Night skies, a long ago healing time

Wednesday, September 18

Thomas Cenatolla caught my attention today, during a morning awash in memories from 1968 and 1969 when I spent two summers living on the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation. Carmel and Serena Two Elk, two sisters now in their sixties – – reminded me of when they were children during a second summer living in the Tios’paye of Luke and Rose Weasel Bear deep in The Rez. They all knew that some hard inner attention was eating at my spirit all that summer. It showed each night when it got dark when our kerosene lamps no longer offered light to read by, I walked c. a quarter mile away from our camp and up a hill that framed our horizon. I stood there on top of the hill into the dark sky, for perhaps an hour each night. I remember those darkening night skies as the gradual healing of a deep, year-long depression that would end some weeks later with the death of Steve Tobacco (Wanblee Ska – “White Eagle”).


This morning when Carmel and Serena told me their memories of those long nights, I took this picture of that hill; it happened that a soft rain storm came to rest where I used to stand.


These long memories remind me that “sabbatical” comes from “Sabbath” which for several thousand years has meant “a sacred time when stillness welcomes strategic planning while also revealing the sacred heart of human presence in the world.”


Best to read the poem out loud, with pauses.

Have a blessed mid-week,

john sj


Sacred Hill – Oglala, South Dakota – September 17, 2019


“In the Evening We Shall Be Examined on Love”
—St. John of the Cross

And it won’t be multiple choice,
though some of us would prefer it that way.
Neither will it be essay, which tempts us to run on
when we should be sticking to the point, if not together.
In the evening there shall be implications
our fear will change to complications. No cheating,
we’ll be told, and we’ll try to figure the cost of being true
to ourselves. In the evening when the sky has turned
that certain blue, blue of exam books, blue of no more
daily evasions, we shall climb the hill as the light empties
and park our tired bodies on a bench above the city
and try to fill in the blanks. And we won’t be tested
like defendants on trial, cross-examined
till one of us breaks down, guilty as charged. No,
in the evening, after the day has refused to testify,
we shall be examined on love like students
who don’t even recall signing up for the course
and now must take their orals, forced to speak for once
from the heart and not off the top of their heads.
And when the evening is over and it’s late,
the student body asleep, even the great teachers
retired for the night, we shall stay up
and run back over the questions, each in our own way:
what’s true, what’s false, what unknown quantity
will balance the equation, what it would mean years from now
to look back and know
we did not fail.

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