The Clear Stream of Reverence

By Katherine Murray
1895 Chickasha, OK

When I was a little girl, I often sat beside my Great-Grandma Roos and listened to her stories of
living in Chickasha, Oklahoma just before and after the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1893. This was Indian territory, and all those in and around the small settlement coexisted peaceably. She described watching the tribal leaders coming into town for “great pow-wows,” sitting close enough to the dignified procession that she could feel the puff of the air stirred up by the wagons rolling by.

She described with awe the majesty of the chiefs and the great sense of peace they embodied. As an animal lover herself, she cherished their reverent approach to everything living. She told me she felt the same way about animals and loved them all her life. As a child in Chickasha she had befriended a squirrel who would meet her on the way home from school each day, jump onto her shoulder, and scramble down to her pocket to get the bit of lunch she always saved for him.

Today, the headlines on social media tell the compelling and heartbreaking stories related to what’s unfolding at Standing Rock in North Dakota. Native Americans from a number of tribes and people of all ethnicities—as well as professional organizers, including the group from Black Lives Matter in Minnesota—have gathered peaceably at the site, trying to block construction on the Dakota Access pipeline that cuts through native lands. The pipeline runs the risk of damaging the reservation’s primary water source, but that is just one part of the larger issue. Not only does the river need to run clear, as the action points out; but people need to rediscover their source of reverence and seek a balance of right relationship with the earth.The tribes are calling for a spiritual deepening and an awareness of the current imbalance of justice; the action spotlights violations of early treaties and resource exploitation that has spanned many decades.

Quakers are participating in the peaceable protest at many levels, in terms of nonviolent protest training, daily support, prayerful consideration, or leading efforts in local meetings to raise awareness of the issue and contact elected officials with minutes of concern. This issue of BeFriending Creation is one of QEW’s responses in support of the effort toward right relationship that is unfolding at Standing Rock. In the coming weeks, several QEW members will also travel to Standing Rock, carrying a minute of support.

Quakers have a long history of advocating for justice among Native American issues. At the heart, I think of the kinship of spirit John Woolman related in his Journal, when the presence of divine love made it unnecessary for interpreters to translate his words for the tribal leader:

“On the evening of the 18th I was at their meeting, where pure gospel love was felt, to the tendering of some of our hearts. The interpreters endeavored to acquaint the people with what I said, in short sentences, but found some difficulty, as none of them were quite perfect in the English and Delaware tongues, so they helped one another, and we labored along, Divine love attending.
Afterwards, feeling my mind covered with the spirit of prayer, I told the interpreters that I found it in my heart to pray to God, and believed, if I prayed aright, he would hear me; and I expressed my willingness for them to omit interpreting; so our meeting ended with a degree of Divine love. Before the people went out, I observed Papunehang … speaking to one of the interpreters, and I was afterwards told that he said in substance as follows: “I love to feel where words come from.” (Woolman, 1883)

Seeking the clarity of right order and standing with those who suffer oppression and injustice is a common leading among Friends. We resonate with the call for dignity and reverence of those at Standing Rock, and we share a deep concern that the continuing objectification and exploitation of our living planet be stopped.

As I pray for God’s light for all involved at Standing Rock, I feel the presence of my own ancestors—especially my Great-Grandma Roos—helping to hold the space for justice to arise. I’m also aware of the future impression of my descendants seven generations from now, when I deeply hope our beloved planet and all life she supports will be treated with the dignity and reverence they so greatly deserve.