I am pursuing my Masters of Divinity degree here at Princeton Seminary, and I enjoy blogging about my experience, for the benefit of all involved. Feel free to email me if you have further interest in my studies, etc.
Hello to everyone who exists outside the captivating world on the Rez.
I have finally found a way to share my pictures with you- so please enjoy the sights of Red Cloud Indian School, a place where I feel at home.
Much of our time is spent "wasting time gracefully"- a term I have learned and implemented upon entering this community. Essentially, this refers to the beautiful community building moments in which nothing "productive" is occurring, yet relationships are being developed. For example, yesterday morning I woke up mid-morning and spent the next two and a half hours simply sitting at the kitchen table with 6 others, talking about the previous nights' events, etc. It brings a sense of peace and purpose to my stay here, this 'wasting time gracefully' concept. I have come to believe that this pace of life is closer to healthy balance than I have ever realized. We shall see if this continues as the school year progresses!
If any of these photos need explanation, feel free to ask me! They are all of my house, fellow volunteers, my room, high school, mission building, Chapel, etc.
To share a bit from my past week... I have been busy in HS orientation, learning the ropes of my position, getting my office assembled, collecting supplies, meeting many people, trying (and failing miserably) to obtain a key to my office.. checking out the weight room, signing up for bus runs, hanging out w/ fellow volunteers, runnings, cleaning, and even cooking/baking! I have learned so much, yet it's difficult to explain exactly what it is. I mean, it is such an experimental sort of learning- and at times I find myself reflecting on various situations, toward an accumulated understanding of the dynamics here at Red Cloud.
One interesting note: I am officially on the Identity committee at the high school, which is striving to incorporate both Lakota and Catholic identity into one- and implementing various activities (hence, my contribution to the group) which promote such values. I basically listen to perspectives from Jesuits, Lakota teachers, and administration...and occasionally offer my limited ideas. I am sure I will discuss this issue in more depth later, as I see this is a major focus of the current school year.
In addition to ordering supplies for Homecoming, putting up my bulletin board, organizing my thoughts and ideas for tomorrow's freshman orientation, etc... I have also enjoyed receiving many encouraging emails from friends and mentors- which I appreciate dearly!
So, the plan for the coming week is this: TOMORROW the freshman come to figure out class schedules, locker combinations (fear abounds, evidently), and getting to know you games! In the afternoon I will have three groups rotate through my exceedingly exciting section of ice-breakers...thank goodness for youth ministry experience! And as Rachel said to me last night (at the Gray house)... I am so excited for the kids to come, to remind myself of why we are working so hard right now. :) That's how I feel too!
On the first day of school I will have the privilege of teaching two weight training courses, and organize the tug-of-war contest at the end of the day. I know, my life is rough! Also, I will be working furiously to organize the student council elections, which are coming up soon for freshman and a few upper-classmen spots as well. Then, we will have lovely student council meetings to designate who's doing what for homecoming. My HS days are upon me once again!
Well, I could say more, definitely- and I shall add one final note- I went to church today where I was invited by Wendell- and it was a definite experience, for sure! I would say more, but I suppose these thoughts must be shared in confidentiality! :):) And today I baked oatmeal raisin cookies, which I hope to make a habit here, since they are so good and we have so much oatmeal! :)
Well, thanks for reading up on my reflections here at Pine Ridge. Real life is starting to settle in now, and I am feeling more realistic (yet ever-excited) about my time here- including struggles and immense joys. I look forward to hearing about what else is going on in everyone's lives...I realize it can feel as if I'm living in a box here- so I want everyone to know I care. I really do!
Peace and joy, amidst uncertainty! Emily PS- I will be driving bus at 5:30pm for those attending sports practice and/or after school programs. :) What a fun time!
First of all, thanks for the encouraging comments I've received from both family and friends...here on the site, as well as in emails. I feel extremely supported!!!
I am using the community computer (for which I am grateful)...however, I am also taking up quite a bit of time here, so I will attempt to shorten my thoughts, in the hope of being a decent person to live with. :) I however will most likely fail miserably at the short writing- and still hope for grace from my housemates. Such is community. :)
This past weekend (Thurs. - Sun.) I attended our volunteer retreat at the Sioux Spiritual Center outside of Plainview, SD....(quite the isolated spot, I must say). And these four days were such a blessing! We were able to relax, get to know one another and our faith journeys better, develop community covenants for each house, and pray together often. I was sick for a few days (okay, I felt like my head was a balloon on a string, like the commercial for cold medicine, you know?) But I have recovered and feel great!
A few key points to my last few days: I was able to participate in a sweat lodge twice, actually. The first time was here on the Red Cloud Campus b/f we left for the retreat, and we had 20+ people participating. The Lakota people have such rich traditions and rituals, yet it all is quite foreign to me, and I am trying to understand and appreciate the significance of smoking the peace pipe (I have been kindly informed since first publishing this post that "peace pipe" is an inaccurate term... it is simply referred to as "sacred pipe" and holds much significance in the way of connecting the Creator and all creation in purposeful unison), singing a sacred song b/f each element of the ritual, using a buffalo skull to hold the sacred pipe, bringing in 7 rocks into the sweat lodge center...then 4, then additional 4 each round. So, the first round of a sweat lodge (which is true- you sweat a lot, so bring a towel!) :):) you pray for yourself, the second round, you pray for others, the third round- prayer is for women in your life, and the fourth round is a prayer of thanksgiving to Grandfather God. I am still trying to pick up a few Lakota words, but it's difficult for me to learn simply audibly, so I am waiting to see them written and remember them in that way.
Each round of the sweat is marked by the bringing of stones, closing the door, pouring water to create steam (this is the water of life), then intense waves of heat as we begin to pray fervently (which actually keeps your mind off the extreme heat). Okay, I am finding it difficult to fully relay the whole experience. For me, this was a very meaningful place to be in prayer- and the second time as well (although at the retreat center, the sweat was less intense) :) Essentially, I realize I have much to learn, much to further appreciate, and much to discern regarding Lakota spirituality!!!
In practical terms, my time here has been wonderful! I feel so at home here, my housemates rock... I have had meaningful conversations with them all, and I am free to laugh so much around them! (and be goofy, which is a wonderful feeling). The majority are of a Catholic faith, and I have attended several masses during my time here, but I am finding more commonality than differences, especially since the Jesuit tradition is more concerned with general Christian spirituality and not as much exclusive Catholic tradition. To be clear, the environment is still traditional Catholic, but the nature of Jesuits is to focus more on peace, justice, and community, which I appreciate greatly.
Today we had our first day of HS orientation (so I met fellow HS faculty)...and in addition to routine mtgs. about handbook, expectations, etc... I also met a great guy named Wendall, who has taught here 12 years now, lives down trailer row from me with his family, and is also not of Catholic tradition- and in addition to being genuinely interested in my time thus far, he invited me to attend the church where he and his wife and four children attend... in Oglala...so I am going this Sunday- barring any unforseen late night Saturday adventures. :):)
I am feeling more and more comfortable w/ my position in student activities- as I realize that I have a lot less to coordinate for classroom curriculum than most teachers. Also, we signed up for "prefecting" several events around the HS (basically filling in positions for concessions, working games, etc. My choices (which didn't seem the most popular)....revolved around volleyball, and I am going to be a line judge at nearly every home game this year! :):) Woot Woot!
Okay, I have spent more than enough time on this computer. I promise to figure out the picture situation soon. Until then, I appreciate your attention to my words, as I try to express myself and my experience in a tangible way.
Much love to you all, as I settle into my place here, while remaining quite aware of the many people I am missing and the various places I would also like to be.
Once again, I sit down to enter my thoughts on this site, and I realize that although I have been here for two weeks, it often feels like I have known this place forever.
Red Cloud is becoming home to me for a variety of reasons. The volunteers I live with are absolutely great- I am already learning much from them in terms of being self-sacrificing within a community. Also, I find myself becoming more attentive to the ways in which simplistic living is actually beneficial for my spirit. I take more time to 'simply' listen and 'be' in the presence of others and God. Ah, I am thoroughly enjoying this time...although my past week has not been all rest and relaxation.... :)
On Thursday after last blogging, I went to the fitness center and made my muscles really sore...but the better news is that I met a few high school guys who will be in my weight training classes while there- and they were pretty surprised/impressed (I couldn't read their reaction well) that I will be their teacher. I'm going to believe they were impressed. :) Ken and Jacob Franks were two of the guys, and they will also be on my student council! Yes!
So, on Friday we headed to Rapid City once again as we racked our brains with random "bus knowledge"....and the good news? WE ALL PASSED- and I did reclaim my academic abilities as a student of knowledge...even if it is the number of straps needed on a load of heavy cargo. :):)
We celebrated our CDL success by spending the evening at the mall and Borders...and then heading back to Pine Ridge. The next morning, five of us volunteers (Ben, Luke, Sarah, Jeff, and I) participated in a bike-a-thon, where we each biked between 5 and 6 miles... for a total of 28 miles...from Pine Ridge to the Prairie Wind Casino. The event was sponsored by KILI Radio (the only radio station on the Rez)...and I actually was interviewed after the bike-a-ton on the radio- which was because my teammates designated me as the "captain" after hearing that one of us should talk on the radio. Hmmm, I give in too easily I think.
So, after the race, they treated us to a buffet dinner at the Casino- which was very good...but a bit odd to be in (literally) the middle of nowhere- w/ a ton of people at this casino..... We also met several Lakota people involved in the race...so that was fun, in addition to bonding with our fellow volunteers. Sat. evening we ate as a group again, and Sunday was another day full of relaxing and bonding with each other. Sunday night 5 of us went on a hike to the Jesuit's old potatoe cave (at one point they were nearly self-sufficient and stored potatoes in this cave)...it was cool, and since a meteor shower was going to happen that evening, we climbed a hill and watched the meteors falls (AWESOME). We stayed long enough to somewhat lose our bearings, and after an exciting adventure through the dark, we arrived back home, exhausted, yet ready to begin a day full of training!
Monday we spent the entire day driving bus, looking at the important parts of the bus, practicing maneuvers, and driving, studying, studying, studying. (I planned on NOT failing another test, if I could help it) :) So, yesterday we left at 6am for Rapid again, where seven of us took the driving portion of the test, along w/ maneuvers and pre-trip inspection testing. Thankfully we ALL PASSED these 1hr. 15 min. skills tests (my nerves were horrendous in the morning, being the fifth person to test- and not until 1pm)... and now I can officially say that I AM A BUS DRIVER! Whew, I know several of you were holding your breath for me. Thanks, I appreciate it. :)
I really enjoy hearing from those of you who have been reading my blog. THANKS!!! It is really helpful for me to correspond in this way, since I have more limited access to internet time here- and especially once I begin with the school year. I met w/ Nick (the HS principal) on Monday to discuss my duties as student activities director, and needless to say, my plate will be extremely full for the first month- w/ student council elections and meetings, preparing for homecoming, starting up the after-school program, planning for the new student orientation day, and the first day of school tug-of-war (that's right, the weights instructor also in charge of tug-of-war)...can you hear my muscles growing? :):), and 'welcome back to school night' for teachers and parents (I play hostess, how fun!)...in addition to my duties as bus driver and weight training teacher. Whew.
So, tomorrow we leave for a volunteer retreat at the Jesuit retreat center (somewhere in SD- no one seems to know where it is).... I look forward to this time of quiet, reflection, prayer, and mental preparation for the coming year. I would certainly appreciate your thoughts and prayers as I venture into the new positions I have before me. Also, feel free in joining me as I praise God for the two weeks I have been here and the wonderful relationships I have already formed!
May the grace of our big God meet you wherever you find yourselves in the coming week. Thanks for your continued support and interest. (Oh, and I have pictures to post, but I have yet to find a way to transfer them to this computer. My normal methods are failing me at present).
I could not wait to share the past four days of orientation w/ you...so I am writing once again.
Monday was a fantastic day- a huge thanks to everyone who contributed to the joy and love I felt on my birthday! Honestly, I spent the entire day beaming from voice mail, to message, to card, to gift, to birthday cake and balloons from my new community here at Red Cloud. The group of volunteers I will be working with are truly wonderful. Gosh, the word running through my head the first day of orientation, also my birthday, was GRATEFUL. We spent a majority of the day getting to know one another, the Red Cloud School mission, and what it means to live as a community of faith. I went to bed smiling, with a peace and joy-filled heart, knowing that this year, in addition to celebrating being 22 years old, I was able to celebrate a new period of life here at Red Cloud and Pine Ridge- and truly mean it.
Tuesday we ventured to Porcupine, SD- where 4 volunteers are living and working...and we shared in the 'excitement' of the volunteer hand book in the morning. :) Funny how something so mundane can actually be enjoyable when the environment is new and relationships are just being established. One blessing I have felt in this domain is the fact that I feel extremely welcome here within a Catholic community- and being from a protestant background, this was a bit unnerving for me. However, I share many common values with the Jesuit tradition, making it simple to feel at home amidst the predominantly Catholic group of volunteers. I have been able to be myself and even act really goofy already- something I wasn't exactly anticipating for the first week. I hope my fellow volunteers are still able to respect me despite my consistent episodes of (oops- belching!) :):)
One positive note for my mother- SEVERAL volunteers enjoy running, so i have been able to run alongside others in my explorations of the countryside- and now I intend to run with a guy who is hoping to train for a 1/2 marathon! :):) We'll see what happens there...I've made no promises. Wednesday our group soaked in as much information regarding bus driving as we could stand- but to no avail.... sadly enough- we went to Rapid City today to test... and I took three CDL tests- general knowledge, passenger, and school bus tests- and FAILED not one, not two, but ALL THREE SECTIONS by one question each. Thankfully so did most of my counterparts, and we are at it again tomorrow. (still two chances to redeem my academic self) So what began as an exciting concept of driving bus is actually turning out to be a difficult path of existence for the next week. I have learned through the process- that it might actually take some prior studying to pass this test! More to report on this later. (and then comes the physical skills test- yikes!)
So, no great photos yet- but just wait- they'll appear someday! :)
And such is life here at Pine Ridge. Hot, yes. But yesterday afternoon I spent outdoors enjoying some basketball, volleyball, and swings! God made the sky so beautiful with scattered, fluffy clouds and beautiful breezes. I try not to complain of the constant sweat which accumulates in our nearly air-condition-less accommodations, b/c winter will be here sooner than I wish.
That is all for now- thanks for the comments, they are much appreciated...and please feel free to send this link on to others who may not have received it yet.
I smile again, as I head off to lift some weights and prepare my mind and body for the teaching task ahead of me. :) LOVE TO ALL.
And my reflections begin. (My thoughts are a bit extended, so be-ware!)
I arrived on Thursday evening, Aug. 2nd- to what will be my home for the next year. I am smiling now as I think about how much I have taken in these past three days... and overall my time here has been wonderful! I REALLY appreciate the people I have met so far, being fellow volunteers, Jesuit brothers and priests, native Lakotans, and a few staff members and Sisters. Already my memory store for names has been exercised, but it seems to be holding up well. I shall explain a little of my days' learnings thus far....
I was the first non-returning volunteer to arrive on campus, I settled into a nice room in "The Cottage" where I will be living with four other volunteers. Our house is big enough for about 8-10 people, so MUCH m0re spacious than any other community living experience I have had. Also, our single-occupancy rooms are great, w/ a sink included...I shall post pictures later.
A second volunteer residence is "The Gray House" (appropriately named, :) where five other volunteers will be living. We are on the same "Trailer Row" just behind the schools and Mission Building (where the Jesuits live- appx. 12 of them) A third volunteer house is situated at Our Lady of Lordes campus in Porcupine, w/ four volunteers living and working there.
The main campus for Red Cloud Indian School, where I am living and working, has a High School, Middle School, and Elementary, along w/ various staff and volunteers residences (hence, Trailer Row)... and the Mission Building, cafeteria, beautiful chapel, bus and maintenance area, playground, track and football field, gymnasium, etc. We are in a beautiful area of rolling hills and scattered trees, and my landscape from the Cottage window is an assortment of trees, green grass, and the peaceful sound of crickets chirping and rez dogs barking. :)
Thus far I have gone grocery shopping in Chadron w/ the former volunteers who were already here. This enabled me to form relationships with them: Jess, Erin, and Mike... which has been enjoyable and extremely helpful in orienting myself to the area. We spent both Friday and Saturday evenings at the Oglala Lakota Nation Pow Wow which is taking place in Pine Ridge, SD (4 miles south from campus).
This Pow Wow is evidently one of the biggest events of the year for the Lakota people, and is the main reason I chose to arrive a few days b/f orientation. The Pow Wow is an interesting mix of Lakota Traditions and the contemporary county fair...w/ stands of fried foods and sugary drinks lining the circle where the MANY drum groups are stationed underneath a permanent covering at the Pow Wow grounds. The large circular area of grass in the middle is reserved for the dancing competitions and various ceremonies that take place during the Pow Wow (which lasts for three very long days)... people camp out all around, and it seems to be a very curious mix of informality and sacred formality. I LOVED my time there, much more than I was anticipating, and I really think I could have stayed longer, just soaking it all in. Six main dances take place in several age categories. The Women have: 1. traditional dance, 2. Jingle dance, and 3. Fancy Shawl dance. The Men have: 1. traditional, 2. Grass dance, and 3. Fancy dance. And of course they all dance to various drum groups who play their signature Lakota songs... one group and then another, and another...etc. Quite the overstimulating combination of sights, sounds, smells, energy, and dust! :)
I have much to say- but I will try to be as brief as possible- thank you for hanging in w/ me! :)
Yesterday I went for my first run (or should I say hike) on a hilly dirt/gravel road which leads to Manderson... I ran the first mile nearly all uphill, and the second mile I hiked a second trail which extended from the main road into some beautiful landscapes and overviews... (I needed to walk to take it all in, of course) :) Once the heat got to me, I ventured back down and enjoyed the mile of running (again, nearly all) downhill. I have cherished the time to simply explore the area and become acquainted with places which I may frequent during my time here.
My other main experience (besides getting to know my housemates and other volunteers and Jesuits) was attending Mass this morning w/ Jess and Erin- who have a great relationship with a small parish in Oglala...(name escapes me now)... I went early to ride w/ them as they drove the bus for the Parish (under the leadership of Sister Connie) to collect any people interested in coming, but w/out transportation. It was wonderful to meet a Lakota woman named Louise, in addition to other woman and children... The Mass itself was a good experience, and I am contemplating attending regularly, but have some theological questions concerning recieving Eucharist to work through yet. -The main attraction for me is the sincerity and intentionality of community I sense in this parish.
So, it is truly great. I have already soaked in a lot (and befriended a woman named Julie who works w/ Red Cloud Indian School) and her girls....and have been able to really be myself- I have much in common w/ many of the volunteers, although we all come from difference backgrounds, experiences, etc.
Okay, this is certaily a long entry- and perhaps not all will be this lengthy, but I know and appreciate that many of you care to share in my experience, so I anticipate weekly entries onto this blog site- and I welcome you to read, comment, ask questions, etc. as you wish.
I begin my orientation tomorrow (Monday) which also happens to be my birthday! (I actually forgot that until just now)... So, it will definitely be a good day. I feel well rested and possessing the energy to take on this new adventure, come what may.
To those who have finished reading this, THANKS! :) I will miss not being able to talk as frequently w/ many of you, but will do my best. I also really hope to be receiving updates from you all, especially you who are also embarking on new life adventures.