Sunday, August 19, 2012

Pawnee Rock

There are places where time is suspended.  Pawnee Rock is one of them.  After four days of driving to continuing education at Larned Hospital, listening to descriptions of violent and assaultive behaviors, learning how to assess them, examining statistical studies of discriminatory factors, treatments, and outcomes, it was time to for me take a different road home.  At first it looked like a mistake, since I spent the first half hour of my alternate route suffering through the road construction zone from hell, but after leaving that I came upon the town of Pawnee Rock.  I had been there with my family as a child, both in the town to buy gas and purchase a bottle of pop (orange or grape were the favorites at that time), and to the landmark to read all the plaques and to climb all over the rock.    The town looks just the same, except that they don't use all the buildings any more.  Many of them are standing empty.  But they have not been torn down or replaced by something else, so you can half-close your eyes and imagine it is 1952 and you are seven years old.  The weather had cooled off a little; it had stayed below 100 all afternoon.  A prairie breeze, fragrant with cedar and sunflower resins, stirred the cottonwood and elm leaves.  A lone mourning dove began its evening cry.  Not a person was in sight.  (The above photo is from the Pawnee Rock website's photo gallery.  The rest are mine.)

The rock itself is about a quarter of a mile north of town.  In its heyday it was a famous landmark on the Santa Fe Trail, marking the halfway point between Independence, Missouri, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Unfortunately it was shortened considerably by people quarrying the
red sandstone to build the Santa Fe Railroad and to construct buildings. I had read that the red building on the left in the (above) picture of the town is constructed of rock cut from Pawnee Rock, but I have since learned from resident, historian, and blogger Leon Unruh (see "Too Long in the Wind" on the Pawnee Rock website) that it is brick.

I do love to read every marker on every state monument.  The name Pawnee Rock is derived from either the fact that the Pawnee used to meet for council on top of the rock, or from the involvement of Kit Carson in a skirmish with the Pawnee.  The site was an excellent place for wagon trains to stop to replenish supplies and and rest the livestock.  Being near the Arkansas River, the area was replete with water, grass, and game.  It also was a favorite place for the Pawnee to attack the wagon trains.  Story has it that Kit Carson was so edgy one night that he shot his own mule, thinking it might be a Pawnee.

It is easy to imagine the infinite expanse of grasses with no trees except those marking the line of the Arkansas.  Wheat fields don't look that different from the rest of the prairie, this time of the year.  Where the highway is, you can visualize the ruts of the wagon wheels.  Sunflowers grew alongside the ruts, where the prairie grasses had been disturbed.  I was pretty sure that if I looked in the eroded areas, I would find some arrowheads.  I didn't see any, but I enjoyed looking.  In that little vacation from time I was seven years old, stopping to rest with the wagon train, eagerly scrambling down the wheel to run and play in the grasses, and to climb the rock.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Retreat in the Drought

The first day of my silent retreat I walked out into the blazing afternoon heat to see the labyrinth.  It was too hot to stay in the sun long enough to properly walk the labyrinth, so I stepped over the paths to enter directly into the center to ask God's will for me during this retreat.  Listening there, I heard, "Rest in me."  I went back to the guest house to rest.  By the time I had reached the shelter of the house I was overheated, so applied a cold, wet washcloth to my forehead, and began to rest.  I slept most of the first two days, going out only early in the mornings to walk the labyrinth and to paint.  You see that the sky and the ground of the flower and herb garden were bleached white by the bright sunlight.

The shadows were so deep that they were darker than the objects projecting the shade.  Here is an ancient and favorite tree casting its shadow by the dry creek.

Following daily morning prayer, Sister Marilyn led a spiritual exercise in which we each reached into a bag of pebbles inscribed with names of gifts of the Holy Spirit.  The first day I drew the gift of "change."  After a day of much sleep, prayer, painting, and healing, the next day I drew "faith."  I have to tell you that it is an amazing experience to walk the labyrinth in faith.  You do not know where it is leading you, but you follow it until you reach the center, the heart of the experience, the heart of yourself and of God, both together, and there you experience whatever God wants you to experience at that time and in that place.  And on the walk back out, you take with you whatever has been given you to know and remember.

The next day I was given the gift of "light."  Rested and renewed, I took a much longer walk that morning, and in the terrible heat and brilliant light I noticed intertwined among the dead grasses one plant that was continuing to thrive:  the buffalo gourd.

 I think that perhaps God is making me like the buffalo gourd.  It is a child of the Western Kansas prairie, sturdy and strong, and able to withstand the drought.  Its roots go deep down to where the water is.  It seems to have leaves of leather, resistant to every kind of attack.  It lifts beautiful golden flowers up toward the blazing light, and produces fruits that offer water and nourishment to sustain the lives of the animals that otherwise would perish in the heat and drought.  I pray this may be so.

Over the next two days I was able to spend time with Sr. Joan admiring and talking over the flowers and herbs in the garden.  Sr. Marilyn helped me open into conscious awareness the symbolism of the buffalo gourd.  Sr. Mary Ellen spoiled me silly with her many quietly loving kindnesses.  Sr. Jane's overflowing abundance of humor and wisdom warmed my heart, and Sr. Terry gave of her time to listen and share her considerable experience concerning some of my questions and difficulties with spiritual growth.

The ministry of the sisters of Heartland Farm gave me the shelter and protection I needed to experience intimate closeness with God in solitary silence as much as I knew how to assimilate, and ample space for my exploration of creative response, but also the freedom to participate in the shared companionship of the community as we each journey in our own way toward the heart of God.