On a scorching hot August afternoon in 2009, we stood upon hallowed grounds in the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana. This group of youth and adults had traveled with me across several states, and now we solemnly walked in the footsteps of a man I consider a hero. It was here that Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce found themselves surrounded, after walking over 1,000 miles in an effort to simply find shelter in Canada. It was here that Chief Joseph famously surrendered on October 5th, 1877. It was here that so many were killed and tortured. It was here that others who escaped froze to death with no food or blankets in the nights to come. On this afternoon, some 132 years later, you could still ‘feel’ the sorrow and fear of this place.
Chief Joseph once famously said, “We do not want churches because they will teach us to quarrel about God. We do not want to learn that.” He also eloquently spoke in the years to come of how we all have our origins from the same Creator and thus are ALL siblings living upon our ‘Mother Earth.’ He taught respect, unity and equality – even as one who had every right to be angry. In my mind’s eye, Chief Joseph was a man who reflected Grace out into the world. And so, as I stood on this battleground with my brothers and sisters, knowing that this very spot was the place of his most defeated moment in life, I couldn’t help but feel Chief Joseph’s heart still beating here. Tears welled in my eyes. It was as if his voice still rang out to the centuries.
I pray often that I, too, may be a voice of Grace in this world. I pray that someone, even if it is but one person, will feel a tingle of Hope by having known me for just a moment. I pray that we may all value one another so deeply as to speak on behalf of each other rather than in opposition to one another. I pray that we may learn to see ALL people as brothers and sisters. I pray that we may come to see God’s Love as more important than our theology. I pray that one day, an age of respect will dawn upon our Mother Earth. I pray… Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)