Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Blessing the beasts

This morning’s worship honored creation in a manner our dear pastor loves to do—with a bit of a provocative showmanship. He’s no thundering Jeremiah; besides, really criticizing the way we treat the environment in NW Ioway, in Sioux County especially, would be, well, blasphemy of another sort, and dangerous. Criticising the way people farm out there may well be tantamount to suggesting that high school athletic are themselves a religion. Well, okay, not that bad.

Anyway, it was, he said, a special Sunday according to some ancient Lectionary, a Sunday in which it was kosher to bless to the animals and the earth. I don’t remember the exact name.

So here’s what he did. He had members of a single family from the church bring various elements to the front—a fishbowl full of dirt, an empty glass container, a jar of water, a dish of seeds, and a picture of a horse. And then he gave thanks—for the earth, for the air, for water, for seeds (apropos this time of year, of course), and then for the animals. He even brought up some ancient Catholic tradition of a Sunday in which people brought beasts to the sanctuary for a blessing. My wife and I decided our arrogant and agnostic cat would have made it clear to us that he stands in need of no particular blessing. Besides, he’d have howled all the way to church.


No matter. Come Earth Day or some other greenish Sabbath, our pastor sounds like a bible-toting John Muir, which is just fine with me. After all, Sioux County, Iowa, generally leads the entire state in hog and cattle production—and recently in dairying as well. Rumor has it that no state in the union is more fully “developed” from the day white folks set foot on Plymouth Rock than Iowa: and, of the 99 counties in the state, none is more fully altered than this one. In Sioux County, Iowa, one needs to hunt far and wide for some patch of big blue stem large enough for a place to hide. The entire county is a garden of row crops. Imagine what it must have been when the whole place was little more than a vast sea of tall-grass prairie (tall-grass prairie is the American eco-system most decimated). Just imagine. It’s hard.

A good sermon on God’s green earth is a necessary reminder that “subduing” the earth may not necessarily means beating the life out of it, as all too often happens in this little corner of the world.


But I’ve just returned from the Navajo and Zuni Indian Rezervations, where, once again, I thought a ton about Native American religions in general, specifically, their propensity not to want to distinguish much in the special honors given to both two-leggeds or four-leggeds.

So this morning in church, our granola congregation prayed for earth, air, water, plant life and beasts—including livestock; and I thought of something I’d just thought through—or tried to—when I was in New Mexico: to wit, how the white folk from whom I descend have, in certain ways, become, strangely more Native than they themselves might believe. Our nearly 400 years of proselytizing has had some good--and many totally horrific--effects on the first nations of the continent.

A man who should know, a Roman Catholic priest at a reservation church, an expert on Native-American missions, told me last year that white people had failed so disastrously in Native American mission programs because it never dawned us to stop talking and just listen. If Native people were savages, what was the use, after all? What the continent's indiginous possibly teach us?


This morning in church, we prayed for the earth. Only if our pastor had raised a smudge pot and waved holy smoke in four directions with an eagle feather, then chanted a bit, might we have been more Native. I’m serious.

There the whole family stands in front of church, holding precious vials of the earth’s own elements. Doesn’t happen everyday in evangelical America, but it went on here for quite some time.

Of course, I didn’t know Crazy Horse—no white man ever did. But I’m thinking that the old mystical Lakota chief might well have been giggling about “winning” and “losing” the battles or the war.

I must admit I rather liked it. But I don't have a clue how to say “amen” in Navajo or Lakota or Ojibwe.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Photo looks like "eyelash grass," one of our more aptly named flora.