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A NEW SOUL-FRIEND

I’ve found a soul-friend. We haven’t met yet (or even corresponded) but I have been moved, challenged and inspired when reading Kent Nerburn’s books dealing with Lakota life and spirituality and how one white guy struggles to be present with and learn from some wise old Indians!

Authenticity abounds as Kent struggles with his desire to be trustworthy and helpful while recognizing and being pulled by many of the ingrained values of the dominant culture of which he is a part. He is accused of having “a clock in his head” and he is constantly struggling with deep tension between his need to know and their need for silence!

Neither Wolf Nor Dog, The Wolf at Twilight and The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo are all books that shed light on the life and lands of the Lakota. These high plains (and the Black Hills) in the Dakotas is land where our summer cabin is located—the Birds’ Nest is where we have been rooted and grown in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota since 1971—truly “a thin place” that Native Americans have known and honored for hundreds of years.

Reflecting on the differences between the way the white boarding schools taught and the way the Native elders and families taught, Dan (the elder Nerburn is travelling with observes: “Learning’s about watching and thinking and asking and practicing and doing it again and again and again. Everything is here to teach us. Let the little kids learn the world whole, then take it apart and put it into boxes. Don’t make them learn the boxes first, then try to put it all together.” [The Wolf at Twilight, chapter seventeen]. This holistic way of learning makes sense to the educator in me. When we learn to see and to listen—to nature, to people, to all living things—then we will truly learn. After all, Jesus said, “Let anyone with ears to hear, listen!” (Luke 8:8 NRSV).

Those of us who truly want to learn deep truths from Native Peoples, have to be willing to hear hard things. We must listen and absorb without either trying to explain why or how this could have happened or to try to fix it. Unspeakable things were done by governments and by churches—by our government and by our Christian churches. Our task today is to listen empathetically and to learn from these despicable behaviors so that we truly learn from our history and do not repeat it in other places and ways.

Nerburn has other books that resonate with us. Small Graces (2010) and Ordinary Sacred (2012) sound a lot like our books—Syncopated Grace (Upper Room Books, 2002) and Sacramental Living (Upper Room Books, 1999). I am eager to delve into these books of his. LJV August 10, 2014

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