A Song in the Air: Grown-Up Christmas List

Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the gentle night to you.
Deep peace of Christ, the Light of the World to you.

I thought it fitting that on this Advent Sunday of Peace, that I share these words at the beginning rather than at the end. This famous blessing is probably familiar to many of us, since it is our own John Walsh who have blessed us with this peace over many years at the University of Redlands Feast of Lights. Even last night in the glow of the candlelight, as he read these words I imagined what was happening in Standing Rock. The heavy snow that covered the encampment, the howling wind that plummeted temperatures to subzero conditions, and the thousands of people who are there now. It was there in Standing Rock amidst the unease of hovering law enforcement, during the uncertainty of my safety, in that precarious way that life often finds you in the most unexpected place, it was there that I experienced deep peace. It was there at Standing Rock that I witnessed deep peace between thousands of natives and allies, and last night’s Feast as we sang the final Silent Night it was there at Standing Rock that my heart longed to be.

(Journey to North Dakota)

I can’t believe it was just two weeks ago when I had filled up my car with supplies of firewood, canned foods, winter clothing along with your generous donations and prayers, and headed up to North Dakota. When I has returned this last week, my odometer read that I had travelled 3,213 miles, but my recent life experiences told me that I’ve come much further. It took me 23 hours to drive there only stopping for gas and two other strangers, who has signed up on the rideshare program that they had. There were accidents on the road in Wyoming due to cars slipping on the ice, and the occasional deer or rabbit that often lingered into the middle of the highway. But we arrived safely at the Oceti Sakowin camp in the early morning and after a very thorough security check, was allowed in. I attended Morning Prayer at the river and then started my orientation process with one of the representatives from the Lakota tribe. I chopped wood, helped with food preparation, served meals, washed dishes, and picked up trash. I even participated in a direct action non-violent protest on Thanksgiving Day. I was amazed by how everything was so well organized. Everyone seemed to have a job, everyone pitched in, and every one contributed. At night we would gather for dance and song by the Sacred Fire and give thanks for another day, and every morning at sunrise we would gather for prayer before we started our day. We would meet daily for general updates, and attend our assigned training sessions. And every day some would leave as others would show up to take their place.

In the scripture lesson, Isaiah paints a picture of a remarkable Utopia and reminds us that God will bless the nation’s leadership, and by extension the nation as a whole, with wisdom, discernment, courage, and righteousness (11:2-3). This promised righteous king will look first to justice for the poor and equity for those who are without power (11:4). And the whole world will be at peace, even the animals, and the weakest in the community. The child will be able to play with the most powerful of animals without fear of being hurt (11:6-8). And there will no longer be violent oppression throughout the earth (11:9-10).

What would this Utopia look like today? What would a righteous social system provide for the most disadvantaged members of our society? What would be required of us to achieve true peace? Perhaps not simply the cessation of hatred and violence that keeps all other things the same, but some radical transformation of our world into a model of shalom, into that wholeness exemplified by God? And what roles do the animals, the mountains, the skies, the rivers play in this picture of a perfect world? These Utopian ideals starkly contrast the political realities of our time. Imagine a world that resonates with the call for justice, righteousness and peace that we find this morning in the words of Isaiah.

I witnessed a glimmer of this possibility in North Dakota. It was there that I met Jerome who came all the way from Lyon, France by basically selling all his possessions except for what he could carry in his backpack, and followed his heart to Standing Rock. I met a group of Palestinian women who had travelled all the way from Palestine. Now imagine the juxtaposition of women walking around a Native American encampment wearing hijabs. I became friends with two young Navajo boys Tasi and Cody from Arizona, their father Joe who was from Samoa, and their family who had travelled all the way from New Zealand. I met Deny and Jonathan, two young brothers from Florida who decided this past summer that they would heed the call for help, and so two months ago with the assistance of their friends and family, travelled to Standing Rock. I saw a Black Lives Matter delegation, a group of Sikhs, a family that had just arrived from Pakistan; I met natives from so many tribes and listened to so many amazing stories of their journey there. My neighbor who was in the tent next to mine told me his parents were both survivors of the horrors in Auschwitz, and if they were alive today, they would be there at Standing Rock, and so in honor of his parents, he left his home in Santa Fe to lend what help he could. Another man, Chris Turley, a decorated veteran of Afghanistan and a Purple Heart recipient, in show of support and raising awareness for this cause, decided to walk from his home in Oklahoma to the Sacred Stone Camp, and though he had arrived to camp just shortly after I had left, I was hoping to see him on the road to give him a ride. There were other equally inspiring stories of people paddling in from great distances like Alaska, and last week I watched a video of natives from Washington State who in the midst of winter snow and icy waters, arrived to camp by canoe. Yes, it was at Standing Rock that my spirit was lifted and it was there that in the midst of struggle for their land and way of life, that I witnessed deep peace.

In one of my Direct Action training sessions, I was told that the enemy was not those standing on the burial grounds in military gear, who watched us 24 hours a day, who had planes and helicopters flying overhead continuously. The enemy was not those who were part of the construction efforts that we could hear working around the clock just across the water. Those were normal people who were working for their own livelihoods, people who had families they cared for. And so the real enemy was a greater foe, one more sinister. The real enemy was much more menacing than rubber bullets and tear gas, and yes I did find out that I may be allergic to tear gas as both my eyes swelled up so tight that I could barely see through them. And so the purpose of our physical non-violent protests was to bring awareness to the injustice of Oceti Sakowin, of the Lakota people. In these sessions, I was taught the land in dispute, the land where their ancestors had been buried for hundreds of years, the land where I had lived on for a week, was their land as agreed upon by treaty, whose laws had been broken many times before when the government wanted to run the railroad through their lands, or when they found gold in and other precious materials. I was taught that there were certain stipulations in the treaty, like being able to keep the land until the bison were gone, but we all know that the near extinction of the buffalo was not due to the natives of this land. So in truth, the battle to come would happen in court, but the hope that if we as a country came together, and said, “Enough is enough!”, then perhaps we can achieve peace. A marginalized community spoke out in its own self-defense, and instead of being ignored, many of us heard the call. And the chorus of supporters demanding justice isn’t fading; it’s actually getting louder!

This morning, Standing Rock faces real crises which call for tough decisions.

Today it’s been reported that 2000 Veterans will have arrived by this weekend’s end in support of the protests, to be a human shield to the non-violent peaceful protestors who have been shot by rubber bullets, maced, and shot with water cannons in freezing temperatures. There is also another group of over 2000 members of interfaith religious groups who had gathered at the Oceti Sakowin Camp this morning to participate in a sunrise ceremony and Interfaith Day of Prayer. This day of prayer is specifically focused on our common concern for the environment and protecting our precious planet and water, which is one of the issues that binds together the world’s spiritual traditions.

“The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat;

These are three unlikely pairings:  The wolf and a young sheep; the leopard and a young goat; the lion and a young calf.  In our experience, a wolf that lies down with a lamb usually has the lamb inside the wolf rather than beside it.  But Isaiah pictures a peaceful nation where predators will cease their predation and their prey will lose their fear. I can tell you the people of Standing Rock have lost their fear. On the morning that I left camp, we heard the eviction notice from the Governor of North Dakota to vacate by Dec. 5th (that’s within the next 12 hours) or be removed by force. I can tell you everyone I knew was not moving anywhere. People have already lost their fear as thousands from the world over have joined them today as we do in the spirit of solidarity, justice and peace.  

Friday night I was reminded of the biting cold wind when I was at Standing Rock. I’ve never in my life experienced that type of cold. These past couple days we’ve had some pretty strong gusts, blowing over trees and branches, and pretty much making an inconvenience to many of us. Very similar to the types of non-violent protests seen across the country. The good news is that God’s wind is blowing. It may be a breeze that cools and comforts. It may be a gust that summons you to notice. It may be a freezing storm that blows you where you have never been before. Whatever the wind is in your life, this Christmas pay attention to it, and the blessing of God, will abide with you always. This Advent we stand with Standing Rock, and look to the world that Isaiah once foretold. A world where, “no more lives (are) torn apart, and where wars would never start, and time would heal all hearts. And every one would have a friend, and right would always win, and love would never end”.