Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Pathways to Nonviolence (Louisville KY)

Downtown Louisville
At tonight's Interfaith Prayer Service, opening the 2016 "Festival of Faiths," Matthew Black Eagle Man spoke of the pain that comes from keeping watch through history, paying attention to loss.  A Dakota from the Long Plain First Nation near what is now Manitoba, he described his pain, and his people's, and noted that spiritual life requires intention and discipline.  He told us about the phrase his people use when it's time to get serious about prayer, spirit and focus.  Some would translate these words: "Let us pray together."  But Matthew Black Eagle Man insisted a better translation is: "Let us cry together."  

The focus of this year's "Festival of Faiths" is Sacred Wisdom: Pathways to Nonviolence.  Arriving in Louisville this morning, I discovered that the Festival will share Louisville this week--with the National Rifle Association (NRA) which gathers for its 2016 national conference/gun show almost literally across the street.  As if we needed the choice to be drawn so clearly.  

Matthew Black Eagle Man
Stirring as this juxtaposition is, Matthew Black Eagle Man's words--the heartfelt words of a disciplined man, a wounded man--struck the one necessary chord for the week.  To walk the spiritual path, he said, requires a very particular orientation.  A very particular kind of soul.  "I would rather hurt and cry than be angry and strike out," he said.  And with this, he sang a prayer, a prayer his people have sung (I imagine) since long before my people occupied and settled and drove them from their lands.

Watching this man's grace, in a huge cathedral, and watching the feathers bounce a bit in his headdress...and I'm sadly but powerfully moved. And that's a good thing.  Somehow, this evening, I'm encumbered by this man's prayer, by his dignity, by his pain.  "Let us cry together."  The purpose of his being here is not to absolve me (or my country or our history) of colonization and genocide.  Instead, his purpose has something to do with grief and attention, redemption and justice.  It has to.  He's reaching deep into the Spirit world to find ancient wisdom with the power to imagine a new future.  Not erasing the past, but transfiguring the future.  "I would rather hurt and cry," he says again (do you hear him too?), "than be angry and strike out."  I hear this as an invitation to solidarity, a plea for collaboration, an offering of friendship.  The gift of redemption is not free.  Not in this case.  There is work to be done, atonement to make.

Gardening Tool made from Weapons
Just outside the Cathedral of the Assumption, where the Prayer Service was to begin, a young man from Colorado set up his tent and literally beat weapons into gardening tools.  His ministry's called "Raw Tools" and he laid out several shot guns and used a traveling forge to begin.  His work is physically demanding, slow and deliberate.  And it strikes me that it's much like the work Matthew Black Eagle Man imagines: beating swords into ploughshares together, converting economies into human partnerships, and doing justice in daily, hourly, collaborative work.

It probably goes without saying that what the young man's doing here, with his forge, is the truly fearless, truly prophetic thing.  He's bearing witness, almost literally in the shadow of the NRA, to what freedom means and what it looks like.  And there's a kind of holy power in that.  Truth!  Living Word!  Ahimsa!