This past Saturday, my family and I went to a Pow Wow. It was the Paw Paw Moon Native American Gathering at the George Rogers Clark Park near Springfield, Ohio. I had hoped to go to a Pow Wow near Toledo and make a weekend out of it; but, as I had gotten on Ministry & Counsel’s agenda to share about the leading on Sunday, I decided it would be best to go to this one that was closer to home.
Soon after getting to the Pow Wow, I realized that I was in trouble. It was noon, the sun was bright, and I had no protection. I had my hat but I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and didn’t have any sunscreen or a long-sleeved shirt. As my skin burns very easily, I felt I needed to find a place to sit in the shade.
There was one place around the circle that was in the shade. A couple of people were already there. I went over to feel things out. As I was standing there trying to get brave enough to stake a claim, a man who was sitting there in a chair called me over. He told me his name and asked me for mine. He told me his name in an American Indian language. Then he told me what it meant in English and asked me if I could say it back to him in the American Indian language. I told him that I don’t hear accents well and that I would need him to repeat it a couple of times for me. He obliged.
Then we talked more about names, language and ethnicity. He told me how he’d grown up in poverty and how his service in the army had gotten him out of that cycle and led to his current work. He also told me how his ethnicity was not recognized by the people around him in the army and how it had led him to be discriminated against by both whites and blacks. In fact, he taught me a racial epithet used for whites that I had not heard before. Then he told me about his mom and how much she had meant to him. I felt he was telling me in her and God’s presence what he had wanted to tell her while she was alive but never had.
Then he said he had to go change into his uniform as he was the head warrior, the head veteran, at the gathering. Before he went, I told him about the leading, why I was there. He took in what I said openly. Surprisingly, he also noted my height (I’m almost 5′ 8″), so we talked a bit about that too. As he was leaving, he said we would talk again later.
I went and found my family. After finding them, we talked about where we would sit. I saw that another couple had moved into the shady area by then. I tried to feel okay about sitting in the sun, but I couldn’t. I went with my sons back to the shady area. The woman who had been there, who had been sitting beside the man I’d talked to, said it would be okay if we would sit by them. She and her husband even opened up their blanket so we could sit on it. I took the offer, but I felt guilty about getting one of the best seats in the house. When I mentioned my feelings, the woman helped me feel better.
Then the man I’d spoken with came up to us. After clearing it with David, he offered me a gift, a wood carving and a picture of the wood carving. It was a Tlingit wood sculpture of “human essence of the fish.” While I had already felt blessed by my conversation with this man, I now felt a bit stunned. I knew that gift giving was an important part of Native American culture. I told him that I didn’t have a gift to give him. He assured me that it was okay by saying that my listening had been a gift to him and that this was his way of thanking me. I accepted the gift with deep gratitude, as it confirmed to me that I was on the right track by coming there.
My family and I spent the rest of the afternoon watching the Grand Entry, participating in a couple of the dances, relaxing on the blanket, talking with the people who where there, and buying a couple of souvenirs.
When it was about time to go, the man who I’d spoken with came up to us again. He shared more about his situation with me. He said had been kind of depressed by some events in recent days and that I’d helped him feel better. He relayed that had talked with an elder about what had led to his feeling down and said that the elder had told him that a man who looked at him right in the eye and was wearing a funny hat would lift his spirits. He told me that while I was not male that otherwise I’d fit the elder’s description. (He and I are of similar height, so when I talked to him I looked directly into his eyes. I was wearing my gardening hat.)
We exchanged contact information. When I realized that he was not from Ohio, I said that I would like to share my contact information with other people there so I might have the opportunity to talk with more Native American people from the area. After looking around, he said that none of the elders were currently available, so I gave him my information to leave with them. My family and I left to return home.
How I had been led to listen to this particular Native American man and the gift that I received from him in return seem to me an outward sign of an inward reality. They served as material reminders that the leading was real and that I was on the right track. In fact, the exchange seemed especially timely as I was to talk with our Ministry & Counsel committee the next day about getting support for the leading. I believed that by telling them the story and showing them the gift that they could also participate in the confirmation of the leading and my call to ministry.
While my childhood denomination did not celebrate confirmation, that sacrament came to mind as I was titling this post. The Wikipedia page on confirmation includes the following quote. It is from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
“Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God’s presence. Guard what you have received. God the Father has marked you with his sign; Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed his pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts.”