From May 20-28 eight Diocesan Young Adults traveled on pilgrimage from Cincinnati to two Lakota Indian Reservations, the Cheyenne River and the Pine Ridge Reservations in South Dakota. As pilgrims, rather than tourists, the group intended the journey to be a spiritually-oriented trip from start to finish.
We were sent off on our 20 hour car ride with a prayer gathering hosted by Rev. Jane Gerdsen and the Fresh Expressions community, and continued each day with contemplative prayer in the morning and group reflections at night. The purpose of the pilgrimage was to strengthen already-existing ties that Christ Church Cathedral has maintained with the Cheyenne River Reservation, and to join in an international “pilgrimage of trust on earth” at the Pine Ridge Reservation with the Taizé Brothers from France.
We spent 3 days with Rev. Mother Margaret Watson at the Cheyenne River Reservation, where 9 Episcopal parishes worship regularly. Rev. Watson visits each church once per month, traveling throughout the Reservation which is about the size of Connecticut. The group visited several churches and met with parishioners from Eagle Butte, the town within the Reservation, as well as those live in isolated rural settings, learning about the mixed history of the Episcopal presence on the Reservation and the deep poverty that makes the Reservation home to the poorest county in the nation. The group asked a steady stream of questions over the many generous meals provided by the people, our favorite being buffalo stew with homemade noodles.
The dedicated parishioners of the Cheyenne River Reservation meet in small churches, often without running water or heat in the winter. Many have found ways of integrating Lakota culture into the Episcopal liturgy, including singing from the Lakota language hymnal and practicing traditional drumming during the service. Deep reverence for the earth and a high regard on familial relationships are two aspects of Lakota tradition that live on in their faith practices. On the reservation prayers are ended with the Lakota phrase “…and all my relations,” in addition to the traditional “Amen,” demonstrating their deep sense of interconnectedness .
The final four days of the trip were spent at Pine Ridge Reservation. There we joined 600 pilgrims from 15 countries as part of an international pilgrimage of trust put on by the Taize brothers of France to inspire reconciliation and trust among people. The gathering was first Taizé pilgrimage on an Indian reservation. The Brothers have planned such pilgrimages on each of the 7 continents .Ties had been established between the Lakota people and French contemplative prayer movement in previous years that led to this North American gathering.
The Pine Ridge has a reputation for being a stark place, and not just because of its stark physical setting but for its history of subjugation and suffering. Yet, the brothers and the South Dakota young adults who envisioned the potential power of such a gathering were drawn by the beauty and strength perceived here. Without ignoring the suffering, Brother Emile said, “we wanted also to be attentive to the beauty that is here,” both in terms of the geography and in people’s hearts. “When we go somewhere we look for signs of hope; not to be blind to the suffering, but to look for signs of hope,” he said (ENS article).
What was found, he said, were “people who have been resilient, who are founded deep in their faith and it makes them stand up on their feet and want to be there for others.”
Anny Stevens-Gleason, one of the Cincinnati young adults who attended, says of her experience of the trip: “I gained so much more than just becoming familiar with the Taizé brothers. Worship was a focal point for those 3 days and each one was different. There was the worship when the moon rose above the badlands, worship when wild horses ran through the dry land and there was worship where everyone was singing and a meadowlark swooped down as if in approval and flew off into the distance.
It is always nice to be in a place with like-minded people. You feel as if you are all working toward a common goal and there is no need to prove anything. That is what this experience was.
It was a pilgrimage of trust. Of reconciliation. Of hope. For all people. Through the songs at Taizé Pine Ridge and the experience and people we met at the Cheyenne River Reservation, I left with a feeling of trust, reconciliation, and hope within myself. But they are not passive feelings, it made me realize we need to faithfully and with persistence pursue each one daily. There were 15 nations present at Pine Ridge, from the Finnish, to Canadians, to a Boston journalist. It was said by a Lakota elder while we were there, that it was wonderful just to know all these people were supporting the Lakota people with their prayers. To remember those that at times have been forgotten and to be remembered, held up, and strengthened through prayer worldwide.
That was the trust that was found, through prayer. A trust, that in the simplest of activities, proclaims that we stand together no matter the distance that separates us.”