Sunday, July 19, 2009


I had the honor of witnessing a Lenape Nation wedding this weekend. It was, without question, the most moving wedding ceremony I have ever seen.

The church was nature, a circle of woodlands, open blueness of sky, downy clouds floating, and the breezes. The bride wore a halo of flowers in her hair flowing loose down her back. She wore a simple white garment, and stood in her bare feet. The groom wore white trousers and white shirt with red ribbons. His hair was in a pony tail. To see the two together, it was natural for them to be husband and wife.

The ceremony was spoken in the simple yet bold language of the tribal chief. He explained certain components as the ceremony unfolded. Eveything I saw showed me who the Lenape are, what they believe, what they value. I saw their identity in the action.

Humans need to be grounded or anchored by something, otherwise we are nothing but flotsam and jetsam. How helpful is that? There must be boundaries of what is acceptable or expected and what is not.

In the wedding ceremony, the chief asked the bride, "Are you willing to chase the snakes away from your lodge and marriage?" How I wished someone would have asked me that when I married. "Are you ready to help your man be a strong warrior?" Deeper in the ceremony, the two gave gifts to each other symbolizing what their roles in this union were, he to provide food, shelter, and protection, she to provide warmth, comfort, and sustenance; the community to help them achieve this end.

The chief said, "You have come before us, stating your desire." In this statement, accountability. The mother of the bride gave a stick for the couple to hang on the wall above their bed so at the end of each day they take the stick down and carve a mark into it if they had a good day. If they had a bad day, this was the time they talk together of the good days they have had. In this way, they would not end the day in anger. The chief cautioned, "You must love each other even if you are angry with one another." Such wisdom to hear on the wedding day. I felt it was so much more honest than the church ceremonies I have witnessed.

A blanket was wrapped around the couple and fastened with a length of twine, symbolizing the two were now one. Culture and ceremony defines who we are. Spiritual beliefs are the anchor used to help us live in a good way.

As I become acquinted with Native Americans from different tribes, although we come from different places and the ceremonies may differ, we seem to have a common purpose; to keep identity alive. I had the pleasure of speaking with an elder named Quiet Wolf. His concern was to keep language alive among his tribe and to visit with other tribes to ask how their battle goes. He offers to help, realizing the power of listening. I recognize him as a granfather, he is a Native American elder and veteran. I watched his eyes well up with unshed tears as he spoke of his journey and I laughed with him as he told jokes. It is good, to be in the company of other natives.

Last year, at Thanksgiving dinner, I spoke with a native brother who was originally from New York. He had experience working in a vineyard, so I mentioned the verse about Jesus being the vine and we are the branches, apart from Him we can do nothing. Here was a man who knew what it was like to work as a vinedresser, and had a vivid image of the life application of that verse. He knew what was too much pruning and wasn't enough. When I asked him if he was connected with his Native roots in any way, he quickly said no. I remember thinking how that was one of the important and good things pruned entirely out of his life.

Those of us connected to our culture, our Indian ways, have a responsibility to teach those of us who aren't. It's a good place to begin, much like the young girl who swept away the old hurts and the past separate lives of the couple before they were joined together as one.

No comments:

Post a Comment