The Spokane Interfaith Council gathered a diverse representation of religions and cultures to ask a blessing of world peace. We convened at the summit of Mount Spokane, in part to honor the sacred traditions of the First People to inhabit this region, and in part to honor a request from the Venerable Geshe Thupten Phelgye. As an important part of the event, the Interfaith Council invited a representative of the Spokane people to offer a traditional blessing. I was honored to be the one who would fulfill their request.
As I considered the spiritual weight of the mountain, I felt compelled to share a prophetic story from our tradition:
I recited the story in my own words, and emphasized the grief and anger felt by the bereaved father. Who among us has never experienced that kind of loss, or suffered anger and doubt? When my own father died, I certainly felt a similar level of anger toward the Creator.
"A fresh Spokane grave in the plague year 1782 held the remains of the little son of Yureerachen ('Circling Raven'), a shaman brother of the chief of the Upper Spokanes. Yureerachen, anguished at the death, blasphemed the Creator. 'Why,' he sobbed to his chieftan brother, 'did He take my son, who has committed no crime, and leave bad people on the earth?' One day his chieftan brother told him, 'All right, we will be as animals; we will disband our laws. First, you must go to the top of the [Spokane] mountain and fast four days and nights, then come back the fourth day just before noon. If you find no proof of our Creator, we will then disband our laws and live like animals.' Clad only in a breechcloth, Yureerachen went to the top of the mountain. He built a fire, prayed, beat sticks, cried, and sang. On the fourth day, before dawn, in a burst of light, he heard the voice of the Creator. 'Look down the mountain into the future of your people,' spoke the Creator. Overwhelmed, Yureerachen knew in an instant that he had to bring word of this vision to his people. But he also knew the time to do so was not at hand, for in mourning the recent loss of their loved ones, they would never believe him. What should he tell them?
"Yureerachen raced down the hill to affirm to his chieftan brother and the other people his own faith in the Creator. The rest of his story, a prophecy, he kept to himself until the time should come to reveal it. One day, about the year 1790, there was a defeaning blast, the air clouded, and the ground became covered with a flour pumicite. The people, well versed in stories of the earlier volcanic catastrophe, were stricken with fear by the 'dry snow' mantling the earth. It was as though an evil hand were completing a sinister cycle on earth, from ashes to ashes. They thought the end of the world was at hand.
"Yureerachen felt it was the proper time to prophesy. First, he calmed his people with assurances that the Creator was not ending their existence on earth. 'Soon,' he said, 'there will come from the rising sun a different kind of man from any you have yet seen, who will bring with them a book, and will teach you everything, and after that the world will fall to pieces.' When the people pressed him for details, he said white men would come." *
*Ruby, Robert H. & Brown, John A., The Spokane Indians: Children of the Sun. Norman, Oklahoma: 1970.
And yet, as we stand upon the sacred mountain of my ancestors, we remember that the old chief re-discovered the Creator in the midst of his bereavement and allowed him to heal his anger and loss. We also remember that our prayers for peace will never become reality unless we arrive at a similar place of inward acceptance and peace. By releasing old hurts and anger, we allow a space for the peace to enter.
After the blessing, we had the opportunity to visit and take pictures.
Our group photograph was taken near the Vista House on the summit of Mount Spokane.
Of course, how could I stand at such a picturesque location and not provide my readers with another version of "the Barry?"
I tried to teach Geshe-la to make my famous pose, but in the end, the sun only hurt his eyes. As I struggled to focus the camera, he squinted in pain and cried, "Hurry!" Finally, he broke the pose and burst into a full belly laugh. Instead of capturing the somber, contemplative stereotype of a Buddhist monk, I captured his unrehearsed and unpretentious laughter (top photograph).
After the blesssing, Rhonda and I had a chance to appreciate the natural beauty of the mountain. This blue butterfly was for me something of a final touch to a perfect morning.