Listen or thy tongue will keep thee deaf.
Native American Proverb
Over one year ago, Wayne and I began to imagine a sabbatical from ministry and wrote a grant to the Lilly Foundation to help us and his two congregations in Taos, NM. The foundation asked us to think about “what would make your heart sing.”
We thought about this a long time and decided that we wanted to return to our experiences of ministry to Native Americans and that we could do that along the route we usually follow when we go home to Oregon and Washington to visit our families. We could follow our now familiar path through five or six Western states but with the extra time allowed by the grant we would visit tribes from here to Alaska and back again.
In the grant application we wrote, “On this journey, called “The Listening Path” we will return to the heart of Wayne’s first call to ministry among Native Americans. Our path will follow the footsteps of Christian missionaries of the 19th century who carried the gospel not only into the lands but into the consciousness of the indigenous people. We hope to witness to Native voices telling their own stories of earth and spirit, of suffering and conquest, and of tradition and faith. We wish simply to be present, in the Native way of education, listening without questioning, emptying ourselves to whatever truth, wisdom and humanity awaits.
Wayne wrote, “I have come to believe that the healing and restoration of souls is at the heart of Christ and his church. True soul work (there is also much “play” in it) is the practice of listening, the very posture of spirituality.
“In my first ministry as pastor of a Presbyterian Church on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona, I sensed that the brokenness and suffering of indigenous peoples coupled with their undying kinship with their land and cultural lifeways has much to teach about the message of Christ and the healing of creation.”
We described the people that we have ministered to these last 20 years saying that the Presbyterian Church introduced the Protestant version of the gospel to Navajos, Hispanics of Northern New Mexico and Native Alaskans through an overlapping mission effort. For a century, Presbyterian missionaries played a pivotal role in altering the religious understanding and practices of people who still had to find ways to live within their traditional cultural context. For much of Wayne’s 20 year ministry we have lived in this Western mission field, we raised our three girls in Fort Defiance and Yuma, Arizona and then here in Taos, all places where little white kids were in the minority.
The sabbatical is an open door to new perspectives for mission for us, for our two congregations at home in Taos and, we hope, for the broader church. Our exploration will allow us to look at other faith traditions⎯Catholics, Episcopalians and Russian Orthodox⎯ to see their approaches, to listen to Native Christians and observe their worship today.
Our itinerary is determined by where our families live and the location of Native congregations nearby in Nez Perce country in Idaho and Oregon, Alaska’s Inland Passage, the Seattle and Olympic Peninsula areas, the Oregon Coast and back here in the Southwest.
In November, we got the good news about the grant. We’ve been planning, reading, thinking, researching ever since and finally, we are off in just a few days. This blog will be a place for our friends, family and congregations to follow along in our journey. As the grant is for clergy rest and renewal, we’ll be doing a lot of that, too.
We love our life in Taos but relish the opportunity to open up some new places and spaces in our minds and hearts. Come along with us on a new adventure.