I don’t know where to start in sharing the thoughts and feelings that swirl around in me. November is Native American Heritage Month. And November is Thanksgiving — a day when many of us celebrate “The story of Pilgrims and Indians coming together to share in the harvest.” And this November is the 150th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre in Southeast Colorado.
I am so limited by my European-American heritage and blinders. I am a descendent of a conquering force that decimated the people who lived in this country when my ancestors arrived. But I’m wondering, what if our Native brothers and sisters could have had a Jubilee year — when all they had lost could be returned to them from centuries of cruelty, oppression, marginalization, and genocide? Reparation for lost lives, lost lands, lost languages, lost heritage?
I (We) can never, ever, ever make up for the wrongs that have been done to the indigenous people who lived in harmony with this land. The Oklahoma land where my grandmother grew up — “free” land that her father won in a land lottery — taken from the Kiowa and Apache people after the territory of Oklahoma had been promised to be a place for native peoples. The land where my family’s cabin sits in Colorado — “free” land taken from the Arapaho and Comanche people after gold was discovered in the mountains. The land where my house sits — “free” land taken from the Yuchi and Cherokee after the native people of Tennessee were forced to walk the Trail of Tears following the “Indian Removal Act” of 1830.
Last June I participated in a pilgrimage to the site of the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado. One hundred and fifty years ago on November 29, nearly 200 peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho people were killed on the banks of the Big Sandy River in southeast Colorado in an massacre by U.S. Cavalry troops. The leader of the Cavalry was a Methodist minister. During the days of the pilgrimage, we learned what had happened, listened to the stories of those who were descended from the survivors, prepared our hearts and spirits, and rode together to the site of the massacre.
We walked a hill overlooking the valley where so many had died. A hot wind seemed to carry the cries of the women, children, and old people who had died at the hands of the troops. We listened and learned and prayed and cried. One young adult descendent told us that his people, still today, associate United Methodists with the killers on that day.
There is so much I cannot do to make things right. But here are some things I can do:
Learn the stories about the places I live and move. Every place in this land has stories to tell about those who lived here before the Europeans arrived.
Listen and bear witness to the truth. It is so easy to ignore what happened, to make excuses. But harm was done and generational trauma continues in the Native American community.
Sponsor a runner for the Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run. On the anniversary of the massacre, runners start from the site of the massacre and run the 180 miles to Denver. The run is a prayer, a remembrance for those who were killed. Sponsorship for one runner costs $500 for travel from Montana, Wyoming or Oklahoma, food and lodging. Gifts of all sizes are welcome.
“If you get rid of unfair practices,
quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people’s sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.”
– Isaiah 58:12, The Message
Come, Spirit of Courage, creative Source of Healing. Amen.
My mom passed away 29 years ago today. I was in seminary in Nashville and she was in Oklahoma. We had learned during the summer that her brain tumor had grown back and was inoperable. My mom wanted me to stay in school rather than come home for the duration of her life, so I decided to become an expert on death. I enrolled in Pastoral Care for the Sick and Dying. I read books like May Sarton’s The Reckoning. I wrote poetry and did art about death and how I felt.
Mom was cared for at home by Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, and many, many people from Grace United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City. At some point she was moved to the hospital where she lived for several months before she died. (I guess hospice care had not come to Oklahoma yet.) In October of that year, Dad called to say I might want to come to see her while she was still conscious. I flew home, all ready to have meaningful conversations about life and death and whatever Mom wanted to talk about.
I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but it didn’t happen. (Life is funny that way.) Mom couldn’t really talk … at least with words. Every so often she would say a word or two that let us know she was still in there. But she spoke with her eyes and with the squeeze of her hand.
One day, Grandma was there getting Mom dressed, fixing her hair, and putting on her make-up. We were trying to figure out the color of the sweater Mom was wearing. Mom said, “Fuchsia.” (Only thing she said that day.)
I wanted to do death “right.” And ultimately, I realize, I did. I was there with her and she was there with me. We sat in silence or I talked to her. I feasted my eyes on her and felt my feelings. When it was time for me to leave for the airport. I leaned over and hugged her. “I love you, Mom,” I said. She said, “I love you, darlin.” Those were the last words I she spoke to me.
Some weeks after that she slipped away into sleep. And on the 16th of November, 1983, she passed into the loving arms of God. I’m grateful beyond words for Mom.
When the 9/11 attacks happened, I was in Colorado on vacation and away from television. We had scheduled a hike on that day and decided that since there wasn’t anything helpful we could do, a hike would be a perfect response — a sort of physical prayer. The images I remember from that day are mountains and water, fragile flowers and blue sky. It wasn’t until over a week later when we were finally able to fly home that I saw all the images of devastation. I’m grateful that pictures such as the one above are what I associate with that terrible day.
I know that anniversaries of tragedy are especially difficult. It’s been over 25 years since my mom died and I still feel the loss deep in my spirit when that date comes around every year. I cannot imagine the pain I would feel if her death was a part of such a gigantic national tragedy. I pray for those for whom this news event brings such deep pain.
This week’s gospel reading from the lectionary is Matthew 18:15-20. Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who has wronged him. “Seven times?” And Jesus’ answer, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” And then Jesus goes on to tell a parable about settling accounts.
I’ve been thinking about this scripture falling on the anniversary of 9/11 and wondering what will be preached in churches this Sunday. (I’m grateful that I’m not having to prepare a sermon for such a difficult day!) I’m wondering what God is saying to me, to us, through this scripture and through this season of remembering. I’d like to invite you to take some time to pray the scripture using Alive Now’s Audio Lectio recording.
Here are a few random thoughts from me:
We are a broken and fragmented people. Our culture is divided to the point that we often jump — too quickly — to judgment, labeling, and condemning others rather than seeing them as human, vulnerable, children of God.
Forgiveness is our calling as Christians. It’s perfectly appropriate that we study and pray this scripture at this time.
Yes, we are called to forgive — over and over and over. But forgiveness is a very individual step, part of a process of healing and reconciliation. I cannot say to you, “It’s time for you to forgive.” Forgiveness is a gift given by God at the just the right point in a person’s healing process.
I wonder what Jesus would say to us today? to our national leaders? our faith leaders? to our children?
Share your thoughts. What does it mean to be people of faith in a post-9/11 world? What message is God giving you through this week’s Audio Lectio?
I had every intention of continuing to nurture my Centering Prayer practice. I started working on it in February in anticipation of a special event in my life: becoming a parent. I had visions of early mornings, peaceful moments in the quiet, anchoring my soul to God’s presence to get me through the day, etc., etc., etc.
So … now, it’s happened. I’ve become a parent to an 11-year-old. And my centering prayer practice has gone out the window, along with most of the quiet and peace. (OK, folks. I can hear you laughing even from here!) I’ll have to take a break on the centering prayer until another time.