By Debi Flory
I come from pioneer stock. I know that the pioneer spirit of my 3 times great grandfather, his wife, and his brother runs deeply in me. As an adult, I learned of their wagon train stories starting in Kentucky to their settlement in Oregon, and those stories seemed to spark a note familiar to me. I felt affirmed and uplifted as I compared my life stories to theirs.
I've always had a sense of justice, compassion for those who have less and most importantly, understanding of worth for those deemed unworthy of the same God-given life we were all born into. I believe my strong sense of justice and compassion for those who struggle came from my ancestors.
My pioneer ancestors were compassionate people who, all along the trail, camped outside the wagon train and took opportunities to befriend the Native Americans when they could.
At the Sierra Nevada destination, they had a choice to go west over the Sierras or head north to a settlement at Fort Whitman in the Northwest Territory. They chose the northern route and arrived safely in Washington. The party going west over the Sierra's later became known as the Donner Party.
They, as always, chose not to settle inside Fort Whitman but rather chose to befriend the local natives, one of them, the Cayuse. They learned each other’s language, they taught each other their ways of hunting, fishing, baking, surviving. They'd learned the languages of the natives to get along and to appreciate the wisdom and respect they had for the natural resources they were blessed with. The language they learned went far beyond the words they spoke. My ancestors had an instinctive way of understanding that people live in different languages.
Acts 2 The Message
A Sound Like a Strong Wind
2 1-4 When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in several different languages as the Spirit prompted them.
This scripture has been a solid foundation for my ministry as I constantly discern what the call means for me in the moment.
My original understanding of my call to the ministry of Wholeness and Healing was so limited and literal, that I bounced around for a few years trying to fit into a niche. I received training in Spiritual Direction and continued my ministry in music and Worship Design but did not understand that the integration of my gifts was substantial to my overall ministry. All my gifts were crucial to speaking a language that others could understand.
I was a visual learner and often became lost when all that was offered were lectures, a textbook, and a test. I changed colleges because of that and later in life realized that others, like me, have difficulty sitting through a worship service if all that is offered is a sermon and reading of the scripture. It is a different language for me.
Now, in my practice, I feel so comfortable and productive when others, like me, need some form of visual, interactive prayer practice, or some form of the arts to experience God in worship.
My ancestors knew this. Every human being is worthy of love, and honoring them and their ways may bring us closer to the truth if we understand the language.
When Christianity took hold in our world, many pagan rituals, symbols, and practices were incorporated into the teachings of Christ. Why? It was a language and expression they could translate. Those rituals, in themselves, were not an issue unless they became the focus of our worship and not a tool for worship. When things like candles and music, bells and shouts of Amen or pictures/icons or crosses are used as visuals to enhance worship, then those of us who need interactive prayer and worship visuals are speaking and hearing a language we understand. When we offer these examples, we speak back to those who learn in a different language.
Some feel uncomfortable with the music, or dancing in church, or smudging, or incense, or statues. The very same people may love stained glass windows. Those windows are no different than the chants of Taizé´ in a candle-lit chapel, or a hand-painted banner hanging next to the cross.
I live on the Oregon Coast close to the end of the Oregon Trail. The history of the Native Americans and the settlers here is much the same as in the rest of the nation. What I know is that my ancestors knew enough to camp outside Fort Whitman. They camped on land they knew was not their own, and befriended the local natives, honoring their way of life, their “language.” Where did that sense of justice and honor come from? And, with the same sense of honor and justice, their new friends, the Cayuse, encouraged my grandparents to pack up and head south. They informed my family that the Fort would be attacked the next week. The Whitman Massacre was devastating to the white settler and to their particular way of converting the “Indians” to Christianity. I think that my ancestors deeply discerned spirit and recognized the activity of Holy Spirit in their new friends and engaged with them with that knowledge. You see, the act of converting others is something we do in humility. I am a firm believer in Prevenient Grace, a grace that precedes the human decision, the fact that God is present and wooing us into a love relationship by showing and teaching love in us before we even know what that means. I am convinced that when we see the awakening of spirit in others, we are also forever changed. I believe that it was this understanding and discernment that was the inspiration for my family’s kindness and concern as well as the importance of treating others as they wanted to be treated. I rejoice in their wisdom and know that my ancestors live in me with the same spirit of justice for others. There has always been a deep drive in me to love others with compassion and a love that only God can provide.
My pioneer spirit, partnered with my understanding of the Pentecost story, has been my inspiration for teaching and listening and providing visuals and music in my ministry. I lead retreats and workshops using different forms of the arts to help bring God’s message to those seeking Him. It is my language. It is my gift, bestowed upon me from God, and I am empowered daily by the Holy Spirit to communicate in ways many don’t understand. But those that do, may just become richer in love, deeper in faith and closer to God because they hear God in the language to which they were born.
Perhaps my ancestral history is why I so often refer to the wisdom of the native American animal totem. I smudge my home with beckoning calls to the Holy Spirit to be in this place, to heal me and bring me closer to God. It is with great honor that I listen to the prayers spoken to God when a drumming circle is drumming their prayers. God hears our language. We must never assume that those of us who pray in diverse ways are any less Christian or God-fearing than the other. Listen and pray to God in your language and then sit and wait for your answer. Listen for the still, small voice of God who yearns to fill your heart with love and encourages you to use the gifts you have received.