2012: A Movie, a Miracle, and Me—Part 2
by Pamela Anne Bro, PhD
Journal entry, March 1995. Ten students prepare to enter sweat lodge on the Rose Bud Reservation in SD after a day of schism, where Catholic students forbid me to celebrate Communion in worship because, as a Protestant minister, I was "unworthy."
It is snowing lightly, frigid below-zero cold, frozen ground and black velvet sky with a crescent moon. The fire crackles warmly outside the three-foot-high tent-like structure, sending tiny sparks into the frosty air. Preparing for the ritual, I remove my wedding ring and even my contacts. After gathering self-consciously around the blazing fire heating the large rocks, we peel off our clothes down to T-shirts. I am dying to my old self, ganz nakt—completely naked—down to my soul.
Humbly crawling into the lodge on all fours, close to Mother Earth, I utter reverently the ancient words, "Mitakuye oyasin, "All my relations," which includes all beings: the winged ones, the four-leggeds, and so on.
Inside the pitch-black dome, steam rises as the Holy Woman pours water upon the sizzling rocks. We huddle together as Lakota women have done for hundreds of years in exactly the same way, chanting similar songs.
"Focus, pray, offer thanks to the four Grandfathers, Tunkashila," urges the Holy Woman. "They will come and heed our uplifted voices." Beads of sweat trickle down my body as I listen in wonder to one student praying the Lord's Prayer in Swedish, the tongue of my ancestors, in this timeless place.
At one point, the heat gets so intense that I don't think I can stand it. I fight the urge to burst right through the tent flap to gasp for air. My heart begins to pound wildly in my chest. As my anxiety rises, I remember a Buddhist practice I had recently learned. Instead of resisting the heat, I order myself to "eat" the heat. Ever so slowly, I breathe in the steam with its pungent fragrance of sweet grass and sage. The Holy Woman's voice is so soothing that I begin to believe I can survive the ordeal. I need the purification so desperately.
"Create in me a clean heart, O God," I silently plead.
Then a miracle happens! The Holy Woman brings out her sacred pipe and shares it with us in the holiest of Lakota rituals. As she affirms, "We are all women, somehow bonded together beyond our differences," I silently cry, "Grace from on high—pouring down on me the very day when a Catholic woman refuses to share Eucharist—a Christian's most holy ritual—with me."
We can't keep the pipe lit, there is so much steam. We laugh and cry, passing it around, relighting it, holding the female bowl in the left hand and the male stem in the right. When it is my turn, I draw in a gulp of husky smoke. The ancient ritual is over all too quickly.
My first Sweat Lodge—I endured! Radiant, glowing within and without, I crawl out on all fours, sweaty, wet and pink-skinned, again praying, "Mitakuye oyasin." I feel like a babe newborn.
Drawing in drafts of frosty air and blinking up in amazement at the crystalline stars, I murmur:
Thank you, Sacred Pipe, gift of White Buffalo Calf Woman! Truly, Lakota women inviting us Christian women into their sweat lodge to pray is like Jews inviting Nazis into their Temple's "Holy of Holies." The lodge's womb enclosed us all—Lakota and Christian—and, for one shining moment, we were one again with each other. True sisters.
Fast forward 16 years (today)
I sit in a sweat lodge with three Marten brothers, filmmakers of White Buffalo. We sweat under the guidance of Lakota One Heart, a bold yet gentle and wise Holy Woman.
During the first round of steaming rocks in inky blackness, I find my heart racing in rising panic. "Not again!" I moan. "Haven't I grown at all?" I resolve to focus in trust on my breaths. Lakota's words cradle me, and my sweat-mates' heart-felt petitions to the Creator comfort me. I make it through all four rounds! Aho! It is good!
Lakota speaks such deep yet simple truths. "Heal your hearts." "Finish saying goodbye to anyone you love who has died." "Treat the earth with respect. How crazy is it for human beings to be cutting down forests! We breathe out CO2 and they breathe out the oxygen we need to survive. They're not just our brothers. They're our lungs." I still have so much to learn!
*In my next blog, I will report on the shocking news from Sun Bear, channeled through my sister, Greta, about the scope of the White Buffalo film project. Stay tuned!
Pamela Anne Bro, PhD, is spiritual counselor for the A.R.E. Health Center & Day Spa, founder and pastor of Living Waters, (livingwaterssanctuary.org), author of WomanQuest: A Trail Guide to Life (womanquest.org) and anthropology consultant and "gopher" for film crew, WhiteBuffalomovie.com and facebook.com/whitebuffalomovie.