"My only job is to be clear, like a hollow bone,
so that Spirit can work through me."
-- Frank Fools Crow (1890-1989), Oglala Lakota Spiritual Leader
For some reason, as I began this day, Frank Fools Crow came to mind. While I never knew him personally, I have had a strong attraction to his life, his teaching -- both through two books he co-authored and others who did know him -- and his style of sharing his spiritual journey. The quote above came to me from one of the two books written by Thomas E. Mails, a Lutheran Pastor, who became a close friend of Frank Fools Crow. Both books are the products of conversations between the two (the books: Fools Crow and Fools Crow: Wisdom and Power).
In 1975, Frank Fools Crow was asked to give the convening prayer for the United States Senate. This is a YouTube presentation of that prayer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOmX49_zMeg
While on the Pine Ridge Reservation in June, I had the opportunity to meet Bette Black Elk O'Rourke, who is the great-granddaughter of Nicholas Black Elk -- the famed spiritual leader in the Oglala Lakota community. He was Frank Fools Crow's uncle. Black Elk was a cousin of Crazy Horse, so we are talking about a family steeped in the deep traditions of the Lakota People.
For two hours on a Wednesday afternoon (6/12/2013) Bette shared stories of her family that seemed to come alive in the kitchen and dining area of her home in Manderson, on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Bette's stories did not simply relate geneological history. As she reflected and shared photographs, she brought to life the power of love and deep integrity that most folks would miss, if simply thinking of Native American culture and history.
Over the years, I have become vastly amused that we can so easily compartmentalize elements of our lives. Dualism is the separating of things into such compartments so that we come to believe that something is either good or bad, for instance. Dualistic thinking doesn't much allow for "shading" of things. So, if I am good, and you are not like me, then you must be bad. Now, inside the "good" box, there can be a state of "better" or "best," but they exist in that place of being like the person who sees him/her-self as "good." The same gradients happen in the "bad" box (i.e. "worse" or "worst").
These boxes can get complicated. If one is a Christian, it is very tempting (and an alarmingly regular way of thinking) to immediately classify those who are not Christian as something "not right"... or "bad".... or "flawed." In whatever way we may choose, we both charge those different folks with most of the bad things that happen in the world, and we go to the kind of painful lengths to change those different into what we believe ourselves to be. At its worst, it leads to the medieval practices of the Inquisition (torturing people until they capitulated to Christianity) or burned them (Catholics burning Protestants and vice-versa). In our own history, it can be seen in the genocidal practices that almost annihilated our indigenous nations.
I am picking on Christianity, because I am part of that tradition. History, however, is replete with examples of this happening in all religious traditions....as well as all political and cultural groupings.
If one reads and carefully reflects upon the words of the prayer that Frank Fools Crow prayed before the U.S. Senate in 1975, one of the features of Lakota life (and all Indigenous spirituality that I have studied) is the seamless way of experiencing all things. Wakan-Tanka (God) is the source of all that is. Our life comes from the Mother (earth....the Island). There is a unity in that experience. Life and Death are not separate experiences but simply a shift in the way of being. There is no word for either "evil" or "sin" in the Lakota language (or the several others I have explored). The wrong that happens springs from unwise choices and a disconnect from one's being centered in Spirit. [If one reads the Hebrew book of Genesis in its original language, the moment we call "original sin" is translated "turning away"...a poor choice having been made]
Just this week, I was asked to spend time with a young man who had made a couple of unwise choices. To escape personal pain of loss, he went to a country in South America and found himself among a group who promised to heal him of his pain. He was told that the elixir he was given to drink would relax him and bring him balance. It did way more than that. In the end, he escaped that group by running away....but only after they told him that they were in control of his mind and his soul. In essence, they had infested him with demons. He was referred to me by a priest, who knows something of my background in spiritual direction and my work with the Lakota People. This young man was convinced that only a Yuwipi Man (special spiritual craft in Lakota community) could heal him. [NB: "Medicine" in Lakota is about spirituality, rites, ceremonies and healing of the deep inner self. It is a broad term with specific spiritual gifts]
There is no doubt that a Lakota Medicine Man could re-integrate this young man. However, one does not simply show up, and spiritual leadership in the Lakota community is one of humility and integrity...no advertisement, resumes or "shingles" hanging out. It would be irresponsible of me to send this guy packing off to South Dakota in the near psychotic state that confronted me.
The details of this encounter are confidential. It was long and deeply involved. My point in sharing it at all is two-fold: 1) any accomplishment of healing was not an act of my will or because of any special "power" that I possess; 2) the process was that of synthesizing what had been so badly separated in his fear, that it had taken on an identity he was convinced was not part of him.
The use and abuse of power is as old as our earliest human ancestors. The ego is determined to exercise control of our internal and external environments; and when it does not happen, power can be abused in ways that are only limited by imagination. No need to rehearse this. In its most twisted form, abuse of power diminishes others -- often to the point of death -- and is devoid of light (i.e. seems very dark and oppressive). Abuse of power is born of fear and casts fear into others. It can be most insidious. Frank Fools Crow said, "my job is to be clear, like a hollow bone..." True Power has only one definition: Love. Love is not something we manufacture. It is a gift. It is also at the very core of our nature. We are created from that core of Love. It is the first principle of Life.
Mind and spirit are not two separate entities within us. It is a finely woven tapestry that has a continuity of vitality. If, for whatever reason, we become convinced that there is separation, that dualism creates what St. Paul called "war in our members." In that struggle, what is basic to our being....Light and Goodness....can be forgotten, or displaced. What my tradition calls "salvation" is actually a process of "being made whole" or "healed" or "synthesized." (the latter word is a modern description of the ancient practice of the desert monks of early Christianity, who gave counsel and prayer to those who sought them).
The young man, with whom I spent time, began a process. By the time we parted, he was relaxed. His eyes were steady and clear. He even gave me a smile. He said that it seemed like a light had been turned on in his head. I asked him if it illuminated any demons. "No, just me hiding in a corner." Yep, it is possible to be convinced that within us, "there be dragons." Somehow, I think he will be just fine.
We are created to "Break Good." If we can first love ourselves, it takes minimal effort to love others. When we connect with Divine Love, we see love in all that is created. The earth is Mother, and we are grounded in her and formed of her as uniquely human (again, a Genesis image). The energy that moves through us and animates us is a gift. We are vessels of light.
Keep Breaking Good!