As a young Friend I was profoundly influenced by the spiritual examples of the Quaker community I grew up in, Bear Creek Friends Meeting in the countryside two miles north of Earlham, Iowa. Our meeting was part of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) which had other spiritual teachers.
My first trial of my faith occurred when I struggled with what I would do regarding registering for the Selective Service System, the draft, as was required of all males when they turned 18 years of age. This was in 1969, during the Vietnam War. My questions weren’t about how I felt about war and killing, but how much risk I dared take to oppose war. Young Friends could apply for Conscientious Objector (CO) status, that allowed them to do two years of civilian instead of military service. That usually meant working in a hospital. Many young Friends, including myself, considered this too much cooperation with the military. This is not to judge those who did believe working as a CO was an acceptable way for them to not participate in the military.
Having come to the conclusion, myself, that I didn’t feel right about accepting CO status, the real question was whether I could resist the draft, knowing the consequences would likely be arrest and a felony record. How far was I willing to go to do what my faith was telling me I should do? I came up with all kinds of rationalizations for not resisting the draft.
In the end I was influenced by the example of the nearly twenty Quaker men and their families who resisted conscription and were imprisoned for doing so when the peacetime draft was created in the late 1940’s. Their example clearly showed there were those who felt their lives must reflect their believes no matter the consequences. If not for their example, I’m fairly certain I would have accepted Conscientious Objector status. Instead I decided to resist the draft.
There were a number of other crucial decisions in my life. Each time I tried to do what I thought I was being led to do no matter the consequences. This was how, for example, I came to believe I could not own a car, and lived with out one despite the inconveniences. I thought I was living with some spiritual depth.
But then I began to learn about the spiritual culture of indigenous peoples. Years ago I became convinced that a spiritual approach was the only way to solve our increasing damage to Mother Earth. What little I knew about indigenous people led me to think the answers to healing Mother Earth would be found there. Quakers say our lives should reflect our beliefs. What I saw made me believe indigenous people have always lived according to their beliefs. This was the reason I was clearly led by the Spirit to participate on the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March that I’ve been writing a lot about lately. I hoped that would be a way for me to begin to learn about the spiritual culture of Native Americans. And that experience was indeed a beginning. And I want to learn more.
I was blessed to hear the spiritual teacher Arkan Lushwala speak during a conference call a couple of years ago, and learned a great deal from that call. Now I am reading Deer and Thunder, Indigenous Ways of Restoring the World that he has written.
The following story from his book shows me I have a long way to go to learn and practice this deep spirituality.
“Throughout my life, it has been an honor to watch my elders make medicine in their mouths and feed the world with their tender sacred speech. Following their example, I want to share the words that make waterfalls, lakes and rivers, and offer some medicine to those who are wondering how we will continue living when the Earth that sustains our lives is so damaged. What I share here, far from being my own creation, is ancient memory that belongs to all of us.
One of my dear Elders was a Q’ero man from up in the mountains of the Cusco area named Martin Paucar. Several years ago at a Lakota Sun Dance held in New Mexico, Tayta Martin had come from Peru to participate in the ceremony. To perform the ceremony, we needed four consecutive sunny days and the forecast instead predicted four days of intense rains, so my Tayta Martin accepted the awesome responsibility of moving the clouds for us to be able to dance! He spend every day of the ceremony blowing his pututo, a sort of Andean trumpet made of a conch shell, while keeping his gaze fixed on the sky and praying to the Apukuna, the spirits of the mountains, for the rain to go to another place where it may be more needed during those days. Thanks to his powerful prayer, we had four days of sunshine!
At the end of the ceremony, we were all tired and happily feasting together when Tayta Martin said to us, “That was really hard. So many times it almost rained. I was praying to my mountains in Peru but the clouds kept coming. I realized I had to make friends with the mountains here. I had to explain to them that I am a Pampamisayuq and the people were counting on me. With tender words, I asked them to consider what the people would say if it rained after all I had done. I begged them not to make me look bad!” His levity made us laugh so hard and we were all very grateful to him as well as amazed at his deeply intimate relation to the spirits of Nature.
In speaking about the gifts of my elder, I do not want to impress anyone. My intention is to share the spiritual depths of a culture that creates individuals like my tayta, ones with a real capacity to have an influence on the health of the Earth. I am one of those who believe all of humanity can regain an ancient way of being that allows us to talk to our Mother Earth to resolve dangerous imbalances of the environment under her guidance. The state of humans and the state of the Earth are completely intertwined, and the full recovery of the best of our human nature will be the healing of Nature.” Deer and Thunder; Indigenous Ways of Restoring the World, Arkan Lushwala