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Fr. Dave's Notes

​Mending the Sacred Hoop: Finding our way together

I keep wondering, “To what can I liken the COBID-19 Pandemic?” While I’m sure I’m not alone with this question, this is what has turned up as I ponder.  

Nicholas Black Elk, a traditional Oglala Lakota Holy Man, Catholic Catechist and mystic, gives us a graphic image of a culture-wrenching end to a way of life when he remembers the Massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota on December 29, 1890:

“I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream . . . the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered.”

The “nation’s hoop” is broken, he says.

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For Native Americans, both in the old days and even today, a potent and vivid metaphor for human society is the Sacred Circle, the “Sacred Hoop.”  Within this hoop is found all that is, the “two-Legged (humans), the four-legends, the fish in the water and the winged creatures of the air.” It is the sacred, inclusive circle of life. Here they found cosmic meaning and their societal and individual identity. For thousands of years, Indigenous North Americans thrived in this universe. But an irresistible invasion – white culture – overtook them, ate up their resources, destroyed their economy, assailed their spiritual beliefs and left many thousand dead. Wounded Knee was but the climactic moment in this process.

In such desperate straits, the Native Americans could have disintegrated as a people, fallen apart and disappeared from history. But they chose to gather their cultural pieces and hang on to one another.

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Similarly, I believe that today’s COVID-19 pandemic has left our culture’s “sacred hoop” badly stressed, even broken. Our vision of America, what it means and how we are part of it, is suffering terribly – economic, emotional, spiritual stressors abound. The hope of many is challenged. All feel the pinch. The luckier among us have the resources to suffer less, but others do not and suffer more. While most US inhabitants will receive governmental assistance, sadly, some will get nothing.

“We’re all in this together,” we hear. Yes, we are. And only together we will find our way through these times. We must gather in our most prized values and virtues; we must hang together.

For Native Americans a primary if not central virtue is generosity. Tribal peoples have always known that survival depends on everyone taking care of and watching out for everyone else. Personality and politics aside, this means sharing. Sharing when there is plenty and sharing when there is little. Once, back when I was pastoring on the Pine Ridge Reservation, a young Lakota man called out to me as I was lending a 100 cup coffee maker to an Indian Taco stand: “Your prayer has been answered today, Father.” How so, I responded.


“Because you got to help someone.”

Pulling together mends what is broken. Taking one another by the hand is essential to reunite the sacred circle of human society. So what does all this tell me?

I find these words, also from Black Elk, inspiring:

“Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. … And I saw the sacred hoop of my people was one of the many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy...”

Committed to the value of service to others, Casa Romero supports the grass roots efforts of Ayuda Mutua MKE. This organization gathers basic necessities to help sustain numerous families in our Milwaukee community, families which do not qualify for governmental assistance at this time. Many of our community members find themselves unemployed and ineligible for public assistance. These families depend on the generosity of others

to make it through these stressful times. They need our help. It is true: “We are in this together.”

Please help as you are able. It is holy.

Fr. David

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