What does it mean to pray? Lessons from Standing Rock

What does it mean to pray? Lessons from Standing Rock February 7, 2017


prayer on the plains

A few weeks ago, I returned from a journey to Standing Rock, where three members (including myself) of the Brooklyn Center for Sacred Activism joined Oceti Sakowin for a few nights. But, I should tell you that I didn’t get back from a week of protesting and fighting for justice. I spent the week on a meditation retreat, a retreat during which I arose with the sun for morning prayers and walked in mindful prayer the rest of the day, while I chopped and served food and built yurts that will keep healers and families warm and dry during the brutal North Dakota winter. Just like a meditation retreat, I listened to the elders and worked alongside fellow aspirants, my brothers and sisters dressed not in robes, but in uniforms of puffy jackets and sturdy boots. Just like a meditation retreat, I began to let go of expectations of who I think I am and why I’m here. And just like a meditation retreat, my mind wandered but returned again and again to that still place inside my heart.

The elders told us constantly, “You’re here to pray.” Pray? This used to be such a loaded word for me, as someone who grew up, and became disillusioned, with an idea of asking an old white guy in the sky to merely wave his magic wand to give me what I want. But, that’s not the kind of prayer the elders at Standing Rock are talking about. I’ve heard it said that indigenous peoples don’t pray for rain, they pray rain. Prayer is a dynamic embodiment, the place from which your whole life is meant to arise.

At the camp, everyone welcomed the stranger and referred to each other as “brother” and “sister.” We lived as simply as possible, taking only what we truly needed and then usually sharing that. There were no distracting screens and we went to bed and woke up with the sun. The “new” world our hearts know is possible is already here. People are living it. They are praying love and acceptance and reciprocity.

So, how can you pray for the people of Standing Rock? The fight is decidedly not over and may get worse.

Often, I think of humanity as one body and, if Standing Rock is a wound or an infection, help and healing have been pouring in in the form of volunteers, money, and supplies. You may still help in these ways – I urge you to follow what calls you! However, I think it might be time to use Standing Rock as inspiration to understand and work for the health of our entire nation, and the world. A short list:

1) Donate to the Water Protectors’ camp.
2) Divest from banks that are investing in the pipeline.
3) Examine and decrease (even better, end) your oil consumption. The more demand there is for oil, the more it will be drilled.
• Where does an oil company show up in your life?
• Do you drive a car? If so, can you drive it less? Or get an electric car?
What’s your meat consumption? Can you eat none, less, or at least make sure that it’s sourced locally?
4) Fight oil pipelines in your area – they are EVERYWHERE. For NYC-ers, we have a pipeline being built right next to a leaking power plant (not the brightest idea).
5) Advocate for more wind and solar.

I’m going to keep praying. Will you join me?

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