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My interest in the Native American presence in the nineteenth-century state of Missouri led to the heartbreaking read, The Ioway in Missouri by Greg Olson, the Curator of Exhibits at the Missouri State Archives: heartbreaking because of the spiritual, emotional, psychological, and physical dissolution of the Ioway tribe, between 1800 to 1837. 

Central to this dissolution was the Supreme Court’s 1827 adoption of the Doctrine of Discovery, found in international law and first practiced by the Crusaders taking over lands of vanquished Turks, perceived as pagans and unfit. In the fifteenth century, this precedent was published in four Papal bulls. Thus protected, American and European settlers headed west, especially following the1803 Louisiana Purchase. No matter that Native Americans were already there. “They’d have to change, be like us.”

From the mid 1700s, however, the Ioway tribe enjoyed a rich presence in and around what constitutes the state of Missouri. Their rituals, tradition, and practices bound them to the earth, perceived as sacred, and to their ancestors in the afterlife from whom they were influenced. From sunup to sundown, theirs was a predictable world, when not warring with another tribe, usually over hunting rights.   

Greg Olson’s use of primary sources, accompanied by photos and maps, makes those thirty-seven years bleed. Misunderstandings, language differences, the violation of multiple treaties, greed, dishonesty, and impatience justify the most stinking aberrations. In 1837, the government removed the Ioway to the Great Nemaha Reservation in the state of Oklahoma, a barren stretch of land where extreme poverty and alcoholism enervated the Ioway even more.

Yet, The Ioway in Missouri concludes with an inspiring epilogue. The Ioway still survive in Kansas and Nebraska and preserve their traditions.

So it’s about the Hebraic conversion of heart, shuv, the ongoing response to my sinfulness, as found in the Mosaic Law. Convinced that I am powerless to effect this existential change on my own, I rely upon the psalmist’s prayer, “Create, O God, a clean heart within me!” or simply, the mantra, ”Mercy!” together with working the Twelve Steps.

In my perception, however, the concept of sin appears forgotten or unimportant by many, from the global elite to street gangs to the politically and socially and academically prominent. Even spiritual leadership rots in its sanctuaries. Few to none participate in the world of the unconscious, source of dreams and spiritual direction. Instincts have a field day spinning subtle errors; recourse to head-language sets norms for what’s called moral behavior, until accepted in common practice.

Such unbridled insanity/sin leave the psyche’s doors wide open for the ravages of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: war, famine, pestilence, and death. The media reports their galloping the high and low roads of our globe; they are everywhere. Chronic shuddering attests to their presence—No denial or substance abuse can assuage their terror. “Getting back to normal” seems illusory.

As bleak as this scenario appears, conversion of heart still works; its access requires rigorous honesty and humility and simplicity, within the context of prayerful solitude. We are not God and never have been.

At 2:25 A.M, a dream gentled my awareness:

It was Sunday morning; an oatmeal sky gloomed the city street as worshippers headed toward the church, its steeple still mottled from earlier rains. Among them sloshed a solitary woman in ill-fitting galoshes, her paisley scarf framing saw-toothed bangs, sallow cheeks, and pinched jowls. Winds whipped the tails of her faded coat, belted several times around her birdlike frame.

Initially the dream drew my compassion until I began to work with it and recognized myself in this impoverished woman.

Unlike her Good Will appearance, however, I was always dressed to the nines. It was her spirit that appalled me: bleak, colorless, taut as the power lines above her. Her aura seemed splintered, her energy dribbling upon the cracked sidewalk. A stranger to humor, to her tears, she seemed unaware of the wasteland burdening her stooped shoulders.

Because my Dreamer never lies, I own this beleaguered spirit; it feels rough, gangly, like a pimpled teen falling off a skateboard. Grounded, I no longer placate the god of control spinning webs of sticky illusion to appease my fear. In my arrogance, I had thought I was further along in my transition. But how absurd is it to plan for the totally known, despite years of scripture studies, of near death studies, and sitting with the terminally ill. True, I’ve learned much, but still the unknown remains the unknown. There’s no getting around it.

With the Psalmist, I continue to cry out, “Create, O God, a clean heart within me. Renew a right spirit within me.” On my own, this is impossible.

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