Category Archives: Justice

Blessing for Standing Rock Protectors

“What is a blessing? A blessing is a circle of light drawn around a person to protect, heal and strengthen. Life is a constant flow of emergence. The beauty of blessing is its belief that it can affect what unfolds”                                     

                                                                                      ~John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us

Blessing for Standing Rock Water Protectors

In the stillness of the North Dakota night
under the million-starred sky
this blessing is called down
upon the tipis and tents,
circle fires and sweat lodges,
cars, vans, trucks and horses,
upon the tribal elders, women and men,
upon the Standing Rock Youth Council
and their runners who raced across the land
in appreciation of all who have come together
to protect the water and the earth which holds it,
upon the babies and children,
and all who stand in witness to this call for clean water
and respect for sacred sites.

We call this blessing from the four directions,
and from above and below,
and from all the people, near and far,
who support the nations gathered in the prairie.

Great Spirit of all our souls, encircle with Light and strengthen
the ones who cook the meals
the ones who wash the clothes
the ones who tend the children
the ones who feed the horses
the ones who gave birth here and their child
the ones who speak out and testify
the ones who post on social media
the ones who march
the ones who drum
the ones who stand their ground
the ones who are arrested and imprisoned
the ones who are tazed and struck with rubber bullets
the ones who report and film the actions and are charged
the ones who established a new camp at Cannon Ball,
to reclaim the land that was once theirs.

We offer this blessing of love, understanding and truth-seeing
on behalf of all the ancestors,
of all our relations,
who speak to us today in the actions at Standing Rock
and in our dreams.
We offer our prayers, joined with theirs,
rising together in the smoke.

May we heed the call of all who have gone before
to protect the water that is life giving to all,
and the Earth, who nurtures us.
May we honor the history of the people
who have been wronged for too many years
and attend to this uprising and gathering
with ears to hear and hearts to love.
May healing come where harm was done,
May hearts and minds awaken,
May actions for the good be taken.

Editor’s Note: I wrote this blessing in response to a prompt from my poetry teacher, Sue Sutherland-Hanson. The blessing was also prompted by a deep desire to take an action on behalf of the Native people who have gathered to protect the water and the sacred burial sites on their land that is being threatened by the construction of an oil pipeline that would be laid underneath the Missouri River.

As I have educated myself on what is happening at Standing Rock, North Dakota, I have learned much and still have much to learn. This movement is testimony of the power of the people coming together, uniting for something that is bigger than each one of us, that is important to our survival and the survival of all the creatures.

Many of those speaking and acting to save the water quality, the very earth that sustains us, and the sacred sites of their ancestors have inspired me. I will name some here, and know I will miss some I wish to lift up. My hope is that this blessing reaches each and every one.

In Gratitude:

Thank you to the Youth Council of Standing Rock who held a race to thank those who have come together with the Sioux nation tribes, and to the International Indigenous Youth who participated in the protest at the Cannon Ball camp site.

Thank you to Sky Bird Black Owl for giving birth to her daughter in the tipi at Standing Rock and for her testimony about how women (and children and men) must be protected and must speak out to make the world safe for all.

Thank you to the ones who meet with Ban Ki-Moon to instruct him about the sovereign nations and who are not, and have not ever been, seated at the UN table.

Thank you to the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe chairman, Harold Frazier, who met with President Obama in Los Angeles on the National Day of Action at Standing Rock, October 25, 2016, to ask him to protect the rights of the Lakota People, their sacred sites and the waters of the Missouri River.[1]

Thank you to the people who have established the new Oceti Sakowin camp at Cannon Ball, ND, and took back unceded territory affirmed in the 1851 Treaty of Ft. Laramie as sovereign land under control of the Oceti Sakowin, on the final three miles of the pipeline route.[2]

Thank you to those who resisted being moved from the Oceti Sakowin camp by police from five states, and took pepper spray, rubber bullets and other violence as they prayed to protect the water, risking harm to themselves.

Thank you to Amy Goodman and Deia Schlosberg for witnessing and covering the actions and being willing to be arrested and charged in order to maintain freedom of the press and freedom of speech in the coverage of Standing Rock and other pipeline climate change actions, and Josh Fox for continuing coverage.[3]

Thank you to the judge who dismissed the charges against Amy Goodwin.

Thank you to all the persons of faith (Unitarian Universalists, United Church of Christ, Episcopalians and many others) who have traveled to Standing Rock when I could not, who have issued statements of support and solidarity for this justice work, and who have taken supplies and warm clothing to the people living there.

Thank you to Mara Lindbergh, friend and massage therapist of twenty plus years, for talking with me about this important event in our time and for supporting me to speak out.

Thank you to Sue Sutherland-Hanson, poetry teacher, ministerial colleague and friend, for urging me to share this blessing more widely.

 ©Lisa Ashley, 10.25.16

[1] https://www.facebook.com/search/top/q=cheyenne%20river%20sioux%20tribal%20chairman

[2] https://www.facebook.com/StandingRockDakotaAccessPipelineOpposition/?fref=ts

[3] http://www.ecowatch.com/arrest-dakota-access-pipeline-josh-fox-2043414741.html and http://www.ecowatch.com/josh-fox-deia-schlosberg-arrest-2044387167.html

Sanctuary

IMG_3968There never seems to be any sanctuary in the jail. Barren walls, bright lights, noise, no privacy.

We sit and talk about the hardest things, the most heart breaking things, while guards watch us and other chaplains and youth sit together, not more than twenty feet away. There is no holy place to be quiet, no candles to light, no flame of warmth to wrap around us.

So I hold his brown-eyed gaze, I embrace him with my silence. I speak the words that come from my heart, without much censor, because I know he needs to hear that he is good, that he is held in God’s embrace, whomever, whatever God is to him.

The room closes in, the noises recede, the people are forgotten.

Our sanctuary is a tiny one, just we two, safe and held in enormous love, the unconditional kind. I see you. You are worthy. You are not the actions you have done or the actions that have been done to you. Here you are safe, for 45 minutes.

And when I cannot bear to close you down, when I sense your huge need to talk and talk, pouring out your sorrows, your anger, your fear and pain, well, then I break the rule and I hold the sanctuary open longer, stretching our time to 90 minutes, until your staff comes to take you back to your cell. The supervisor, who knows me well, must reprimand me to follow the rules. We eye each other. She nods. She knows I will break the rule again.

What is 45 minutes, 90, when an entire life of 16 years needs sanctuary? When this life has never known it? Who makes these rules? On what basis? On what experience?

In the holding of his gaze, in our jokes, in my questions to clarify his story, in his questions, in his stories, in our closing prayer together, sanctuary surrounds and holds us, taking us into a time out of time, a place of freedom for a short while, a place of rest, a place of truth and respect, a place of love.

I light the candle in my mind. He lifts his eyes to mine and the shield is lowered a bit more. Each week his words are more truthful than the last as he goes deeper into the story of his violent, chaos-ridden life. Each week I marvel at his resilience, his courage, his love for his mother and brother. Each week he shares a tiny bit more of the fear and the nightmares that have been with him for many years and are still with him even in the safety of the jail, as door locks are popped open and he flinches from the gunshots his mind and body heard. I long to give him peace, I long to give him rest. Each week I light the candle in my mind. Each week I listen.

 

 

©Lisa Ashley

March 11, 2016

wheat fields, Walla Walla

Where Kindness is Not Allowed

In my worldview kindness and justice are deeply connected. If I express kindness to another person, justice and compassion are created by the action because I am honoring and respecting the other person. I am giving of myself in love and compassion to another. I am able to receive kindness in return. This is the simple back and forth equation that I try to live by because it makes sense, it gives me hope and it works.

What happens when kindness is not allowed? Last month I made one of two annual visits to the “Big House,” the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, to visit my friend A. A. is 21 and has been living in the Big House for more than three years. I have been his only visitor during these years.

I have the routine down. I check in and go through security carrying only my car key, my driver’s license, and my food card. I wear non-revealing clothing, only two rings, one pair of earrings and shoes that are easy to slip on and off. I lock my car and enter the building about ten minutes before check in begins. I’ll be able to visit with A. until 5:30.

A young woman is in the lobby with an older woman, grandmother and granddaughter it turns out. The granddaughter is there to visit a friend. “He used to be the love of my life,” she tells me, “But now we are just friends. I moved to Michigan two months ago, but I’m back for a visit so I came to see him.” She is nervous. She hasn’t seen her friend in a couple of years. Her grandmother says the girl has never been to this prison. I explain the routine. She changes into another shirt she has brought with her because her loose blouse slid about her thin shoulders, revealing the straps of her camisole top. No “provocative” clothing allowed.

I ask her if she wants to get her friend something to eat from the vending machines in the visiting room. I explain about the food cards. She doesn’t have any cash on her to buy the card (for $5.00) or to add money to it that would then be deducted like a debit card when she put it in the machines for a soda and some chips. I tell her I will share mine. She assures me it will be okay. “I’m only staying a couple of hours,” she explains. “We have to get back.” Seattle was a five-hour drive if the weather is good. Grandma is going to wait for her in the car.

We continue to chat as we wait through the 45-minute check in process, sharing our stories of who we are and whom we are visiting. This is something I do each time I go. I meet someone and talk with them in part to pass the time and in part because I am interested in people. I believe that we are better for having made a connection with someone even if I never see the person again. It’s less tense in the waiting room when I talk with someone who is waiting to go inside.

Once in the visiting room (finally!), I purchase a soda and some chips for A. and bring them to our assigned table. I go over to the young woman and offer to get her something. We decide her friend would probably enjoy a coke and some Doritos. She thanks me and takes them to her table.

At last the men come through from their units for the visits. It was good to see A. We hug and begin talking right away, catching up and discussing his case. A couple hours pass. I go to the machines and get A. a hamburger. I’m heating it up in the microwave when a corrections officer comes up to me.

“Are you the person who bought food for someone else?” he asks.
“Yes,” I reply. My heart lurches a bit.
“Did you know you can’t do that?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Well, you can’t. I’m sure you were trying to be kind, but it is not allowed. You can be kind in the real world,” he added, “But this isn’t the real world.”

He went on to explain that the young woman’s friend could have put pressure on A. to buy him something to eat. This is called “strong arming” the officer says, and that is why being kind is not allowed.

I tell him I won’t do it again. I walk back to our table a bit rattled. I think about this incident on my long drive home.

There are indeed two worlds—my life and world on the “outs” and A.’s life and world “inside.” In fact, there are two worlds outside and another inside. I’ve known that for a long time.

Both outside worlds have kindness and love on the good days. Both worlds have days that don’t go so well. Both worlds are entitled to justice, abundance and human rights. The difference in the two worlds lies with which one has privilege, wealth and opportunity and which one has poverty, racism and oppression. Who lives in which world and what is it like to navigate through each world on a given day? The two worlds continue, side by side, two parallel universes, but are disconnected for the most part. The people in one world rarely connect with, or get to know, the people in the other. I am clear which world I inhabit and which world I visit.

And if my world on the outs is the “real” world as the corrections officer pointed out to me, then what would I, or he, call the other world inside? Is it the “unreal” world? It is real enough for those who live in it, I’m sure. I know it is a community, a place where men live and interact with one another sometimes for years and years. Is this community less “real” than mine?

Is it an “unkind” world, since the officer explained that I couldn’t be kind in that world? It certainly appears to be an unkind world to those of us who never go inside. Based on many books and articles by people who live in this world I would not be wrong to call it an unkind, unreal world, a world of darkness.

Yet I know of specific kindnesses that men living in that world are doing for other men inside, including sharing extra food, giving someone a phone call who has no money to pay for the phone, sharing knowledge gleaned from the law library, and mentoring.

I wondered about the officer and the other staff. What is it like to pass from their own “real” world to the world inside the prison and back again, day after day? Which world is more real over time? Which world is the “real” world and for whom, I wondered?

I decided I will continue to do kindnesses in my world because it matters. The officer was kind enough to not ask me to leave as he could have done. I was thankful for that.

I will continue to connect with others, because it matters. I am glad I met the young woman and her grandmother because human connections matter. I’m sure she will bring cash next time if she comes again. I’m glad I spent the whole day with A. this time.

It is hard to visit people who live inside. Making connections and offering kindness helps everyone feel less alone, less stigmatized and more supported. According to the rules, I can’t buy anyone food but I can still reach out to strangers in the waiting room, that world between worlds. We can connect in simple human conversations. Kindness, compassion and justice can be offered and received.

What would it be like of we connected and acted with kindness in every world we encounter? What would change in each world? Would all worlds become one?