During my first month after the Spiritual Exercises I went to go live and work in South Dakota. One day the rector of the Jesuit mission asked if I wanted to go see Mt. Rushmore, and of course I responded “YES!”
I remember being disappointed by Mt. Rushmore. As a kid you hear about these monumental faces carved into the side of a mountain, and you can only imagine how grand that might be. The reality is that it is not very big and it is carved into the side of one of the Black hills which the Lakota, among other Native American peoples, hold to be the sacred place where life began.
|What Crazy Horse will look like when its done.|
Just down the road from Rushmore another, albeit less famous, sculpture is being hewn out of a mountain. Rather than just being in the side of a mountain, however, they are using the whole thing as if it were one gigantic chunk of marble. This statue will eventually be Crazy Horse, riding his horse and pointing forward across the hills. When it is finished, and they have been working on it for over 50 years already, it will be much larger than Rushmore.
When I returned to the Rosebud Reservation later that early March afternoon one of the Lakota men who worked for the St. Francis Mission pointed out something very interesting to me. “You know,” he said, “Rushmore would fit in Crazy Horse’s armpit.” I laughed and went home and thought about it some more that night. Not only was it an interesting fact, but also it spoke of a people who were reclaiming, at least a little, a measure of pride through this sculpture. This was sacred land that had been promised to them by treaty and taken away. For us Christians, it would be hard to imagine if someone forcibly took the Garden of Eden from us and then planted the symbol of their own civil leaders right in the middle of it, and yet that is what Rushmore actually is. That quick little statement equating Rushmore with the armpit of the Crazy Horse sculpture makes sense.
|The progress so far... it is so huge that it will take a while.|
Sometimes in our lives we can be all to quick to trample of things that are sacred to others, and I don’t just mean the Garden of Eden of another religion, it can be something so simple and so unseen. Sometimes, as it was with General Custer and his gold hunting expeditions taking the Black Hills, it is out of greed. Other times it is just because we fail to be intentional or mindful enough to respect the mystery of God present in another. When we take time to listen to the stories, though, we can see the beauty in what others find sacred, from the things that pertain to religious faith, to friends, family, home, or parts of their culture, and find in it that deep longing for deeper meaning that each of us experience.At the same time, when people trample on the things that we hold sacred it is always good to help someone else try to understand the dignity that they have offended so that there can be genuine reconciliation. Jesus’s turning the other cheek wasn’t meant to allow people to beat us down, it was meant to cause the person who had just slapped you to have look you in the eye and to have to recognize you as a human with dignity. Sometimes to help people come to a clearer understanding we too need to turn the other cheek, or really want to make our point, you can put those moments in a place that shows how truly odiferous they are, like in the armpit.