I sat at dinner with a really interesting man with whom I had a great discussion about the ministries of Navajoland and how leaders, lay and ordained, get trained and raised in the context of the withering hardship people in reservations endure. This person was curious about the wanderings that eventually led me to be ordained a priest and how now, I find working with ECF. Turns out he is the Bishop of the Navajoland Mission Area and I’m going to go out to Farmington, NM sometime relatively soon, God willing, to see the leadership development process he has put in place.
Then it was time to go to the Opening Eucharist. I’m not great with protocol but now that I’m with ECF, I have to be a lot more conscious of things like that. I had travelled in clericals and jeans, got here and saw no one wearing one and took my collar off. Whew, that was liberating. But then at dinner, everyone of the priestly persuasion it seemed, had put theirs back on or had arrived wearing it and I hadn’t noticed. I have purposely chosen to stay in one of the most remote parts of the conference center which is way cool and quiet, but it’s a real hike to get to my room and back. I scrambled to get my daggum collar back on and and make it on time to the opening eucharist at 7:15 PM.
The Presiding Bishop is here, along with two more bishops and all sorts of folks. At the very beginning of the Eucharist, people from the Native American Ministries Office led a Lakota “Four Direction Prayer”. It was gentle, dignified and beautiful and we said it turning to face each of the directions of the compass. The second petition says this:
Let us pray to God in the North
North (Waziya), your color is White.
From you we receive Snow. Winter comes from you.
The Snowy Owl brings messages of our mortality and teaches
us endurance in the face of hardship.
Last week I tried to be flippant about all these encounters of mine with owls, and the website I found that had an explanation of the owl totem. Tonight, at the Eucharist, I realized those strange and brief encounters are not to be taken lightly but rather with reverence and gratitude. At the Liturgy of the Word a young Lakota man unexpectedly found himself in the position of having to give the sermon. He was nervous and he was sad. Late last week, a wonderful deacon from one of the tribes of North Dakota died very unexpectedly and our preacher was obviously deeply grieved. He gave us a simple and very beautiful description of how many meanings the word “Relative” has in Lakota and how it defines our relationship with everything in God’s creation. Including mine with the owl.
We had gathered for Eucharist and it wasn’t people with a lot of power or polish. We were certainly of all sizes, shapes, stripes and colors. We are bound by some real despair and discouragement. No point whitewashing that. But we rocked Siyahamba (We Are Marching in the Light of God) with exuberance. We sang some other wonderful pieces and prayed with dignity and solemnity and joy. I learned something new about having relatives tonight. For that I am grateful.