Friday, September 28, 2007

Interfaith: Lakota Sweat Lodge

The following log is from 05 April 2004

Just thought I’d share a powerful experience with all of you.

My youngest, Kerri and I participated in a Lakota Sweat Lodge ceremony last week. The University of Saint Francis and the local Jewish Temple had sponsored a Lakota holy man (a pipe holder) to be with us for a week. He led classes and also led students in prayer.

Students assisted in the building of a sweat lodge. According to Jerry (the holy man), his people pray to the Great Spirit in the sky and to Mother Earth. Mother Earth provides all life. He stated that the only time we are pure is when we are born. The sweat lodge is a small, low round hut. It is the womb of Mother Earth. When we complete the ceremony and crawl out of the lodge we are briefly pure again, born again!

The ceremony begins with an alter in front of the lodge. It is a long stick with eagle feathers and beaded material. Beyond the alter is a fire pit. In the fire are a large number of stones (the grand fathers). When the stones glow it is time to begin the ceremony.

Jerry says a prayer to the six directions. He uses the smudge pot to “wash” the alter. A smudge pot is a container with sweet grass (sage, tobacco, grasses and herbs) that is lit, blown out and produces a fragrant smoke. We line up and use our hands to wash (smudge) the smoke over our faces, head and shoulders. It is cleansing and prepares us for the ceremony.

We then get ready to enter the lodge. For the men that means stripping down to our trunks. Jerry has participated in the Lakota Sun Dance (he is also a piercer for the Sun Dance) and Kerri noticed his scars immediately.

The females crawl into the lodge first. There are twelve of us packed in, sitting on the floor with a fire pit in the middle. Jerry says a prayer and the helpers outside gently add half of the grand fathers to the pit. The flap is closed, and it is pitch dark. The stones make the lodge hot and dry.

There are four rounds to the ceremony. The first round we pray to the Great Spirit to join us. A drum is beat, the pipe holder sings in Lakota and prays and water is thrown on the stones. We begin to sweat profusely. There are animal sounds in the lodge. Within minutes my face, chest and stomach is a river.

Between each round there is a brief respite for those who need to go out to the cool air. The second round we pray that the grand fathers were join us and answer our prayers. The heat is almost unbearable.

The third round we each say our prayer. As we pray the holy man prays, chants and sings in Lakota. The drum is continuous. More and more water is thrown unto the stones. The temperature spikes to 400 degrees. While this is a time that some have visions I am far more concerned about not throwing up. At the end of this round I finally take a break outside. I can hardly walk.

Our last round is a prayer of thanks giving in which we thank the grand fathers and the Great Spirit for having heard our prayers. The remainder of the stones were added. The temperature spikes to its highest degree as we all slowly crawl out of the lodge.

The ceremony is followed by hugging, tearing down the lodge and Tee Pees and processing the ceremony. The previous night the guests were Jews. Half way through the ceremony they began singing in Hebrew. Jerry said that Hebrew and Lakota together was powerful in its inclusiveness.

Kerri and I spent the evening talking about our experiences, what we survived, what we felt and how we will make sense of the experience.

Jerry’s teaching often complimented Franciscan values. For the Lakota anything that bleeds red is a brother or sister. Faith is lived all day and is a way of life, not a religion. Many other ceremonies contrasted sharply with Franciscan teachings. I loved learning from Jerry and I loved this week. I especially loved sharing it with my daughter.

I plan on going to a conference this fall in South Dakota. I will be at the Disaster Mental Health Institute conference. I plan on meeting up with Jerry at that time.



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