Of all the elections I have studied and lived through I think this election brought home to me the great divide between the east and west coasts and “inland America” as Whitman describes it. From the east slopes of the Rockies to the Mississippi River and from Canada to Mexico is the heartland of America. Some have called it ‘the buffalo commons’. Those from the bigger cities say it is ‘empty’ and ‘barren’ and yet, those of us who live here and love this land, the great open spaces, the blue bowl of sky that covers us, would say it is anything but empty. The explorers and settlers who came here first, felt the ‘spirit’ of this place. It very quickly shaped their character -- who they were and what they would become. The ‘spirit’ was a sense of real freedom -- of body and mind. My mother, born and raised on the South Dakota prairies, told me how as a young girl she rode her horse across the land and said, “This is the life for me.” To live ‘inland’ is to experience a sense of being ‘scrubbed clean’, allowing you to see bedrock truth beneath the shifting sand. When you can see for miles with nothing to hinder the view then you know you have found a place which can house our souls, but is ours only briefly.
To live in this atmosphere does tend to shape the way you look at the land and its relationships with us. In attempting to sculpt the characters in my book, The Breaks, I quoted from Belden C. Lane’s Landscapes of the soul: “The quest goes on for a centered place, a place of empowerment and community where even today, one might discern in ordinary landscape that ‘Camouflage of the sacred.” (p. 226) Lane breaks out the relationship we seek from creation and which the prairie can give -- a centered place, a place of empowerment and community, a place that is sacred.
Reading Whitman’s poem we sense his belief the prairie gives birth to an individual who looks ‘carelessly in the faces of Presidents and Governors’. He says they hold an ‘earth-born passion, simple, never-constrain’d, never obedient. The “sea of grass” comes to identify a different breed of human: those who lead, not follow.
And Whitman’s name for this region is ‘inland America’ where our sense of history, our culture is different from the cities. We prefer less of frills and fancy and more of a lean, stripped down existence. We want honesty in our dealings and a day-to-day sense of reliance mostly on ourselves, but also knowing we can depend on our neighbors to help.
Perhaps we do eye with caution those who look us over with a flick of the eye, as if we lack any importance in the great scheme of things. These are the folks who have not studied their history nor have they driven the twisting two lane highways through the small towns that are off the road from the busy interstate system. We are not so easily dismissed. We are not part of a faceless blur of people. We know who we are and find our identity in the land around us. And we ask the question of Presidents and Governors: Who are you?
The Prairie-Grass Dividing by Walt Whitman THE prairie-grass dividing—its special odor breathing, I demand of it the spiritual corresponding, Demand the most copious and close companionship of men,
Demand the blades to rise of words, acts, beings, Those of the open atmosphere, coarse, sunlit, fresh, nutritious,
Those that go their own gait, erect, stepping with freedom and command—leading, not following,
Those with a never-quell’d audacity—those with sweet and lusty flesh, clear of taint,
Those that look carelessly in the faces of Presidents and Governors, as to say, Who are you?
Those of earth-born passion, simple, never-constrain’d, never obedient,
Those of inland America.
For the New Year. From Joan Chittister's book
The Gift of Years p. 121
I encourage you to purchase a copy of this book. I have gone through it several times and always find something new.
Time is a wondrous thing, if only I fill it well. If I do not allow the passing of time to diminish my spirit but, instead, see it as a call to live life to the dregs--being my best and developing and life-loving self to the end. Then time is my friend, not my enemy. It gives me a heightened sense of life. It urges me on to discover it all. It marks the fullness of life, its mellowing, and it releases in me the self that has been coming into existence from the beginning. It is a new kind of life.
Now, too, I have the quiet time, the solitary time, to think it all through--everywhere I've been, everyone I've known, everything I've done in life with all the glories and all the sad mistakes, all the successes and all the personal failures-and to be glad for all of it. There is not one of them that did not teach me something about life. There is not one of them that did not make me stronger. And they are all me. They are everything I bring to this time now--when the only question yet to answer in life is what I have become.
Dear Friends and family, We are sitting in a pocket of real winter today —37 with wind chill, but the sky is blue and the sun is shining. Not sure what is happening east of us but I heard some bad things in the Eastern United States. People always say we have such terrible weather out here on the plains but I don’t think it is anything like those states around the Great Lakes and the East Coast. I suppose it is all in what you get used to.
I came down a day earlier than normal this trip because of predictions. I even went out and bought a new pair of long underwear. Actually I have been putting them on every morning. When I got to Baker I realized I had not brought my snow boots — that was intelligent. So I went downtown to the local clothing store and bought a new pair. Not cheap! But I think I like them better than the ones I have. When I wear them under my slacks they look a little like gray boots so don’t think I will bother with shoes tomorrow.
Checked the MDOT road report and it looks good for traveling tomorrow so think I will head home after church in Plevna. I am already packing a few things so I don’t have so much next week when I leave on Christmas Day. Amazing what you accumulate as you trickle things down each week. I really have to say I have enjoyed my experience. I was writing someone a letter this morning and mentioned that other than Zion this is the only other church I have served for a longer period of time. I was aware intellectually, but have seen how the relationships, experiences and dynamics are all different. Baker had a husband-wife team for twelve years. They were high energy folks, musical and made a lot of good things happen here. They will be sorely missed, but I think like most situations you know when it is time to move on. My 10 weeks gave them a little breathing space after their pastors left and now they will have to get down to the serious business of how to continue ministry without a pastor. They have four Lay Pastoral Associates in the three churches who will pick up some of the slack. I think that will be a good experience for one and all. Were I to stay I would start to tweak a few things. I can tell I am a traditionalist in liturgy and I would have to find some way to compromise with the music people here. They are so talented, but their choice and my preferences don’t always run the same direction. Not a problem just a matter of personal preferences. But I will leave that for the next person to occupy this office. I didn’t want to change anything in such a short time. I am so blessed the pastor from Broadus was willing to drive over to Ekalaka and thus relieved me of one of the three parishes. I did go down a couple of times and know I would have enjoyed working with them but there are just not enough hours in the week to get it all done.
I have enjoyed what little shopping I have done here. They have several very nice stores. Grocery store is excellent, some nice little eateries, flower shop, drug store. I met the lady who runs the local Food Bank and Senior Center yesterday. We had a nice visit and were I here that is something I would help with. They are SO important in a community.
So one more week here and then I will turn my eyes north to Savage. I will preach there the first time on the 8th, the same day as their Lutefisk Dinner. I asked if they really intended to have church on that all important day and they told me they would have the speakers on in the basement so they could hear the service. I am wondering if I will be preaching to an empty sanctuary! Okey dokey! Lutefisk is important. I heard the fish at the dinner in Glendive this year was especially good. One expert said the best in years. I am so sorry I missed it. I am going to tell them at Savage to save me a plate as I have to go to Skaar across the river to preach on the 8th, weather-permitting.
I am so blessed with meeting interesting people, challenging myself a little and feeling as though I am helping out where needed.
God’s blessings on you all and if I don’t communicate again before Christmas, a blessed Christmas and a healthy and peaceful New Year.
From the time I was a little girl I remember singing in church the Advent hymn, "O come, O come, Immanuel and ransome captive Israel. . ." That word Immanuel, we were told, means 'God with us'. In later years as I took courses and expanded my learning, one speaker said the word actual means, "God has pitched his tent with his." For me that was BANG! So many things made more sense. To truly understand the incarnation, God becoming flesh and living among us as a human being, we have to get that sense of living as we live -- laughing, crying, learning -- all of it. And probably the ultimate part of our human journey -- that of dying and death.
"God has pitched his tent with us." He has poured the foundation for his house. He has come to borrow a cup of sugar from us. He is the new neighbor down the street.
That sense of the incarnation pushes the 'ethereal, nostalgic, romantic' notions of Christmas into a proper alignment with who God really is for us.
The human desire is to put God in a box and take him out only at Christmas to 'ooh' and 'aah' over. God becomes more difficult when he wants to move in and begins to re-arrange the furniture. Because God has a plan for the world and for us and God will not be content until the plan is accomplished.
The plan is a complete re-ordering of human priorities. All the billionaires and all the power mongers in the world cannot change 'the glory God has planned for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.' It means the first will be last and the last first; it means selling all you have and giving to the poor; it means taking up your cross and following him; it means building your house on rock; it means giving your second coat to one who has nothing; it means giving a cup of water to the thirsty. And Jesus comes to take us through all the nastiest streets in our communities and the saddest homes.
When God comes to pitch his tent among us, the world is changed forever.