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Midweek Musings: Sitting Shiva in Pine Ridge

June 22, 2022

By Derek Handley

Midweek Musings is a weekly Covenant blog with a variety of authors and a variety of topics.

In the Jewish tradition after a member of the community is buried, there is a period of time (usually 7 days) referred to as "Shiva". The community comes to "sit shiva" with the family of the deceased to comfort, pray, feed, and just simply to BE WITH their brothers and sisters in a hard time. It is such a beautiful practice that I admire about Judaism.

About 9 years ago, I had one of the most amazing experiences in the Pine Ridge Reservation which I can only describe as a long overdue "sitting shiva".

Pine Ridge is home to the Lakota people and borders the beautiful Badlands National Park, which my partner Natalie and I got to visit as well.

OK, so what brought us out to Pine Ridge?

The Taize community, located in the French countryside near Lyon, is primarily a community of hundreds of "brothers" of all different faith backgrounds (mostly Christian). They offer refuge and respite to young people who seek it, and have daily prayer, with chant-like music. If that word "Taize" looked familiar, it's probably because you've sung one of their songs in worship before. (I had the great fortune of visiting Taize with my partner as well, but that's a different blog)

Taize holds pilgrimages around the world, intentionally picking places that have deep wounds, as was the case with the Pine Ridge Reservation and the Lakota people.

So, here we were in Red Shirt, South Dakota. Over 500 people from all corners of the world (including natives of all 7 reservations in the state) met on the land of Christ Episcopal Church where they allowed everyone to pitch a tent.

Collectively, all of us "outsiders" did our best to be respectful guests at the same time as prepare meals and be hosts as much as we could. The 4 Taize brothers and musicians led daily prayer services, representative of their usual routine back home in Taize.

We learned about wounds that ran as deep as the canyons we looked out over:

A group of us, accompanied by local Native Americans, visited the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre (which was close by). Everyone was reminded of the horrific nature of that day in 1890. Time was spent in long silence, and in prayer. Tears flowed. Amends were made.

We sat shiva.

We learned about wounds that are still being made:

In the 1940s, the U.S. Air Force unjustly claimed possession of over 350,000 acres of their land, using it as a bombing range until 1968, relocating hundreds of families.

The Pine Ridge Reservation unemployment rate is one of the highest in the nation, nearing 90% as of recent. Consequently, suicide is tragically high.

We sat shiva.

We sat shiva, but what made it even more powerful was this:

Most of us there were of white and American descent. We are inherently responsible for the deaths of their ancestors and their current predicament, and yet... they welcomed us onto their land, extending trust that had been betrayed so so so many times before.

Welcoming us is one thing, but one of the members of the Two Bulls family, a prominent family in the Lakota community, sincerely and tearfully thanked us for being there. This teetered the scale of reciprocity in a direction I was not expecting.

While I don't think there were any "goals" of this pilgrimage, it definitely succeeded in this: establishing a relationship of trust and solidarity, while fostering a deeply-needed reconciliation.

Thank YOU for humoring me if you've read this far.

This week's blog took a more somber tone than usual, but I appreciate you revisiting this journey with me.

If you'd like to read more about this amazing pilgrimage, click HERE.



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