“The function of prayer is not to influence God,
but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
Catherine, speaking only in Lakota, conversed with the buffalo scattered across the high grasslands of what is today Wind Cave National Park in present-day South Dakota.
The wind blew as it always does here, as the low dark clouds dragged themselves by. Whippoorwills sang and then answered their own calls. As each buffalo passed by, Catherine waved. These were not just unrelated and detached animals she was watching. The buffalo and the Lakota people have long been brothers and sisters. This was family, and as such, this was a reunion.
Despite this being traditional Lakota land, Catherine had never been to Wind Cave National Park, and it had been a long time since she’d been in the presence of buffalo. For Catherine, each buffalo was a related spirit, and she acknowledged them as such. Toward the end of our visit, she raised her hands in prayer. Eyes closed, she prayed . . . and she prayed. Given that her words were in Lakota, I understood nothing, yet I understood everything.
* * *
Catherine always prays. I’ve never spent a day with her, shared a meal with her, or exchanged a text message with her that did not involve prayer. Prayer is, for Catherine, central to how one navigates this world and embraces the next.
Catherine Grey Day was born on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. Coming of age, she experienced firsthand the harshness of reservation life in the 1950s, as well as the tribal protests against the historic oppression of her people in the 1960s and ’70s. She attended boarding school where she was sent to be “remade” in the white person’s image.
As an adult Catherine escaped abuse, fleeing alone in the middle of the night from her home. She buried one son in his early twenties, and then a few years later, did the same for the other. She later opened clinics and safe houses for other native women escaping domestic abuse. She had homes, and was homeless. Catherine is simultaneously a realist and an optimist. In the same conversation she will laugh and she will cry. And all the while, she prays.
“I have many spirit guides,” Catherine once told me. “There are those I know and those I don’t recognize, but I talk and pray with them all. Some people think I’m crazy because I talk to them, but I don’t care. They’re with me all the time.
“Each morning, alone during coffee, I pray,” Catherine continues. “I pray for lots of people, so it takes a long time. Prayer is real. It’s heard by the spirit world and it travels as energy to those I am praying for. I pray for you, Kevin. I pray for your family and employees in Maine. I pray for everyone I know and care about. I even pray for those who have hurt me.”
* * *
I am a spiritualist who is also attracted to science. This dual interest has led me to realize that scientists and spiritualists are actually on the trail of the same universal truths.
One of my favorite books on this subject is The Field, by Lynne McTaggart. Her thesis is that all the energy of the Universe is actually connected by an invisible web of electromagnetic threads. There is no separation or detachment. What happens to one reverberates across all.
“During the past few years science and medicine have been converging with common sense, confirming a widespread belief that everything―especially the mind and the body―is far more connected than traditional physics ever allowed. Our body extends electromagnetically beyond ourselves and it is within this field that we can find a remarkable new way of looking at health, sickness, memory, will, creativity, intuition, the soul, consciousness, and spirituality.”
With this fresh scientific insight, let us revisit the indigenous commitment to prayer that Catherine espouses. Catherine has long understood that prayer is real. That it travels. That it is heard. That spirit responds. Prayer is connected. Its energy moves.
This spiritual understanding of prayer suddenly has a scientific underpinning. If all energy is connected, then that includes thought energy. In this context ideas would reverberate. Prayer, which is nothing more than deep, intentional thought, would therefore move with purpose across space and time.
The Lakota have long known that everything is connected. Mitakuye Oyasin, they say, which translates as “All things are one thing,” or “We are all brothers.” It is with this understanding that Catherine speaks to the buffalo and prays for their well-being.
I’ve spent a lot of time with Catherine, and I’m pretty sure she knows something about prayer that the rest of us could build upon. In fact, if my experiences at Pine Ridge have taught me anything, it’s that the old wisdom is the pathway toward new wisdom. So pray on Catherine, pray on.
“In the silence of the heart, God speaks.”
Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.
This is the thirty-fifth post in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!