Tuesday, June 4, 2013

"Trust is at Hand"
(The Post on Pine Ridge
I Have Been Afraid to Write)

"Do not be afraid, trust is at hand, and with it a happiness." - Brother Roger

I have been putting off this post for not quite a week now. I have been putting it off because I know it will fail. Like the countless failed photos my fellow pilgrims and I snapped of the Badlands - none of them up to the task, each one powerless to capture even an inkling of the majesty before it - this post will fail, will not do justice to the four days I shared with six hundred others on a windblown plateau of the Pine Ridge Reservation in remotest South Dakota.

No electricity. Two rows of port-a-potties with matching hand sanitizing stations. We slept on the ground in tents. And none of this was a hardship. Rather, our accommodations unexpectedly invited the rest of creation into the conversation, the pilgrimage of trust of earth. Naming, from the beginning, that the rebuilding of trust begins with the land.

Looking out along the ridge of the Badlands
and the Two Bulls family's land.
Our gathering was made possible by trust. The Two Bulls family risked much in inviting six-hundred-plus strangers to their land. At the end, they thanked us for trusting them, too. It was remarkable to me that our gathering was simultaneously 1) made possible by the invitation of a single family - giving to our days a kind of familial intimacy - and 2) much larger than many of the cities we had driven through on our respective paths to Red Shirt Table. We were both great and small. We were a city on a hill.

On the first night, one of the students asked me why, having traveled 850 miles to be with the Lakota people, we were - with the Taizé community - singing songs in Finnish. "I don't know," I confessed. Later, we learned that some Lakota and Finns had become friends while on pilgrimage at Taizé;  that the Lakota had visited Finland on a subsequent Pilgrimage of Trust and had been astonished to hear the community singing songs in the Lakota tongue. The Finns had been eager to welcome their new friends from South Dakota with their whole hearts. Now, years later, the welcome was being returned: a friendship four or more years in the making, evolving in tenderness before us: their love, a humbling gift and vision of trust in its fullness for the rest of our community.

The trip was about trust, broken and restored; about peoples divided and peoples reconciled; about the God who asks our trust, too. Brother Emile, standing before us, speaking softly and surely: "We are not compelled to be faithful to our divisions."

At the beginning of the hike
to the first grave of Asampi Bleza
To choose infidelity to our divisions required their honest naming. On Sunday afternoon, members of our small city embarked on three simultaneous journeys: some of our number made the long drive to Wounded Knee, where over one-hundred-and-fifty Lakota men, women, and children were massacred on December 29, 1890; others of us hiked separate journeys to Stronghold and the first grave of Asampi Bleza, respectively, both cites closely linked to the tragedy at Wounded Knee. Unrest and the resulting massacre had come in response to the prohibition and practice of the Ghost Dance, which a growing number of Lakota had adopted, in part, as a peaceful means to end white expansion. As one of the Lakota, a youth, told us through tears: "My people are positive. We try to look forward and not dwell on the past. Sometimes, that can be hard."

On Saturday, I attended a workshop on forgiveness where one of the speakers offered that "forgiveness was giving up all hope of a better past." Another speaker spoke of his Lakota grandmother and how she taught him that creation modeled forgiveness: "The flower that you crush underfoot does not withhold its fragrance. Indeed, it shares its fragrance all the more for being crushed." His grandmother, he said, lived Jesus' prayer before him: "Father, forgive them. They know not what they do."

God is forgiveness, we sang, dare to forgive and 
God will be with you. Love and do not fear.

Love without fear marked our days. While waiting in line for food or at the port-a-potty, strangers viewed each other as friends not yet introduced. Community was as simple as the knowledge that Christ had called us together and made us a people of peoples.

On the way home, over supper at a diner, a student observed that there are different kinds of silence. There is the silence of the lonely; no one to talk to. There is also the silence of community. Our prayers and singing named us as community; so named, we were enabled to enter the silence of community. Some silences can be hopeless, but the silence of God's people is patient, pregnant, and transforming.

I marveled at how well our students navigated the several cultural adjustments required by the trip. We were guests of the Lakota. We worshiped following the practices of Taizé.  Readings and songs were mostly, but not always, in the English language. The friendly confines of the Episcopal liturgy were only present at Sunday morning's Eucharist. It is a rare gift to receive one's faith again, from the outside, especially after years of assuming its familiarity. That this is a gift does not mean it is easy.

For myself, there was of course the adjustment to silence; there was the joy in the Taizé worship and the rhythm of life that has become, for me, more familiar than not. In addition to these, the brothers themselves - as icons of holiness - made a deep and penetrating impression on me over our four days at Red Shirt Table. They give us by their lives both challenge and encouragement in and for the pursuit of holiness. Their humility and gentleness befits vessels of grace. The truthfulness and simplicity of their speech fills the heart with the hope of the Gospel.

At the end of the four days, Brother Emile reminded us that the Pilgrimage of Trust on Earth is the ongoing work of the brothers; that we had been invited on a short but meaningful leg of a more than thirty-year journey that must cover the earth and that requires each one of us. And of course, the brothers, also, constitute but one leg (albeit a sizable and growing one) of a larger journey, sharing the reconciling pilgrimage of the Crucified King, the Prince of Peace, whose love calls us to give God our trust and to love without fear; even to forsake our faithfulness to our divisions. 

Praise God, may it be so.

"We brothers just want to be present, in Taizé or in the places where we live on different continents, persevering in our community life and prayer. By our presence we would like to be among those in whom you can always find support in your search for trust." - Brother Alois, Berlin, December 31, 2011


As St. Francis House traveled home, we stayed - as we had going out - at Calvary Cathedral in Sioux Falls. Dean Simpson, who had been exceedingly gracious in his welcome of us, invited us to pray morning prayer with his staff before heading out that day, and we did. Afterwards, members of the staff invited us to share about our time at Red Shirt Table, how it had gone. They asked about the weather. Apparently, Sioux Falls had received over eight inches of rain while we were away. They were relieved to learn we had been spared that fate. Dean Simpson told how he watched the radar one night from home as a line of storms headed for Sioux Falls and Red Shirt Table, among other places. "We got hammered," he explained, "but the line of storms headed for y'all inexplicably dissipated as they got close. A friend remarked, 'The rain knows better than to interfere with the work they are about this week at Red Shirt.'" And while a student observed to me later that it can be theologically problematic to anthropomorphize the weather, Dean Simpson's words called to mind for me the groaning and eager expectation of creation for our adoption and redemption (Romans 8:19-22), presumably of one piece with the reconciliation made possible by Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39). It is humbling to imagine creation as a spectator and cheerleader to our time at Red Shirt; humbling to imagine creation's cynicism of humanity broken - made inexplicably hopeful - by the healing and reconciliation of the days we shared as a people of many peoples, gathered by Christ in prayer.

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