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"Enjoy My creation, love Me; see Me in My creation, love My creation."

Jesus to Vassula Ryden, "True Life in God"

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Blessed Kateri Tetakwetha

The Red Path, a Holy and Powerful Path to God

God, the Great Mystery, is Ever-Present in His Nature

Many people mistakenly think that Native Americans pray to rocks, trees, the wind, fire, water, animals etc. But the fact is that in True Native Spirituality, God-The Great Unknown/Mystery is Always Present in His Nature and Elements and He is referred to and named in prayer. This is an important point...God is prayed to by NAME, even if that name is "mystery", "Great Spirit" or "Wonder", there is still A Name, A Person referred to, whether Male or Female, A Superior Being is believed there and listening to our prayers. Practicing a spirituality that prays to things, without mention of A Superior Being of any kind, is paganism...not Native American Spirituality.

There are roughly 500 different Native American Nations and each practice unique and individual spiritual traditions, rituals and prayers. We here at Sisters of Embracement could not even hope to cover a third of the different ways of Native Spirituality, but we offer what we do know about the Native Ways that some of our sisters do practice which is the Lakota Way.

The Lakota Way...

Mitaquye Oyasin…we are all related

You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round.....The Sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nest in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours....
BlackElk, Oglala Sioux,1863-1950

"If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian, he can live in peace.....Treat all men alike. Give them all the same law. Give them all an even chance to live and grow. All men were made by the same Great Spirit Chief. They are all brothers. The Earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it.......Let me be a free man, free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade....where I choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to think and talk and act for myself, and I will obey every law, or submit to the penalty." (Italics Added)
Chief Joseph, Nex Perces


The following two stories are excerpts of a book written by one of our nuns, Sister Juliemarie WhiteFeather, entitled, "Congratulations Your Baby is a Boy and a Girl."

Give me strength…

To the Native American, all of Nature, including the land itself, has a spirit. The land is alive, and the Native American who lives her religion, for truly there is no dividing point between her religion and herself for those of understanding, is in harmony with it. The land and it’s ways are an essential part of the religion that I, as a Native American live. This is a beginning place of understanding Native Americans as being part of the land and those who live on Mother Earth…her animals, rocks, trees, plants and the earth itself. For myself, I have always found great peace and strength in this relationship. It is part of my connection to Mother Earth as well as to the spirits and to the Creator. This relationship is reflected in the shapes and forms of our ceremonies…I am brought closer to Mother Earth, each time I stoop to enter the low dome of the sweat lodge. I see it in the red glow of the rocks and the hiss of the steam as the water is poured over them. I see the universe in the pipe bowl when I pray to the four directions, to Mother Earth and Tunkasila Wankan Tanka…inviting each of them to smoke with us…the whole universe in the pipe bowl each time I pray with the Chanupa. As I go though my life, always I return to this relationship. Mother Earth is my minister and my bible. It is my teacher and my counselor…and it is my strength.

Inipi…

A chill wind bit at her cheeks and eyes as she made her way down the small, weed choked dirt path. The day was overcast, bleak, and although only early November, it was already quite cold. Even so, the dreary day couldn’t dampen Sarah’s spirit. Despite the weather, she was elated and a little nervous. She arrived several hours early. Etiquette told her that she should. There was quite a lot of work to be done before hand and it was only right that it be shared.

The chopping of an ax echoed through the woods, reaching Sarah long before she rounded a bend in a path and came out into a clearing. The sound came from an ax falling with a thud on a tree stump to one side of the clearing. Mike wielded the ax at a fevered pace, two halves of wood flying to either side of the ax with each blow. Judging from the pile of wood at his feet, he had already been at his task for some time. Sarah stood waiting for a pause in the steady rhythmic blows.

On the far side of the clearing, a low wooden frame stuck out of the ground. The saplings that made up the dome shape seemed to Sarah as if they were the bones of Mother Earth. What can I do to help?, she called out, trying not to seem too timid. The ax stopped mid swing, You must be Sarah, Mike said as he glanced at her over his left shoulder, John mentioned you would be sweating with us today. He’s back at the barn getting together some tarps to cover the lodge. Why don’t you give him a hand? The ax took up its rhythm again, as Sarah turned back down the path again.

Light shown through places in the old gray boards that made up the small barn. A musty smell filled the air mixed with the smell of old hay. Sarah felt a bit daunted by John, but that was certainly not due to any way that he had ever treated her. Most elders made her feel intimidated to some degree. The tarps had been hung up over clothes lines in the barn to dry after the last inipi. A pair of hands pulled at the heavy brown canvas from the far side of the tarps. She poked her head around the edge of the canvas with a smile, Can I help? Let me grab an end. Hello Sarah, came the reply, glad to see you could make it? Any trouble finding the farm? The winding road up to the small farm house was quite unobtrusive and very easy to miss. That, in fact was just what she had done at least four times. Not too bad, she laughed slightly, but now I know where it is. Together, she and John finished the task gathering the tarps. Struggling a bit under the weight, she managed her share of the burden as best she could. Between the two of them, they managed all of the tarps needed to cover the lodge.

When she and John reached the clearing, several other members of their little group had arrived. Mike had finished chopping wood and was gathering the split logs into a pile. She ambled over to the frame of the lodge and dropped her burden with a sigh of relief. John dropped his share of the tarps on the far side of the frame. Greetings where exchanged and everyone came over to help cover the lodge. They managed to pull the larger tarps over the top of the frame, but the smaller ones had to be thrown over the top. When most of the tarps where gone, John placed one last tarp over the doorway to the lodge. He asked one of the others to go inside and make sure that no light was getting in around the edges of the frame. After a few minutes of adjustments the lodge was pronounced “light proof.”

Mike carefully placed the logs in what appeared to be a square pattern. Sarah watched as the he took smooth rocks from a nearby pile. Each rock was placed in the center of the logs with care and reverence. When the entire rock pile was relocated, Mike continued placing logs until a large tipi shaped fire had been placed.

I’ll need two buckets of water, John asked the group that had gathered around the clearing. Sarah and another woman headed back down the path in the direction of the barn. By the time they returned with the water, the small blaze Mike had set was well on it’s way to becoming a bonfire. Sarah set her bucket down near the entrance to the lodge where shoes, bags and clothes had begun to gather. John was tending to a small mound of dirt located between the lodge and the fire. Sarah stood in rapt attention as the fire grew. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Mike produce a small leather pouch from one of his pockets. He sprinkled several pinches of it’s contents on the fire and began to sing. The lyrical Lakota words reinforced her already contemplative mood as she turned her attention back to the fire. When the songs stopped most of the group headed back in the direction of the barn, and subsequently, the farm house. Her mood broken by the movement, Sarah noticed that a Chanunpa had been placed on the mound of dirt, leaning against a small bracket made of three sticks. Sarah remained behind with Mike while he tended the fire.

An hour and a half later, the entire group was gathered around the small clearing in the copse. Mike lean against a pitchfork near the fire. Like the others, Sarah stood waiting in shorts and a loose T-shirt. The overcast day had turned into a drizzle. A fine mist fell against her face as she watched John make his way around the circle of people. A smoldering braid of sweet grass in hand, he fanned the smoke over each person in turn, using a feather, leaving himself for last. When he was finished, he stooped over a small bundle to one side of the clearing and came back with two deer antlers. Silently, he crawled into the low doorway to the lodge. The others followed.

When it was Sarah’s turn, like the others, she could only enter the lodge on hands and knees. With humility she crawled inside and felt as if she were entering Mother Earth’s womb. Those already inside, made room for her around the central pit, where the rocks would be placed. The light from the door cast the pit in shadow. The sweet smell of sweet grass still lingered in the air inside the lodge. When the last person had entered and taken their place seated in the circle, Mike handed in one of the buckets of water and a dipper. He set these to one side and called for Mike to hand him in the first rock.

The rock glowed bright orange against the dull gray metal of the pitchfork that poked its way into the lodge. John carefully took the rock with the deer antlers. As he did so, he greeted the rock and placed it gently into the central pit. This he repeated several times and called for the door to be closed. The canvas doorway closed with a slap against the tarp and a dim red light from the rocks filled the small space inside the lodge. Sarah could barely make out the other faces around the circle. John rubbed something across each rock which sparked when he did it. A strong sweet smell filled the air. He asked each person around the circle to greet the Creator and the spirits, introducing themselves. When the last person was finished. John took a dipper of water and splashed it on the rocks. Each time he did this the sound of several snakes hissing and plumes of warm steam filled the air. Each time the temperature rose, but not to an uncomfortable level.

John began praying, and invited each person around the circle to pray. As each person finished, John splashed water against the rocks. The light grew dimmer and the temperature grew hotter. When it was her turn, Sarah prayed first for her family and friends and then for herself. Like the Catholic confessional, she realized that what was said here was just as sacrosanct. She spoke what without hesitation. She spoke what was in her heart. When the prayers reached John, he prayed in English, but began singing in the Lakota. Some joined in, but Sarah, like others around the circle, only knew a bit of Lakota and did not know the song. All the same, she was not pensive, but let herself be carried away on the words of the song. She closed her eyes and concentrated on the sounds. At the conclusion of the song everyone around the circle cried Mitakuye Oyasin, and John called for the door to the lodge to be opened.

Cool air swept into the lodge from the doorway, making Sarah realize how warm it had become in the lodge compared to the outside. After a brief interval, John again called for more rocks. He greeted each rock in turn as they were delivered at the end of the pitchfork. The deer antlers carefully guided each rock into place. John called for the door to be closed and the red light that had dimmed with each splash of water glowed brightly once again. The cycle of prayers followed their way around the circle, each person speaking his mind and his heart. With each splash of water against the rocks, it grew hotter than the first round of prayers. Sarah could feel the hot steam fill her lungs. When the prayers reached John again, he lead the circle in song. More water was splashed against the rocks, hissing loudly each time. Mitakuye Oyasin all called, and the door was opened once more at John’s behest.

Cool air felt chill against Sarah’s skin. After waiting a short while, John called for rocks once again, greeting each rock in turn as he guided it into the pit. Sarah watched the bright orange rocks pile on top of the rocks below them, some faintly glowing, others dulled and dark. The door closed. Sarah listened intently to the sound of the water splashing against the rocks and the hissing that followed. The temperature became almost unbearable, steam searing her lungs. By the time the prayers reached her, she was soaked in sweat. Only the thoughts of what was in her heart filled her mind. There was no room for any other concerns for anything that lay outside the lodge and the prayers offered within. Her mind focused. For a moment, she shut her eyes against the heat. She looked again into the rocks that glowed in the pit. When she looked up, small points of light seemed to fill the darkness of the lodge. She was certain that it was a trick of the light from the rocks. But when she looked away, shutting her eyes in the darkness, the lights were still there when she opened them again. She watched the lights as each person prayed. John sang and still the lights remained. She heard the words Mitakuye Oyasin, and the door opened.

Sarah was not sure if she could tolerate the heat of another round. Yet when the John called for the door to be closed, she chose to remain. With each splash of the water, hot steam filled her lungs. Sweat dripped from her body. There was no room in her mind for anything but the heat and the Creator. She shut her eyes and was carried away by the sound of John’s singing. When the door was opened the last time, she was almost unaware of it. She followed the others out of the darkness. Crawling out of Mother Earth’s womb, into the light she felt new again; cleansed and whole, as if she had just been born. In that moment she felt closer to Mother Earth that she had ever been. She felt a strength, clarity of mind and hope that she had never known. The cool mist fell against her hot skin with a tingling sensation. As she shut her eyes and lifted her face to the sky it was almost as if her life had begun again. Sarah smiled and listened to the sound of the raindrops on the trees.

Torn by the winds…

The Inipi, which some call sweat lodge, is not unique to Lakota or even Native American nations. The cultures of nations throughout the world have used sweat lodges of one sort or another for many hundreds of years. Some of these uses are spiritual, some not. They all have elements in common. Like the Chanunpa, it is a ceremony of itself, and precedes other ceremonies as well.

The water that flows through the Inipi, is as the water that flows from the sweat of those stooping close to Mother Earth in the darkness of the lodge. It is as the source of Mother Earth’s life, flowing through her rivers, lakes and oceans like blood through her veins. All become mingled, united their in the darkness of Mother Earth’s womb. It is a spiritual experience that is nearly ineffable.

Always it has brought me closer to Mother Earth than any other experience has done. Like the saplings that form the lodge, I feel part of Mother Earth, as a tree, centered with my roots in the ground. Like the Chanunpa, it is an intense way of praying, but so much more. For each person who crawls into the lodge, close to Mother Earth in the darkness, the experience is different. Each time I have been given a sense of balance, exuberance, and though elated, peace.

This is a weapon of the modern warrior. The faith that comes from the prayer of the Inipi as well as the strength and peace that comes from the experience. As we each go through our lives, we often find ourselves torn by the winds of angst and ire of daily life. It is easy to find ourselves battered down. To me, Inipi has been a way to become lifted up again. To be centered, balanced and calmed. When I find myself caught up by anxiety, in need of balance. I remember how it felt then in the lodge, to be centered. I see the stones and the billowing steam, the life of Mother Earth. I smell the sweet grass once again. Once again, the hot steam fills my lungs and brings a clarity of mind that allows for no other thoughts than Mother Earth, the Creator and the prayers that brought me there. Again, I experience the profound sense of peace. Throughout the year, there are times when we gather for the inipi. When I find myself torn by the winds of daily life, I go back to the inipi.

Peace be with you.

Sister Juliemarie
of the Sisters of Embracement


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