Sunday, January 11, 2015

Of Buffalo Calf Woman and Where Two or Three Are Gathered

 "For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them" (Matthew 18: 20, NRSV)

Yesterday and today have been a day of contrasts, as we have made it through one week of our immersion with the Lakota people at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.  Yesterday morning started off uneventful with our usual breakfast and devotion before heading off to feed buffalo and hear the legend of the white buffalo calf woman.  The white buffalo calf woman is one of the legends of Lakota culture and our guide, Darren told us that when a white buffalo calf is born, it is a sign of prosperity in which his family was lucky to have two born at his ranch, although both have since died (Rainbow was still a calf when she died, but has been preserved to share the legend).  Before hearing the legend of the white buffalo calf woman, we were invited to a circle and Darren and his daughter came around with a smoldering sage brush to smudge each of us, in which we wafted the smoke over us to lift the bad spirits from us then told us the legend, which can also be read about here at  It was one of the most fascinating tales, but also shows how sacred the buffalo is to the Lakota culture.  The buffalo themselves were quite a sight to behold, such strong and powerful animals, although never bend down in front of one (that's a challenge to them) or turn your back on them either.

 Following our return to the retreat center, we then made a quick turnaround to go out to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, but things didn't quite work out with the van breaking down about 20 miles from the retreat center.  Thankfully, we were in front of the Oglala General Store and had good fellowship while waiting for the van from Wartburg and Pastor Karen to arrive to pick us up.  Instead, we watched the 2002 film, Skins which was also filmed at Pine Ridge and highlighted many of the problems the Lakota face then had book discussion and talking circle.  Plus dinner was an interesting experience with Indian tacos, which used fry bread instead of tortillas and was beyond filling! 

Today was church day, so we had multiple options to attend.  I decided to go this afternoon with Pastor Karen and several others to St. John Episcopal, a very rural and quaint little church where Pastor Karen preaches at every other week.  The church had no running water inside, but a pump outside and had two outhouses instead of indoor plumbing, so does not get more rural than that.  The service was a traditional Episcopal Eucharist Rite II, but began with smudging and burning sage, much the same way the Catholic mass uses incense.  Although there were eight of us present, God was still present.  "Where two or three are gathered" kept going through my mind.  Although many of the Lakota people present would have their heads down, they were attentive, as this is their way of paying attention.  Eye contact is also something that is not practiced in Lakota culture, something Basil Brave Heart pointed out Friday morning.  The church was also like taking a step back in time, as it was built in the 1800's, although was moved to its present location from Wounded Knee.  No sound system or video system to deal with, but just a warm, wood burning stove, a desolate prairie, and our presence was good enough.  Today, it was about being part of the community and we were warmly welcomed by the members of the church, and appreciated the hospitality and simplicity.  And even though the landscape is stark and barren, there certainly is a beauty in it.  

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