[Note: This reflection ended up encompassing many things: travel, spirituality, prayer, politics, and again part of my year of mercy. I hope you enjoy all that it is, and that you see the National Shrine in Fonda, NY one day yourselves. It is a very peaceful place to visit, to sit, and to pray.]
In the early part of November, just because I was in the neighborhood, I decided to visit the Shrine of St. Kateri Tekakwitha. I had a lot on my mind and in watching what was continually unfolding at Standing Rock in North Dakota, I felt helpless towards a people that had captured my imagination and inspiration since I was a child.
I remember playing cowboys & Indians. That was a thing in the 1970s. I always wanted to be an Indian. In college I chose a class titled North American Indians as my anthropology elective. As a preschool teacher, I changed the curriculum for Thanksgiving to avoid making headdresses. I added Native foods to our school’s Thanksgiving feast. Instead of the headdresses, we made more Native American crafts and listened to the drum beats and chanting of Native American music. I can still hear the cassette in my mind as I write this.
On the hill above the Shrine, I went up to the spring, but when I followed the signs to the spring, and walked through the crunchy leaves carpeting the path, I saw the way down and the supporting handrails. I could hear the water.
But I was alone and the rest of the way was steep and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to climb back up, so I missed the spring. I chose not to go down on the slippery leaves. I still felt okay, though, because the spring was the cherry.
At the Shrine, I stood by St. Kateri’s plaque which included the dates of her veneration and canonization. I looked out passed the sign of the cross to the rustic looking buildings to the close knit trees, their narrow trunks rising into the sun. The sun was bright that day, coming down in rays through the pines. The green grass was beginning to be covered in their shedding pine needles.
The buildings themselves were closed for the season, but you can’t close the sky or the air or the land.
I stood there and I prayed. I asked St. Kateri for her intercession for North Dakota and the Sioux and their companions and their supporters. Water protectors. An end to DAPL. An end to the violence against them by more people trying to take their land. Again.
There were water protectors in Bismarck – the citizens and politicians. Dogs weren’t sicced on them. They changed the route to the pipeline. Maybe if there were water protectors in Flint, Michigan they wouldn’t have allowed lead to be in the water.
I guess you could call this a kind of pilgrimage; with purpose and spirit. It was spontaneous and it felt right and it fit in with everything I was trying to do in this past Year of Mercy. I was guided to action, something I could actually do and my heart swelled.
I prayed for peace and I prayed for resistance and strength and the outcome that protects the land and the spirit of the land for everyone who comes after us.
At the Shrine, at the Native American Peace Grove, is the following prayer:
Speak evil of no one, if you can say no
Good of a person, then be silent.
Let not your tongues betray you into
evil. For these are words of our Creator.
Let all strive to cultivate friendship
with those who surround them.
-Handsome Lake – Iroquois Prophet