I already had a slight buzz going as I sat down at the fire. It was a large bonfire with over 30 chairs circled around it, and in each one sat a beloved member of my dad’s Irish-blooded side of the family. My uncle Mike had promised to provide a surprise for our family reunion campfire that night, and he certainly delivered.
Our unexpected guest suddenly appeared like out of an old movie – leather pants, a dangling feather from his long gray hair, a kindly face with weathered wrinkles and a flute. His name was unpronounceable to me – Wehyehpihehrsehnhwah – but it meant Blue Jacket, so that’s what we called him.
For the next hour or so I was mesmerized by this wonderful Shawnee Indian who told us stories of his life and enchanted us with his beautiful, healing flute playing.
He spoke of his grandfather, who was kidnapped while playing in his own front yard and put into a group home where he was forbidden to speak his native language for fear of physical reprimand, and forced to adopt the language and habits of the “white man”. My own government did this – I am ashamed of that. The same government that today holds thousands of children in warehouses, separated from their families. I am ashamed of my government for this too. Sadly, some things don’t change.
His grandfather ran away and returned home but they sent him to live with a relative so that he would not be taken away again.
Blue Jacket had spoken with his grandfather about the anger he felt at what the American government had done to their people, especially stealing him from his parents and causing such trauma. His grandfather was a wise man – and not just in his old age.
He instructed young Blue Jacket that the only way to live is to walk daily in FORGIVENESS.
The Shawnee name for this is tekekeecomecawaylatah. Bring the anger out and release it through forgiveness. A Shawnee leader once said “Only light will cure moldiness; only light will purify your spirits.” Keeping dark anger festering inside only invites unhealthy bitterness to grow and spread.
Live forgiveness. Keep the light shining in.
Be like the moon, his grandfather said – let others howl and do what they will do but know that it cannot affect you one bit if you know who you are.
Know who you are and know your history. If you don’t know where you came from you won’t know how to get out of the forest.
This from a people group we shamefully tried to erase.
Yet they taught to be like the moon, shine on, not letting the howling wolves affect their identity.
To me, when the bully oppresses, steals and hurts, the greater soul is the one who chooses to forgive and continue to shine – despite the circumstances. Shawnees possessed great souls, and great understanding.
Be a good human being. That was what his grandfather taught him.
And thank and respect the life-giver.
One of their leaders Tecumseh instructed his people: “When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light, for your life and strength. Give thanks for your food, and the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks the fault lies with yourself.”
Yet as with so many of our native tribes, the Shawnee ultimately succumbed to the white man because they were bought out, won over by the new shiny gifts the white men brought. They sold them alcohol, guns and other inventions which lured them away from their roots. They became enslaved and ultimately lost everything.
‘If you had lived the way I taught you, the white men could never have got you under their foot.”
Like so many of us, they sold out and lost themselves in the process. They gave away their power, which lay in the simplicity of the truths they had been entrusted with by the Truth-giver.
That night I had what Oprah calls an Ah-ha moment. See, I grew up as a missionary and pastor kid, so our entire life-goal was to spread what we believed to be the ultimate truth which changes lives and sets people free. We wanted to turn people to our particular brand of truth, believing it to be the ultimate and only truth. We thought that all other religions or belief systems were flawed, lacking something, and inevitably led people astray. Our way was THE way, and so my parents devoted their lives (and ours in the process) to the pursuit of converting unbelievers into believers.
This is a noble goal to be sure and I have the utmost respect for my parents and all those who go about this Earth working to bring about life change for the better, preaching and living lives of love and peace and healing.
But that night, listening to the Shawnee, I realized that truth is not copyrighted by any one religion.
Here’s the thing – any truth that is legitimate will show up ALL OVER THE WORLD. It will be found and recognized by seekers everywhere. It may come in different packaging, but it is still the same basic truth, lovingly given to all who seek it, to help guide them into a better way of living, a freer existence, a more joyful and fulfilling journey through life.
Ultimately the truth should lead us into alignment with the Life-giver.
Have you ever found it amazing when you have discovered a truth within your own people, religion or culture, only to then find it echoed from a totally different source? How did they also learn this? They are from such different circumstances than I am. How is it possible that we – from two different sides of the globe – can sense and respond to the same life principle?
It must be that truth is deeper than anything that divides us – in fact, truth is the ultimate unifier of cultures and nations. I had now found truth principles that were shared by Shawnee indians and twelfth century European monks. Lessons which were learned both by the Peace pilgrim and Gandhi, on opposite sides of the world at the same time.
Something transcendent had occurred here.
Maybe these Shawnee teachings will ring true to you also?
They teach that Mother is both life and the life-giver. She cannot create an ugly thing. Everything she creates is sacred because she leaves part of her DNA in it. Everyone is BEAUTIFUL. Since everything from Mother is sacred then it is to be respected – man, animal, plant – all are gifts from mother Earth, who is Life itself. It is humans who then make things ugly. We disrespect and mar the gift.
The Shawnee showed their respect by taking only what they needed – no more.
They also had a more societal view of life and saw the village and the community as the greater good. The most respected man or woman in the village was the one who was the greatest giver because they did the most good for the community. How different from our individualistic every-man for himself lifestyle! Giving and sharing were the ways in which they all survived.
Another Shawnee truth which is universal is that we are all here to care for the web that exists between man, animal and plant. What you do to one strand of the web affects the strength and well-being of the entire web. What we do to the earth we do to ourselves. We are seeing this now with the countless repercussions caused by decades of abuse and pillaging which we have mindlessly wrought on our planet.
Did you know that when the white men arrived here there were sycamore trees 300 feet tall that could shelter 20 men inside its hollowed out bark? The forests were so dense that a squirrel could climb a tree in Maine and not touch the ground until the Mississippi river. Stunning! Countless wildlife in every area – beaver, buffalo, wolves, antelope, eagles, salmon… we have decimated these populations to the endangered level for many, a rare sight for others. Greed has paved the way for our ever growing reach into the oceans, the underground, the shores…we want it all. We have taken all we can and then treated the Earth like our garbage can, filling it with our refuse.
What have we done? When will it be enough? When will we see the web strands are being broken and the health of the entire planet is being compromised?
That night I wrote down some of the more impactful truths he shared so that I could continue to contemplate them and research them. But it made me realize that TRUTH is not religion or people specific because it comes from the Truth Giver and he does not belong to anyone. He IS. The one thing He cares about is creation – the earth and the creatures on it. Truth is for all those who seek it so that we can all fall into step with what matters most to the life-giver.
I was raised in a very religious setting, adhering to a particular denomination, and yet here was an old Shawnee man from such a different background, telling me truths which mirrored my own. Turns out truth is truth. No religion can copyright it and claim it.
It simply exists for all to find and follow it if they so choose.
One last unexpected event drove this mystical prophets message closer to home for me.
After we thanked him and hugged him that night, Blue Jacket went home, climbed into bed, and peacefully made his transition into his next chapter.
He was gone.
He had shared with us that to the Shawnee, death is not to be feared. They simply return to Mother. He had shared how when his wife passed of cancer, he held her in his arms until her final breath. And he believed that every time a gentle breeze blew and caressed his cheek, it was her, visiting him. Now he was with her again.
When I found out he had died, and that we had been his past pow wow, the last humans with which he left his beautiful message, I was shaken. What a privilege to have heard him and shared his last moments on Earth! It was something I was meant to hear.
I must never forget:
Be a good human being.
Thank the giver and respect the gift.
I will forever be indebted to the Truth-Giver for sharing those gems with me that night, along with the healing and peaceful music of a Shawnee’s magical flute. It was a mind blowing experience for my small, black and white mind, and freed me to grow my understanding a little more. Thanks to Blue Jacket I learned about the universality of truth.
Now if I could just figure out what it means to be a good human being.
The quest for truth continues…