working in the world around me, and joining in that work in love and gratitude as best as I am able.

And, so, tonight, we begin the work in love and gratitude of walking to the graveside --praying for JT, also known as "Booboo".... age 43. I will trust that Jesus will greet him, unchain him from all that bound him here, and that whatever part of him was in the deadzone --whatever spiritual zombie-ness he suffered from --that will be opened to the light, and he will see clearly....

I mean, we will all have to close our eyes to see clearly.... yes? --and become who we really are....

Amen.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

grace upon grace comes before anything else

Sometime last week the metal cap on the furnace chimney blew off. I found it in the yard behind the house. Monday I climbed up on the roof, with a 10 pound rock, to put it back and weight it down. Somehow, I just feel that if the wind gets bad enough again, we'll hear it move this time....

And, the winds are howling around the house right now... Storm "Q" is edging its way south of us. We have no promises, of course --but the chance of some decent snow tonight and tomorrow. A storm system from the west, arctic air from the north and moisture from the south. Another perfect storm. It's gonna wallop Kansas and Missouri, or so they say on the weather stations I can get on-line.

I hope we get something out of it.... Something.

But, it is so bitterly cold.... It was below zero (F) overnight. This morning, when I took the dogs outside, I half expected the pee to freeze mid-air... but, as far as I know, it didn't.

I hope the bitter cold and the chance of snow don't keep folks away from the movie tonight --the first in our Lenten series....





If you haven't seen it --I hope you can someday. It's a journey of a kid growing to be man, of tragedy and drunkenness, of violence (physical and emotional) and abandonment, of forgiving our fathers....

--which reminds me --as I post this scene about fry-bread --we had really good ghabubu bread last night, with really, really good beef and cabbage stew. I have no idea what ghabubu means, but instead of being deep fried like fry-bread, the bread dough is formed in to patties and cooked like a pancake in a pan. I have always LOVED fry-bread, but ghabubu bread is becoming one of my favs too. Right up there in the comfort food circle.

So, as we hunker down, with comfort food, praying for snow, hoping to talk about forgiveness and become the movie house on the Rez tonight, I have only light-hearted offerings this morning --I have not touched the well of grief --that is for tomorrow and Friday and Saturday --I poured myself out in prayer last night at the comfort service --anointing and tumbling in to that liminal space... so, I have few words left --few borders to press in to....

And so, I am grateful -for a day with wind and cold and a chance of snow. Grateful.

On forgiveness, at prayer this morning (Canticle: A Song of Repentance, Prayer of Manasseh, 1-2, 4, 6-7, 11-15)

O Lord and Ruler of the hosts of heaven, *
God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
and of all their righteous offspring:
You made the heavens and the earth, *
with all their vast array.
All things quake with fear at your presence; *
they tremble because of your power.
But your merciful promise is beyond all measure; *
it surpasses all that our minds can fathom.
O Lord, you are full of compassion, *
long-suffering, and abounding in mercy.
You hold back your hand; *
you do not punish as we deserve.
In your great goodness, Lord,
you have promised forgiveness to sinners, *
that they may repent of their sin and be saved.
And now, O Lord, I bend the knee of my heart, *
and make my appeal, sure of your gracious goodness.
I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned, *
and I know my wickedness only too well.
Therefore I make this prayer to you: *
Forgive me, Lord, forgive me.
Do not let me perish in my sin, *
nor condemn me to the depths of the earth.
For you, O Lord, are the God of those who repent, *
and in me you will show forth your goodness.
Unworthy as I am, you will save me,
in accordance with your great mercy, *
and I will praise you without ceasing all the days of my life.
For all the powers of heaven sing your praises, *
and yours is the glory to ages of ages. Amen.

Isn't is wonderful to begin Lent with the Psalm on Ash Wednesday --saying Our Lord has already thrown our sins as far away from us as east is to west?

Yeppa. We are forgiven before we repent --how can I say that? --because Jesus came before we were perfect... Grace upon grace comes before anything else... and our sin is revealed --is seen only as we can bear it. Yeppa.

There we are. Amen.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

the first Temple of God

There will be a comfort service tonight. I've been a little more than a week without a funeral --without a journey to the graveside and back. But tonight we will begin again. A comfort service --the ceremonial and liturgical marking of grief, which continues until the funeral, when another stage in the grief is recognized. Grief is never really a private matter here....

And so... we will have a comfort service tonight --and we have a wake/funeral for another, younger man on Thursday/Friday --and then a wake/funeral Friday/Saturday.

Whenever DC has visited us before (2x), there has never been a funeral. It's not working out that way this time....

So yesterday --after a few pastoral visits around town, we set out to visit D who is just home from the hospital --having had his leg amputated below the knee. The ride out to White Horse was spectacular --all the snow has melted in the "heat" of last week --temperatures above freezing during the day, and lots of wind and low humidity. The thin layer of snow that has been on the ground since Thanksgiving is gone. Zippo. Zot. Gone. And the golden stubble of last year's wheat harvest is exposed, narrow contour lines in a ghost of man's attempt to manicure and tame the prairie.

Away from the highway, on the back road, we can see the land suffering in the drought, the dry dams, the creeks gone, the thirsty river banks standing guard over the thin frozen ribbon of dredge and backwash.

We help set up D's shower bench, some power-suction grips on the shower walls --we cleared paths and walkways --he's already working with a walker, not a wheel chair, which impresses me to no end. We (Joel, me, DC and D) shared some communion, said our prayers, joked about his beard and long hair... and then left out in to the cold.

The sudden, biting at the neck and nose and finger tips cold and bitter howling wind. This morning, when I took the dogs out, it was below zero --I don't know what the wind chill was, but no one dilly-dallied, and we all stumbled back in to the house, relieved. And a look at the weather map gives every indication this arctic cold will be here for a while.

And we have a chance at some snow tomorrow and Thursday --and again Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

Please dear God. Send us some snow. Some deep, rich snow with moisture in it. And, even enough to make the prairie glad.

At prayer this morning (John 2:13)
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

What shall we say when our mother earth --the first Temple House of God, suffers so... yes, drought is part of a regular weather cycle --but the extremity of this... the first dust bowl of nearly a century ago --that was part of the havoc wreaked on the landscape by inappropriate agricultural practices.... And the top soil, laid down over thousands of years, disappeared. And now --it looks as though we are headed for another.

Please dear God --giving voice to every creature under heaven, I ask --please, send us some snow.

Monday, February 18, 2013

tumbleweed skeletons piled up on fences, and please dear God, send us some snow or something

The weather forecast is high winds and chance of snow. All week.

There are blizzard conditions just north of us... we can see them from our kitchen window.... which I suppose makes me as much a weather expert as Palin on foreign policy because she could see Russia out her window, or some such thing. Now... why did I think that? Sheeeeeesh......

For certain sure --we drove to Rapid on Saturday to pick up DC from the airport. When we left Eagle Butte, it was 18 degrees. When we arrived in Rapid, it was 55 degrees. Yesterday it was warm... and wonderful. I had been snowed out of Cherry Creek for the last three months, so I set yesterday to go there --canceling in one church in order to go to Cherry Creek. I am glad we did go there --even though it was powwow weekend down there --a "chief" powwow honoring the leaders of previous generations.... (And, please do understand that it was purposefully planned to have this powwow on President's weekend. Just sayin'.)

I am glad to have gone to Cherry Creek because... well, there were two young men who came to church --about ages 8-10 or so. And I recognized them as being dancers I had met up in Iron Lightening on the Fourth of July. And I got to tell them how wonderful their dancing was there --and how I hope they continue to dance. And I got to see the folks that brought them be all proud of them --and grateful that the church was open, because they come from Rapid to get the kids to dance in the places of their ancestors.

And, I got to see DC jump up and run across the room to obliterate a smoking shoe --one of the wheelchair bound ladies had been moved too close to the portable propane heater I had set up in the church --and her shoe started to smoke with heat in the middle of the Eucharistic prayer.... Tongues of fire, I guess, and all that. There was much concern and then great laughter... and too much bread and more laughter... and it was good.

Then we journeyed on to Thunder Butte --up out of the Cheyenne River basin, across the hilly plain and in to the next river basin --the Moreau River, forty miles of gravel road that kept trying to spin us round and about, warm sunshine pouring in through the windows....

The morning had started with low fog over the rivers, and turned to almost spring-like warmth in the afternoon. After church in Thunder Butte where they are getting used to me making them sing, and too much bread again even though we had late comers arrive and help us eat it all (I had baked bread because we were out of wafers) --then we had meatballs in sauce, a noodle thing with broccoli, a hot dog --and some soda --and by then the wind had picked up. Big. Wind.

When we got back down to the highway --and back to a place where we could see the distant horizon --we saw the low clouds to the north --threatening gray, and close to the earth, stampeding across the hills towards us.

But we had to navigate another dirt road, and another gathering for prayer and too much bread... and I yelled at the clouds --you, you, you wait 'til we get back on the highway... please. By then, the wind was rattling the windows, skudding tumbleweeds at breakneck speeds (faster than the pheasants could fly, certainly), piling their golden tumbleweed skeletons up against fences and filling ditches....

And I have noticed that there are fewer eagles this year.... fewer birds of prey waiting atop the poles and posts. Fewer bunnies. Fewer mice scurrying beside the road. Herds of cattle are smaller. The grasses in some areas are gone --only exposed raw naked earth. All the gullies that have small earthen dams to catch the runoff of rain and snow are cracked and dry. Like my hands and lips, the earth is chapped. The drought is insidious. Yet blatant. No escape from withering desiccation....

Which is a tragic place to begin Lent.... A tragic circumstance to ponder and practice our participation in Christ's eternal priesthood. Because there is only helplessness. And vulnerability. How does one reconcile with a killer drought?

Talk about the short road to humility. And remembering total dependence....

At prayer this morning (Canticle: First Song of Isaiah, beginning at Isaiah 12:2)

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.

Hey God, it's margaret. In the dance of the children. In the wind. In too much bread. In the dry earth and the skeleton tumbleweeds. In the blatant circumstance of extreme drought. I see you.

And I pray for E who lost her brother to death. For T whose husband is dying. For T who died on Saturday. For all those suffering from the drought. And I pray for a good snow storm this week to make DC happy, and to fill those withering basins with something for the animals to drink. Amen.

Friday, February 15, 2013

thunderous gaggles of geese

I noticed thunderous gaggles of geese yesterday, reclaiming the prairie, turning their necks north, cutting through the sky with their 'V'.... So, even though we got a dusting of snow, and it promises to be cold all next week, I am reminded again that Lent is about preparing for spring... in so many ways.

Wild Geese --Mary Oliver ― New and Selected Poems, 1992

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
call to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

--and as we went to Pierre yesterday, I pointed out to Joel the cemetery where we buried the young man this last week. He had never really noticed it --fence posts worn and protecting the roots of some kind of prairie grass, while the fence itself lay on the ground, the barbed wire poking from the dirt like some kind of invasive root stock. And the grave markers lay tumbled about or bent by the wind. Rocks outline the mounded graves. The undercurrent of voices, of those that rest there, runs deep, but not silent....

Visiting the Graveyard --Mary Oliver from her collection entitled, “Red Bird”
When I think of death
it is a bright enough city,
and every year more faces there
are familiar

but not a single one
notices me,
though I long for it,
and when they talk together,

which they do
very quietly,
it’s in an unknowable language–
I can catch the tone

but understand not a single word–
and when I open my eyes
there’s the mysterious field, the beautiful trees.
There are the stones.

--and I think of the little faces I marked with ashes, and said they were star dust, and they nodded their affirmation, all solemn but willing....

Blessing the Dust --Jan Richardson (Source: Painted Prayer Book from Blessing the Dust)

… So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made,
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear

--and I think how often I struggle to hear the words of my own heart, how I cobble together a string of verbs and nouns, seeking to weave a whole cloth that most often leaves me stripped naked...

--through some great folly I open my mouth and the words tumble out and a great many hands back and back like some virtuoso string theory enthrall my head with their weight and proclaim holy those who seek the holy because they are already holy.

We live in the time when the veil in the temple has been torn, the whole cloth savaged, the holy spilled out. I lay my hands on the crowns and furrows, that through no work of my own are already bread for the world


Praying --Mary Oliver
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Oh. Yes. Thank you.

At prayer this morning (beginning at about John 1:37)
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.”
Come and see. Look for the doorway into thanks, and the silence in which another voice may speak.

Amen.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

he would rather buy a house....

Sitting in the dentist's office.

Blech.

Ash Wednesday was good. At the evening service there were a lot of kids --and I did my usual ash routine with them while marking their little foreheads --remember you are made of star dust, and when you die, a very long time from now, you will become star dust again, and God will know you and love you. Most nod in agreement --as though that merely confirmed what they already knew.

I preached on the 'color purple' --of purple being the color of royalty --and that as members of Christ's Body, we share in that royalty, just as we all share in his eternal priesthood and the work of that priesthood --and as royalty/priests we are called to do as he did --give our selves for the sake of the people --for the sake of the whole creation. There is a word for it in Lakota --Wanikiya --the one who gives his life so that the people may live. So, during Lent, we are called to reflect upon how we are fulfilling that call to care

And at both services, I called everyone up to stand around the altar --nobody brought their prayerbooks up, which I thought was a fine thing. After the initial looking around for a book, some book, any book, most folks settled in to a deeper prayer routine than I think is possible if one is trying to read text while praying etc.... I felt the, ummmmm, cosmic shift of folks deep in prayer. And I felt blessed by that awe and wonder.

And then, this post was interrupted, because Joel, whose appointment was at 9:30 (8:30 our time --we crossed in to Central time --Fast time --which also meant we got up at 5 in order to get to the dentist on time) was filling in his paperwork, and my appointment was going to be at 10:00 Fast time --and the lady came in and called my name at 9:20 fast time --40 minutes before my scheduled time, and poor Joel had to go in to his appointment alone, which was not the plan --he is such a weenie when it comes to seeing the dentist....

And, I got my teeth cleaned and an A+ with no cavities or gum disease. Poor Joel, however, was not quite so lucky. Poor kid. He said he would rather buy a house.....

And D is being released from the hospital --and he is giving a big party at the church as a thank you for all the prayers and support. We pick DC up from the airport on Saturday --so maybe we can go out to see D early next week.

And, it is blustery (gusting to 50mph) and there are snow squalls today. The wind chill is making it feel about 10 F out there. While DC is here, it should be nice the first two days --I mean, above freezing, but the rest of next week looks cold.

And, so, I should make the weekend arrangements, print the bulletin, say my prayers as I think about a sermon, make some pastoral calls...

--and I am so entirely grateful that this is such an ordinary day.

At prayer (beginning at Psalm 37:1)

Do not fret yourself because of evildoers; *
do not be jealous of those who do wrong.
For they shall soon wither like the grass, *
and like the green grass fade away.
Put your trust in the LORD and do good; *
dwell in the land and feed on its riches.
Take delight in the LORD, *
and he shall give you your heart’s desire.
Commit your way to the LORD and put your trust in him, *
and he will bring it to pass.
He will make your righteousness as clear as the light *
and your just dealing as the noonday.
Be still before the LORD *
and wait patiently for him.

There we are. Peace out.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I didn't listen to the speech --I was eating commodity eggs as a feast

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)

No, I didn't listen to the President's State of the Union speech... I was probably eating my third helping of sausage in the parish hall at St. John's. After the eggs and pancakes, of course. We mixed "commodity eggs" in to the real eggs we had --to stretch them. ("Commodities" are those foods promised by the Federal government by treaty, now given only to the most needy --and they consist of canned meats and vegetables, instant mashed potatoes, powdered milk, cheese --well, kinda like a cheese --it's something like a 10% cheese product, peanut butter (with sugar of course), and powdered eggs. Oh yeah --and a drink that is 10% fruit juice. Something like that. They are not a joke per se --some of the foods are real 'comfort' foods that bring back good childhood memories --and the eggs are part of that. But, even though every Native American living on a reservation is due these foods by treaty, the Feds put income requirement on top of them, so now the commods are rare foods to be had. So, it was a big deal to mix in the 'commod' eggs. A real treat.

Puts a whole new spin on a pancake supper for me....

Back to the President's speech --I did look for highlights of the speech in reviews and rebuttals... I found this on the minimum wage which Obama suggested be raised to $9/hr:
--the federal minimum wage, which remains $7.25 per hour. The federal rate has not been raised since 2009, after the last of a series of increases signed into law by President George W. Bush.

Advocates for higher minimum wages consider a cost-of-living adjustment something of a holy grail, since it would remove the need to re-legislate a new minimum wage every few years. As it is now, the federal minimum wage tends to lose its purchasing power each year because of inflation.

If the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation since its historic high in real value during the late 1960s, it would now be roughly $10 per hour.

Wait.... So.... even at $10 an hour, that makes an annual income of about $20,800 (before taxes, remember --a higher tax rate than say Mitt Romney pays) --and that income is still below the poverty level.... If one adds to that the usual scheme of having to pay for some health benefits (or not) and any contributions to some kind of retirement fund --the income really sucks. Really. Sucks. Not to mention what it does to the psyche....

If one is to work full time and remain below the poverty level --well... what is there to say? To be raised out of the poverty level of pay, it will take a minimum pay hike to about $17/hr....

So, in my mind, the President's speech, blasted as a liberal or progressive agenda, hardly moves us down the road to economic justice --it is merely a matter of the status quo. Just sayin'. And commods like powdered eggs will remain worth their weight in gold in the poorest county in the Nation --served at a feast night.

Sigh.....

There is a lot of sin I carry to the altar this Ash Wednesday. Economic justice. Pollution. Devastation of the environment. Vanishing species. Gun violence. Violence against women and children. Racism. You know, that kind of thing. And, the sins of our ancestors, which are visited upon the children of today....

Those are the obvious sins. Things known. And done. But we are also called to repent of things unknown, things undone.... Those things we dare not face, or cannot face....

At prayer this morning (a portion of Hebrews 12:1-14)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
....
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

Peace. Holiness. Patience. Perseverance. Humbleness....

(Luke 18:9-14)
Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Oh yes... and loving our enemies....
Off I go.

Dang it... I forgot to copy the address to the link for the quote on minimum wage.... sorry.

Mea culpa.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

the same water

I guess it was somewhere in the middle of the night between the wake and funeral service, as I rolled over in bed, that I realized that yesterday's funeral probably should NOT have been a Christian burial.... But I didn't know how to confirm that thought/dream/message.

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.

Amen.
There we are.
(ooooooo --it's Fat Tuesday! Gonna eat me some pancakes and sausage tonight!)

Monday, February 11, 2013

how can I not be ashamed?

We had a storm here --just a couple of inches of snow, and the wind blew all that away. Mostly. And what didn't get blown in to Nebraska got piled it up in front of the garage. For much of yesterday, we had blizzard conditions here. If there had been more snow, it would have been impossible to do anything.

Instead, we ended up with four baptisms at church yesterday morning --and 65 people, despite the blowing snow and wind. During the peace, the parent, Godparents and newly baptized stood before the altar, and everyone came and shook their hands. It takes time to do that. But it is a worthy offering and welcome.

And, we began a funeral for A, in his early 40s. There were lots of children. Lots of grandmas. Lots of prayer --which we will continue today. There was a drum group up from Rosebud --I am now familiar with the funeral songs sung by our local singers --but these songs were not so familiar, and so I sat by the drum and let the pulse of their singing enter me, stir me. A little one, just walking, came and stood close, moved by the drum as well -she did little squats in rhythm to the down beat. Then she would falter and fall, look for her mother's watchful eye for affirmation, stand, and begin again. Bump. Bump. Bump.

As much as I wanted to, I didn't move any part of my body to the beat of the drum. None of the women did, and I take my cues by watching... At one funeral a couple months ago, while we were eating and the drum playing, I did move in time with the drum, setting my leg and arm to the downbeat --I couldn't help myself. There was a light touch to the elbow, and the words 'Mother Margaret, we don't dance at funerals' quieted it me.

Doh.

Once I was ashamed to be corrected. But, someone once seeing that put a hand on my shoulder and said, they wouldn't tell you if they didn't want you to know, and if they want you to know, they want you to stay....

Shame. What an awful thing. Is it because it strikes at the heart of identity? --at the heart of personhood? --at the heart of belonging?

One of the Lenten movies I want to show goes to the heart of identity and belonging.... And shame. Shame at being Native. Shame at having a different way of knowing --a different way of seeing --a different relationship with the cosmos. And is it possible to be and know and move in a different way and still be Christian?

I think much of the Church would say, No. You have to understand this, this and this and believe this, this and this. Hence, the Creed. Fear of difference made orthodoxy. Fear of difference made the Inquisition. Fear of difference made the Reformations.

And, we are in an age of greater reformation than any time before. Modern physics alone has changed the dogma of science (e.g. --matter is NOT constant, but constantly coming and going... and, time and multiple parallel times of being blow everything away) --and a biological view of Matter changes our sense of identity --that we are not just related, we are One.

But those grand schemes do little for the daily patterns of life and identity here on the plains. I want to touch something closer to home.... the Shame of being a Christian.

Yeah. I said it --the Shame of being a Christian --identified with violence, colonialism, imperialism, racism, genderism, dogma, orthodoxy, anti this and that  --not the Shame St. Paul speaks of --as being identified with the death of a vulnerable outcast criminal... but the Shame of having to own the brokenness of the world....

Which is, perhaps, a good place to start. Taking us to our very roots. Acknowledging betrayal and power as the root of the cross, from which springs the blood and wounds....

How can I, this Ash Wednesday, not confess the violence and wrong done in the Name of Christ, here, in this place.... How can I, this Good Friday, not see and know the betrayal of the Church, here, in this place.... How can I not?

How can I say that the involvement of the Church as part of the perpetration of lustful greed and violence for the sake of nationhood was full of good intent?

How can I not be ashamed?

At prayer this morning (Hebrews 1:1-14)

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say,
“You are my Son;
today I have begotten you”?

Or again,
“I will be his Father,
and he will be my Son”?

And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,
“Let all God’s angels worship him.”

Of the angels he says,
“He makes his angels winds,
and his servants flames of fire.”

But of the Son he says,
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

And,
“In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands;
they will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like clothing;
like a cloak you will roll them up,
and like clothing they will be changed.
But you are the same,
and your years will never end.”

But to which of the angels has he ever said,
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?

Are not all angels spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?

Aye matey. There it is. Shame is a folly and conceit. Shame is full of selfhood.... Shame is sin blushing with pride.

There is no pride in claiming to be a child of God, an inheritor of heaven, redeemed and saved. That is the natural order of things.

It is freedom and liberty to not worry about the spirits or the latest fashion of which power is running where and doing what --or even to worry about my soul (which I cannot separate from my body if I am a whole person). It is freedom and liberty to not worry about salvation. It is freedom and liberty to not worry about identity --there is only One identity which we all share. It is freedom to be free of the conceit of selfhood.

It is freedom to weep for the sins of the world, and to feel them in flesh and blood....

It is freedom to trust that God is already doing more than I can imagine to redeem even those actions which in my conceit I might consider 'good'.

Perhaps that is what I must preach... liberty from the conceit of self.

But mustn't a working knowledge of self come first then?

'Round and 'round we go.

Hey God, it's margaret. I pray for D, recovering in the hospital; for C who fell and broke her hip; for A whom we bury today at a forgotten graveyard; for that grave outside the fence --dug the year there was so much snow they were afraid to dig inside the fence for fear of striking another grave --I pray we can move the fence; for those affected by the storm in the north east; for those who suffer from the cold here; for those here who are ashamed; for those here who are striving to make an identity beyond what history has handed them; for the courage to be and live in love, without conceit, or even any thought of justice... you know what I mean --because justice in this world is always paired with might and right... and your justice gets hung on a cross. Just sayin'. So... amen. And help us. Help us remember who we are --your children --not that infantilization crap --but a statement of relationship. That close. Same flesh and blood as yours, Father. All of us. Thank you. Amen.

Off I go.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Probably.

I had put the stepping stones to avoid the ice pond by our stoop --now, the stepping stones are embedded in ice, and the ice extends two feet beyond where I had put the first one....

And, thus began our morning walk.... And I'm trying to figure out how to break up this ice pond which grew yesterday --almost doubled in size. And do it before our blizzard hits this evening.

Yes, we have been warned --over and over again. We are on the edge of the storm --between getting six inches of snow or getting a foot of snow, depending where the edge drifts --either further east or further west. And the winds will be over 75 mph, but that is not uncommon here --it just means that I probably WON'T be going to Cherry Creek --which makes me sad.... Very. Sad.

It also makes me wonder about the funeral on Sunday night --when we will be in the thick of it.... Storm is supposed to last until Monday morning. It will be interesting.

In the meantime, I will plan for the baptism at St. John's for the Sunday morning service.... Maybe. And last time there was a storm coming through --we were the only church open on that snow Sunday morning --and the church was packed. We'll see.

I suppose even if I had been here 20 years, I wouldn't know what to expect. What happens is what happens. Always. I never wear a watch --that was a given. Knew that before I arrived here. But the being ready for anything and ready to do a 1-80... or something entirely different --that is a skill set I am  only beginning to appreciate in a full way. Always thought I had it in me --but, pulling it out has been an adventure. To say the least.

So... Baptism. Probably--maybe. Cherry Creek Holy Eucharist. Probably not. Funeral. Probably. But how it's going to play out... will require we all dance the limbo and be subject to the storm.

And the pond by my front door --instead of going to the gym, I'm going to try to break that thing up --and carry it far, far away from my stoop..... I don't want three inches of ice covered with six inches of snow right at my door.... That's the plan, anyway. Probably. We'll see....

At prayer this morning (from Mark 9)
And they brought the boy to him [Jesus]. When the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked the father, “How long has this been happening to him?”

And he said, “From childhood. It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.”

Jesus said to him, “If you are able! All things can be done for the one who believes.

Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

All things can be done! --Help my unbelief!

One cannot change one's own mind and thought and heart and belief --it requires a willingness to be changed --to be open... to mix in the probablys and maybes and what ifs with a good dose of whatever and of course. Of. Course. And be ready for anything... be ready to see trees walking. be ready to hear the voice of God from those we despise. be ready to eat with the unclean. be ready to see life when we thought there would only be death. be ready to let go and not cling....

Probably.

Off I go --to move some ice. Maybe. Probably. Hopefully.




Friday, February 8, 2013

they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus

The morning is windy --a buffeting wind that is threshing the moisture out of the air and making it cling to every surface as hoar frost (perhaps this is technically called advection frost...). Our window screens provide a frosted glass effect --the storm window edges are growing frosty fern fronds. I find it all breath-takingly beautiful --stunning. Every surface from the blades of grass peeping through the remaining snow and ice, to the fence, to every needle on the pine tree and every branch and twig of the cottonwoods up forty feet in the air.


Every twig. Too bad a picture can't capture the wind. There is even frost on Francis's beard

Who knew the grain of the wood on the clothesline could be so fascinating...?

And, as the Right Coast prepares for a major blizzard, our weather forecast has changed dramatically in the last 24 hours --from more of the above freezing slightly cloudy days and freezing ice-making nights to high winds and snow over the weekend. We are in a winter storm watch due to a pressure system suddenly building up over Colorado.

I hope and pray we get the snow. We should have a foot of the stuff around --and we have near naked ground with patches of crud snow and ice.

It does seem as though the rough weather always comes the second weekend of the month. It is always when I am scheduled to go to Cherry Creek that something extreme happens --super cold air, snow --I got snowed out in January, frozen out in December --fortunately, in December I was able to make the Sunday up by going down on Christmas. January just got cancelled. I don't want to do that again....

Every church here is different --having a different character. Some are joyful, some quiet, some peaceful, some wonderfully chaotic with children running every where... Cherry Creek is all of the above, layered with the seeds of wildness. Yes, it is remote --yes it is a challenge to get to --but several of the churches I serve are that way. Yes it has power (some churches don't), but it has no running water --except for the Creek, which, because we've had no snow or rain, is nearly dry....

Cherry Creek has horses roaming around town (about thirty houses) --it is surrounded by hills, and all roads in the area lead to the confluence of the Cheyenne River and Cherry Creek. The conservative Mennonites have a church and small grade school there --the Mormons have a building and graveyard there. The People are grateful for their presence, and will except their prayers and food and songs. But the shadows and ghosts of the ancestors walk through town, encouraging the horses to ignore the fences, inspiring the boys to grow their hair long and play along the Creek. The Drum group is the keeper of all the oldest songs that every other place forgot, and now they come here to listen and learn. The People know they are descendants of leaders and survivors.

It is also where drugs enter the Reservation --brought in by the back roads that are a web in the hills and creeks, connecting one hidden place to another. The FBI frequently roam the six streets --at night with their high beam and search lights piercing an unimaginable depth of dark. The coyotes run like wolves in packs around and through town, looking for the small and lost and weak. Life is precious. And dangerous. And wild.

And when a storm hits, life is isolated --on its own.

The Episcopal Church has had a presence in Cherry Creek for a very long time. The first church, a wooden structure on the outskirts of town, burned down about 15 years ago. That is when the cement brick structure that was the parish hall that served as the largest gathering place for the whole town began to serve as the church. Since then, a large community hall has been built at the other end of the road. It is three times the size of the church building, and can actually hold the community for funerals and mid-winter powwows.

The cement block once parish hall --now church building has a wood stove and electric lights.... So, in the extreme weather, we can bring the temperature up inside the building to about 40 degrees. If we are lucky, and if you stand by the stove. Somebody goes down the night before, builds a fire, comes back and re-stokes it for the night, and then again early in the morning. I take some portable propane heaters and set them up in the opposite corner of the room from the wood stove --behind the altar. I wear my good-to-twenty-below-boots so I don't freeze. I usually put my stole over my winter jacket and do much of the service with my gloves on.

And I love it. The children love to sing, and always have a song for us. The little ones run and jump during the service, and remind me what it important, and to do that and only that. The elders are patient and thankful --their life time of losses either discarded because they are too tired to carry them, or evident in their shoulders --burdens of love.

There is never any confusion about eating the Bread of Life --hand after hand after hand arrayed in eagerness --laughter and encouragement when a child wants more.

I always come face to face with the risen Christ when I am in Cherry Creek. Always.

At prayer this morning (beginning at Mark 9:2)
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.... I resemble that remark. More often than I care to count here. But, I have the --I don't know what to call it --faith (?) to know that every where I look, there is "only Jesus." Only. Jesus. In the wildness, in the horses, in the children, in the ghosts, in the coyotes --and given the chance and a little patience, probably in the FBI agents as well...

And, God willing, in the snow and wind.

Amen.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

How, then, to deal with a stoop full of ice?

Jane Redmont posted on her FB page the following:
"Our mentioning of the weather -- our perfunctory observations on what kind of day it is, are perhaps not idle. Perhaps we have a deep and legitimate need to know in our entire being what the day is like, to *see it* and *feel it*, to know how the sky is grey, paler in the south, with patches of blue in the southwest, with snow on the ground, the thermometer at 18, the cold wind making your ears ache. I have a real need to know these things because I myself am part of the weather and part of the climate and part of the place, and a day in which I have not shared truly in all of this is no day at all. It is certainly part of my life of prayer." --Thomas Merton

THANK YOU Jane! Yes --what happens outside is absolutely part of what happens inside... the pull of the moon (I mean, really --if the moon can move the oceans, and we are 90% water... I mean, really), the stars, sun or clouds, the ice or hot, the spring storm electrifying...

I spoke with D this morning --he had his leg amputated about ten days ago --he's feeling much better, moving out of the extreme pain zone in to the I can do this zone. In this morning of thick fog --so thick I can hardly see the Cedar Tree Guys gathered by the back fence and the tree --it is good to know the fog is lifting some where....

It has been freezing at night --in to the teens and low twenties --and above freezing during the day --we've had almost a week of it. So, much of the snow has melted in to large slabs of ice. A particularly large slab formed right outside our door, and as it is shaded, the ice isn't melting during the day --just getting more water to form a thicker slab by night. So I got a heavy pipe out of the garage and whacked away at the ice --clearing it down to the walk way. I shoved the ice chunks --in some places two inches thick, up on to the lawnish area twelve feet from the door. I thought it would melt there and soak in to the ground...

But, it didn't. I mean, yes, it melted.... Trouble is, only the top two inches of the ground thaw --making a marvelous mud, but then the ground sloughs off the remaining water --to form a large MUDDY piece of ice by the door.... And, so, now, instead of having a wondrous piece of ice --there is an amazing chunk of frozen mud by my door.... And there is a young man coming for dinner --and I will have to do something so that he can walk to the door....

E came over for dinner the other night, and I told her to be careful --and she said she had been doing the South Dakota Shuffle since she was born --a technique of moving across ice --a winter dance extraordinaire... And BAM --she went right down on our Amazing Chunk of Frozen. She was okay --but bruised. So, now, I have to figure out what to do with it --the ice, a stoop full of ice. Without the salt that burns everything in sight, including little doggy feet....

But, it is amazing to see earth suspended in ice. It is like having a magnifying glass... a sort of secret super vision into otherwise unknown aspects of the earth. Held in wonder.

With all the freezing and thawing going on, the snow has become kindof rotten. It doesn't act like snow --it doesn't act like water --it doesn't really act like ice. It has formed large, fragile crystals that cannot be worked up in to a good snow ball... it has no clarity as ice. It's just rotten. And covered with whatever the wind has blown around. I am hoping we still have more winter, more snow --we need it so.

Besides, my inner spaces are not yet ready for the outer spaces to move toward Spring. There is still too much winter to sort through....

At prayer this morning (Isaiah 55 ending with verse 13)

Seek the LORD while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are 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 the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
So --off to the gym --oh, did I tell you I have started going to the gym? --yes, as part of my pre-Lenten preparation for whole-body prayer --I plan to run/walk a couple of races this spring and summer --for those who suffer from diabetes, for the children here --for all I carry in prayer --I will offer it to God with my whole body.

Hmmmm.... I guess I am preparing for Spring after all! Even if it is 21 degrees today....

Peace out.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

It's like that here.

I am going to show movies for our Lenten program. And have a brief study of some scriptural references that, in my mind, refer directly to the movie.

The first is "Smoke Signals" --a wonderful show on coming to terms with forgiveness. And I will pair that with (John 20:19-23 from The Message) Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then he showed them his hands and side. The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant. Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.” Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”

Then I am going to show "The Red Balloon" --and there are so many angles I could approach with that one --Blessed are you who are persecuted and other portions of the Beatitudes... or something else. Haven't decided.

Then I'm thinking of "Powwow Highway" --but have only got that far....

I've reviewed several films --but many of them would not be suitable 'family' showing in Lent.... And, I've reviewed other documentaries, such as the PBS "Custer's Last Stand" documentary --and when I watched it in ol' Virginia I thought it was fairly good. When I reviewed it yesterday, the six talking heads speaking to "our American history" and what a shock it was to have Custer dead in the last, great battle of the Indian wars and all that... I just couldn't help thinking --well, they've put the Indian wars to bed so neatly haven't they --but the Indian wars didn't stop in 1876... in many places, they were just beginning.... And then the one Native voice came on and spoke of the feelings one gets on the battlefield.... I just felt a bias that I did not want to condone or try to explain away.

So... I'm stretching now for movies... Perhaps I will drive in to Pierre, and check out the store there that folks here frequent. I've been told they have videos....

And I'm doing all this movie and Lenten stuff while I'm still praying over the circumstances of which I wrote yesterday... of course. And how all those circumstances are always present here --not an uncommon experience. Like gun violence in the inner cities --everyone knows someone who has been shot down --sometimes two or three in a family. It's like that here.

And my beloved Snake Killers were back last night to the church for another comfort service... I got them some paper and they colored up the paper and made paper airplanes that entertained them for hours. They own me now.

For my Snake Killers (beginning at Isaiah 54:1)
Sing, O barren one who did not bear;
burst into song and shout,
you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate woman will be more
than the children of her that is married, says the LORD.
Enlarge the site of your tent,
and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
and strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread out to the right and to the left,
and your descendants will possess the nations
and will settle the desolate towns.

At prayer this morning (from Mark 8, ending with verse 26)
Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?”

And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.”

Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.”

Healing is a process. Most often, it takes us more than once.... And maybe, just maybe, the man saw at first as God sees us --as trees, walking... and Jesus had to unwind it a bit...

Maybe.
Sometimes it's like that here, too. The glory is hardly imaginable.
Yeah --I've got to work the Beatitudes in to our Lenten discussions.

Any one know a good Lenten movie to show?
Peace out.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

--making the sign of the cross where none need be made....

The snake killers were back --the three of them. With the gaggle of admirers and followers straggling behind. A chaotic procession. Many sticks and icicles waved about. Out in front of the church. Smiling in each window. Oblivious to the cold and ice. Their hats at the foot of the pine tree. Their gloves long gone. Little fingers bright red with the cold.

And I could see how much they had grown. One had turned from a toddler in to a kid. The oldest, one of the Primo Snake Killers, had grown out of his baby fat. Lean. With a stick.

I knew they saw me --I knew they were looking for me. It has been five months since we buried their infant brother. And there was a resonance then --a wave length in sync with these three boys. So, even though I could see them in the mirror of the sacristy --I knew they were hiding, waiting for me to come out around the altar --I pretended to be surprised and drop all the papers as they leaped in to the air and shouted "MOTHER"!

Snake killers. Sweet, bright-eyed, happy, rambunctious, laughing, jumping, leaping, rolling around before the altar, stick carrying snake killers. I love them.

Mother! We see you! Mother! Look here --look what I can do! Mother! I have new shoes!

And the littlest ones had no idea what they were doing, but copied the gestures and words and twirls of the older kids --trying it all out. --trying not to fall.

I sat down in the chair --Tell me how you are. How was Christmas? What is your teacher like? Do you like the snow this year?

We went to visit Little Brother, they say. But all the toys we left him are gone. Do you think he took them?

Oh, I say. He's with your Sister and your Grandma --what do you think happened to all the toys? I didn't want to say I thought perhaps they had blown in to the next county....

Our father says the spirits took them --our mother says the toys are where they are supposed to be. But we think Little Brother hid them from us.

Oh, my, I say. They crowd up around my knees. They touch my shoulder and cheek --like I am something entirely foreign, and they want to see if I am warm. Am I real.

You have really short hair, said the oldest. Are you sad? (It is customary to cut one's hair off while grieving.)

No, I am not sad --I just like short hair, I say. And I run my fingers over his forehead, and make the sign of the cross.

Me too, me too! they say. Do that to me!

So, I get out the healing oil, and one by one pray for them, whispering in to their ear, telling them that I am always praying for them --that when they grow up I hope they will be a great man for their families and a great leader for their people.

At dinner, a young father tells me about his daughter who just turned thirteen. I know her. She is tall and slender --bright eyes. She's been all week in the hospital. Oh --why? I ask. She tried to kill herself, he said. But she didn't quite know what to do with the belt and didn't slice her wrists deep enough.

I have no more appetite. I have no tears. I look down at his trembling hands. I thrash around inside while trying to keep my composure. I will go visit her, I said. No. No visitors allowed, said the young father. They took her to Bismark. I think she was trying to copy her mother. Her mother hung herself too. But she died. Three years ago. Let me pray for you and her, I say.

Peace that passes all understanding....

Those bright eyes. Only three or four years older than my Snake Killer friends. This is what happens when true consciousness begin. Seven attempts since I've been here. All under the age of sixteen.

It's an epidemic. It's been this way for decades. The Native Traditionalists in town claim it is a dark spirit that walks the streets looking for the children, and will lure them, preying on their innocence and weakness, lull them in to doing it.

Yes. I say. I understand. And I think, the Lakota Pied Piper, so to speak --stealing the children. But far more insidious....

And tonight, we will have another comfort service --the series of evening prayers offered before the wake and funeral. A young man. Diabetic. On dialysis. Found dead in his bed with a stab wound to his side. The FBI called in. The family at odds with itself. Who is the suspect? Who did this?

I visited the home, but they waved me away at the door --not now, not now they said, waving fingers at me through the screen door, as though they were moving marionettes --shadow puppets amongst the bags and boxes of garbage in the hall and on the front porch. We're cleaning, they said, we're not ready. The stench of consumed alcohol filled the air. And I wept as a returned to the car, dry tears that couldn't fall, weeping I could not afford. Tears gathered in the deep well. And out of the corner of my eye, I saw the dead dog in the front yard, and the children gathered in the yard next door, looking on. Curious.

And I thought of my Beautiful Snake Killers. They lived just around the block. This is their 'hood. When will they realize that they are not happy too? I say to myself.

When?

At prayer this morning (Mark 8:1-9))

In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way – and some of them have come from a great distance.”

His disciples replied, “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?”

He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?”

They said, “Seven.”

Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.

Now there were about four thousand people.

I am reminded of a story my sister told me... she was working with some kids that were VERY needy, and she always finished the day extremely worn out --wrung out --nothing left. She told a friend about it --and the friend said, just think of yourself as having the cookie lady. The cookie lady? my sister asked. Yes --the kids are very hungry, and so they come and eat you up because you are sweet and irresistible --and you are perfect for them. And at the end of the day, the cookie lady is all used up--eaten up, but you are still there --perfect and whole.

It was a piece of imagery that worked....

I think of this story whenever I hear the story of Jesus feeding thousands.... But, instead of being cookie, he is bread.

And we are all called to be bread --baptized in to Christ's eternal priesthood --bread for the world. Sweet. Irresistible. Perfect bread. All. Eaten. Up.

And, I must remember the Bishop's words to me --you are not called to "Save" --this is a ministry of presence....

So... I will be present. And offer bread. And prayer --making the sign of the cross where none need be made....

Amen.