This I Believe: Kathy Graham (1992)

As I look back over my life, I would say I have been lucky. I had a very stable and wonderful childhood. There was no alcoholism, divorce or abuse. My parents are still together and happy after 56 years of marriage. We never had financial problems. My father provided comfortably for us with his small town law practice. My father is what I consider a true intellectual and is one of the most intelligent, best read people I will ever know. But he was not ambitious and was happy to live a simple life in a small Central Wisconsin town surrounded by books, nature, his family, and friends. My mother was also well educated and was a strong and resourceful woman. She said what she thought and didn’t l et herself get pushed around. She got things done and was always there to help when someone needed it. I love both my parents dearly.

I was also lucky in being the youngest of a large family. Two of my older sisters had lots of kids – providing plenty of grandchildren for my parents. Another sister became a professor of nursing at the University of Iowa. Another became a nun. One brother practices law with my father. The other brother dropped out of college to live with his hippy friends in an old farmhouse without running water. All the bases of success and failure seemed to be covered. So I had no pressure from my parents to go in any particular direction. I was free to choose whatever I wanted. Even since those days of being under my parents’ wing, my life has been pretty easy compared to most others I’ve known. I have really had no major disasters – emotional or material ••••• maybe a few near misses.

As for my religious/spiritual life – I was raised Catholic in a Scandinavian Lutheran town, pre-Vatican II. My parents were very devout. They went to Mass almost every day. We said the rosary y after dinner every evening in May and October. (I’m not sure why those months.) We always had a May altar and I loved to be the one to pick the violets and lilies-of-the-valley for it. I loved the ritual of the mass – the Latin, the music, the statuary, the stained-glass windows, and the incense. That church was an enchanted place for me.

But, of course, there was a downside. I discovered that more as I got older. But again I think I was spared the worst. I never went to Catholic schools, for one. There was not one in my town. Also as a child our church had an old Polish priest who was truly an ogre. My parents frequently complained and criticized him. So I learned that it was OK to disagree with the Church authority. In general, however, I was pretty happy practicing my Catholicism, until I left home for college. There I realized that what 1 liked most about church was the community.

At home I was a part of that community and knew all those people – had grown up with them. It wasn’t the same when I got away from home and was going to mass with a group of strangers. So I just quit going, as many people that age do.

I spent about 10 years just living my life, not thinking too much about spiritual things. I finished college, worked awhile, got married, had a son, rnoved to Afton, etc, etc. At some point when my son was small I decided to go back to church. How could I raise my kids without sane kind of church teaching? I didn’t have a model for that in my life. But when I went back to church I found that I didn’t always agree with the church hierarchy and the political nature of its decisions. At that time I also started to feel a need for myself for some spiritual connection. The Catholic/Christian churches didn’t do it for me. I didn’t like the absolutist doctrines and I was very uncomfortable with the focus on Jesus as God. I .just didn’t find a connection with divinity .in Jesus, although I value the lessons he taught. I felt more of a connection to the divine in nature. I had spent a lot of my childhood and adult life in the outdoors. I found divinity in the sunrise, in the wind, in the trees, the flowers, the birds, and in my children, family, and friends. But I didn’t dare vocalize this heresy in my Catholic community. About this time my son was going into second grade and would be making his First Communion. The whole idea of transubstantiation I knew I could not teach him in good conscience. So we found this church. What a revelation! A place where all the thoughts, doubts, and ideas that swirled in my head could be openly expressed!

Shortly after staring to attend WBUC I read “The Sixth Grandfather,” a book about Black Elk and John Neihardt and the writing of “Black Elk Speaks”. (Black Elk was a Lakota holy man who lived from about 1862 to 1950. John Neihardt did a series of interviews with him in the 1930’s and wrote a book based on those interviews.) In the midst of reading this book, I ran across “Mother Earth Spirituality” by Ed McGaa. As I look back now my right brain tells me that those books were “given” to me. I bought “The Sixth Grandfather” in the Black Hills, a very sacred place to the Lakota. I’m not even sure what drew me to it. “Mother Earth Spirituality” appeared for sale at the deli in Afton. Why was it there? They don’t sell books at the deli usually and I’ve never seen any other book for sale there since. It seems to have been put there for me to find. Fran Ed McGaa’s book it was obvious that there was a group of people in the Twin Cities practicing these ceremonies. I wanted to find them. So I called Ed. I never did speak to him, but someone at his home referred me to a woman  who happened to live in Afton and had a sweat lodge on her property. I started going to sweats there and became acquainted with the Rainbow Tribe. I have continued since then to do ceremonies and sweat lodges.

I know I am attracted to these ceremonies in some ways because of their similarity to Catholic rituals. Instead of Latin, music, incense, and communion, there is Lakota, drumming, sage, and smoking the pipe. They both take your mind to another level of experience. For me i is very meaningful. This Native way, however, acknowledges and encourages finding “God” or “Great Mystery” through your own personal experience. It is open to each person’s individuality. It also emphasizes the connections of all things with each other and with “God”. As I walk this path, this connectedness becomes more and more a reality for me. I have care to see as I look back over my life that I was not lucky, but rather I was guided and watched over. I have learned faith. A faith in that Great Mystery or God that I will continue to be guided to the places and people that will teach me the lessons I am to learn in this life. I no longer believe in coincidence. I believe that most of the people and situations that care into my life are given to me for a purpose. I can then choose to react or interact with them in any number of ways and from this I have the opportunity to learn about myself, my reason for being, and my relationship to God. I have also learned to see each day in my life as a ·gift. I have learned that all my actions can be a prayer and I am struggling to make them so.

In closing I would like to offer this prayer from Black Elk:

Grandfather, Great Spirit, you have been always, and before you no one has
been. There is no other one to pray to but you. You yourself, everything that
you see, everything has been made by you. The star nations all over the universe
you have finished. The four quarters of the earth you have finished. The day,
and in that day, everything you have finished. Grandfather, Great Spirit, lean
close to the earth that you may hear the voice I send. You towards where the
sun goes down, behold me; Thunder Beings, behold me! You where the White Giant
lives in~, behold me! You where the sun shines continually, whence cane the
day-break star and the day, behold me! You where the summer lives, behold me!
You in the depths of the heavens, an eagle of power, behold! And you, Mother
Earth, the only Mother, you who have shown mercy to your children!
Hear me, four quarters of the world – a relative I am! Give me the strength
to walk the soft earth, a relative to all that is! Give me the eyes to see and
the strength to understand, that I may be like you. With your power only can
I face the winds.

Great Spirit, Great Spirit, my Grandfather, all over the earth the faces of
living things are all alike. With tenderness have these cane up out of the
ground. Look upon these faces of children without number and with children in their arms, that they may face the winds and walk the good road to the day of quiet.
This is my prayer; hear me! The voice I have sent is weak, yet with earnestness
I have sent it. Hear me!

It is finished. Hetchetu aloh! (It is very much so.)
Mitakuye Oyasin (We are all related.)