A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend a week among the Lakota people at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. While on the reservation I learned about the devastating impact colonialism has had on native people, how, plagued by generational trauma, addiction has its grasp on the lives of this community, and yet, how through traditions and faith, the Lakota people at Pine Ridge have found light in the midst of what others can perceive as darkness.
My time at Pine Ridge was meaningful and transformational. Each day I traveled through the reservation to learn about the history and traditions of the native people living on the reservation. I spent part of a day at the Wounded Knee Massacre site where in 1890 over 400 native people, mostly women and children, were murdered by soldiers of the United States Army. I spent several hours of each day talking with people living on the reservation and hearing their sacred stories. I heard story after story of loved ones lost due to substance abuse, suicide, or loved ones who have been placed on the missing and murdered indigenous persons list. It wasn’t easy to listen to. It wasn’t easy to process. It’s not easy to think that this is the reality of so many of the people living on the reservation, and that this reality was created because of the greed of Americans who stole land, slaughtered innocent people, and tried to destroy a people and a culture so beautiful and sacred.
One of the most meaningful parts of my day was partaking in the traditional ritual of smudging. Smudging involves the burning of sacred herbs like sage and is used as a way to cleanse and bless a person. This sacred ritual was a reminder to me of the beauty of different forms of spirituality, and the different ways we each connect to Creator God, using different names, and languages.
In a place where many people may have seen darkness, I saw a community united in support, shared brokenness, love, light, and the belief that we are all related.
Many Japanese traditions practice the art of Kintsugi to fix a broken or damaged piece of pottery by filling the cracks in with gold or silver. The broken pieces are believed to be part of the pottery’s story and, rather than hiding the damage, the repair is illuminated. It is believed that the piece of pottery is beautiful not in spite of the brokenness, but because of it.
As the Body of Christ, as the Church, as Creator God’s beloved creation, we are like the broken and damaged pieces of pottery. We are cracked and chipped and shattered. We have succumbed to the heartache and sorrow of this weary world. We have done terrible things and yet, we too have trauma in our lives. We too have been faced with brokenness. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if we were open and honest about our brokenness and pain. What would it be like if we learned from the Lakota people and saw one another as relative, rather than distant neighbor? I think this is what we are called to do in Christ. See each other as relative, recognize our brokenness, and remind each other that we are made in the Imago Dei…and in need of love and forgiveness.
The Theology of the Cross, which speaks the truth into the world, calling a thing what it actually is, reminds us that it is through the Cross that we are healed. It is through the Cross that we are saved and it through the Cross we are modeled together, bonded in gold by the light and love of the Emmanuel. Through the grace of the Cross, Christ makes all things new—even us, the people of God, which shattered and broken is beautiful because of the God that illuminates us.
Typically, I pray silently. I don’t have a set time in which I check-in with God through prayer but rather I pray throughout my day: with words, with thoughts, with my whole being. When I pray I ask God to be with me and to hear me, but sometimes my heart feels heavy and I can’t put my feelings into word. Sometimes my heart is filled with immense joy and words don’t seem to adequately measure the joy I feel. My relationship with God is unlike any other relationship I have because I do not have to hide my feelings, explain my feelings or even understand my feelings. God hears them without me speaking them. God understands them without me explaining them and God can grasp them even when I can’t grasp them myself. God knows me inside and out. God knows you, inside and out.
Sometimes I find myself searching for God when I feel alone or in despair. Sometimes I feel alone in the desert without manna to eat. Sometimes I feel alone in the darkness without a light to shine. Maybe you have felt the same…
I believe God is there in these moments. Sometimes I need to walk a few more steps and the manna is sitting there for me to eat. Sometimes I need to open my eyes or turn around and the light is shining.
As a glass half empty, but also half full kind-of-person, I see our world through a lens that allows me to see the beauty and joy, yet struggle and sadness, within our everyday lives. I understand the sadness of change, the struggle with “how things used to be” and I have learned, like the seasons and our world, my faith changes and adapts as well.
My faith doesn’t look like comments of “thoughts and prayers” on social media.
My faith looks like my sister, a single mother who is balancing her career with raising a child.
My faith smells like burning sage used in the ritual of smudging.
My faith looks like the heart of a protest, the plea for change, the sound of groups of individuals standing up for what they call truth.
It looks like the hashtag “me too” and “black lives matter”.
My faith looks like my spouse’s maternal grandmother, who immigrated from Japan to the United States in the 1950s, doesn’t speak English, and wakes up every morning to ring chimes, light incense, greet the Spirit of her late husband, and set aside rice and vegetables for him.
My faith looks like a pride flag waving in the wind, a young adult finding their identity, and child of God being fully accepted for who they are.
My faith looks like the Lakota people, balancing their traditional beliefs with the hurt and pain caused by colonialism.
My faith looks like recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, the depressed, the anxious, the mourning.
It looks like the fight of the patriarchy, those whose voices are loudest making way so the silenced can finally be heard.
It looks like the call for us to finally become good stewards of this earth.
It looks like the flickering of a candle, proving that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not, cannot and will never overcome it.
It looks like a Savior who got on bended knee to wash His disciples’ feet, a God who would send His only Son to die on a cross and grace that is given to all of us through His resurrection.
My faith looks like hope: the agonizing, beautiful struggle of never giving up and knowing that somehow, some way God is at work in our lives.
My faith looks like hope: the troubling realization that life is messy, faith isn’t always easy, but God never fails.
My faith looks like hope: the realization that a glass can be half empty and yet, half full.
I have always longed to be in places where all are safe and no one is comfortable. My faith calls me to create spaces like the festival Center, spaces free from racism, sexism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, ageism and all other forms of discrimination. It is a place where we dig into the messiness of our lives and do the difficult, uncomfortable work of being different together. Where all are seen as relative and not just neighbor. Through the work of the Festival Center, I believe I live out my call to walk with individuals through the messy and uncomfortable parts of life, to remind God’s broken and beloved of the Grace that is freely given on the Cross and to feed them with of the real presence of Christ.