Last month, I gathered with 500 other faith leaders from 20 diverse faith traditions to stand alongside the Water Protectors at Standing Rock in North Dakota. At issue was the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which was routed to cut through sacred burial grounds of the Sioux tribe and underneath the Missouri River. It was a threat to the water supply of the area, and one more grievous offense in a long, historical string of them against our nation’s Indigenous peoples.
As first dawn broke that day, hundreds convened at the Oceti Sakowin camp, hunkered down in a crowded circle around the camp’s central fire. Amid songs and prayers and presentations, there came an invitation to the women to participate in the Women’s Water Ceremony, a daily ritual. About 20 of us lined up behind three tribal women, who led the small procession down to the distant Cannonball River, one of them carrying with her a golden pitcher of water.
As we moved along the dirt road, flanked on each side by flags of the various tribal nations represented in camp, we would stop seemingly at random. Toward the back of the procession, I couldn’t see why we were stopping at first, and found myself impatient with the slowness of our progress. Then I realized that we were pausing to provide a blessing… People who were just emerging from their tents and teepees for the day would approach us to request a blessing, and be splashed with water from the golden pitcher. And then we would proceed, blessing given, our steps marking a path made more holy by the encounters.
At last we reached our destination. One by one we stepped down a small, rickety dock perched out over the river to toss tobacco from our left hand and pour water in with our right hand. Each of us lifted prayers of our hearts, thanksgiving for God’s Creation. And then we lined ourselves up along the river’s bank, faces to the water, hands raised to the heavens, to offer final prayers before making our way back to camp.
I realized something that morning that I confess to you today: I am often too hurried and impatient to make room for the sacred along the way. I hasten from one thing to the next, eager to finish my tasks, too seldom taking pause to recognize the blessings all around me. But for our Native brothers and sisters at Standing Rock, it’s all about honoring the inherently sacred nature of everything and everyone around us .
The struggle at Standing Rock is an environmental fight, to be certain. But for our Native brothers and sisters, it is first and foremost a matter of deep spirituality. This fight at Standing Rock is about protecting what is thoroughly sacred to the Native peoples, in a way that most of us outside Native spirituality find it difficult to fully comprehend. But on that day last month I experienced what it’s like to see each step, each bit of ground under our feet, each drop of flowing water and each interaction with the other as the truly sacred opportunity each represents. And I was blessed along the journey.
We progress in these weeks through the holy season of Advent, stepping ever closer to the miracle of God’s birth among us. My prayer is that we might move more mindfully and prayerfully through these days, taking time to honor all that is sacred in our lives and in our world, making room for the holy to break into our hurried routines along the way. And may you find profound blessing and abundant hope at each step of the journey.
Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister
Note: We give thanks for dozens of MN Conference UCC clergy and lay persons who stood with the Water Protectors at Standing Rock over the last several months. Read an update about what’s happening at Standing Rock here: http://www.ucc.org/news_standing_rock_water_protectors_celebrate_victory_stay_vigilant_12052016