St. Kateri, lessons of love

“Who can tell me what is most pleasing to God that I may do it?”
St. Kateri Tekakwitha

Rarely if ever in the many millennia of human civilization has there been a people group
who has not committed some atrocity.
American Indians are no exception

Casey Chalk, The Federalist

Kateri Tekakwitha—
Her feast day was July 14th and yet I just recently learned about her and her life.
She was of Algonquin and Mohawk roots.

Kateri’s baptismal name is “Catherine,” which in the Haudenosaunee (“Iroquois”)
language is “Kateri.” Kateri’s Haudenosaunee name, “Tekakwitha,”
can be translated as “One who places things in order” or “To put all into place.”
Other translations include, “she pushes with her hands” and
“one who walks groping for her way” (because of her faulty eyesight).

Kateri was born in 1656 at the Kanienkehaka (“Mohawk”) village of Ossernenon,
which is near the present-day Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville, New York.

Kateri’s father was a Kanienkehaka chief and her mother was an Algonquin Catholic.
At the age of four, smallpox attacked Kateri’s village, taking the lives of her parents and baby brother,
and leaving Kateri an orphan. Although forever weakened, scarred, and partially blind,
Kateri survived.
Kateri was adopted by her two aunts and her uncle, also a Kanienkehaka chief.

(Kateri.org)

History teaches us that many of the Native Americans contracted smallpox from the Europeans
with some Europeans purposefully infecting resident tribes.
Yet history also teaches us that tribal violence and attacks upon other tribes was
a constant threat to a tribe’s way of life.

A Mohawk war party in 1647 attacked and practically exterminated an Algonquin community.
The Iroquois, who practiced both slavery and cannibalism,
routinely tortured to death captured enemy warriors.
Kateri witnessed the torturing of Mohican warriors who had attacked her Mohawk village in 1669.

(The Federalist)

Kateri, upon meeting Jesus, put all of the difficulties of her past behind her.
Her sole focus became Christ.

Kateri often went to the woods alone to speak to God and to listen to him in her heart
and in the voice of nature.

When Kateri was eighteen years old, Father de Lamberville, a Jesuit missionary,
came to Caughnawaga and established a chapel.
Kateri was fascinated by the stories she heard about Jesus Christ.
She wanted to learn more about him and to become a Christian.
Father de Lamberville asked her uncle to allow Kateri to attend religious instructions.
The following Easter of 1676, twenty-year-old Kateri was baptized.

Not everyone in Kateri’s village accepted her choice to fully embrace Jesus,
which for her meant refusing the marriage that had been planned for her.
Kateri became a village outcast. Some members of her family refused her food on Sundays
because she would not work.
She suffered bullying, as some children would taunt her and throw stones.
She was threatened by some with torture or death if she did not renounce her religion.
Because of increasing hostility from some of her people, and because she wanted to be free
to devote her life completely to Jesus, in July of 1677,
Kateri left her village and traveled more than 200 miles through woods and rivers
to the Catholic mission of St. Francis Xavier at Sault Saint-Louis,
near Montreal.
Kateri’s journey through the wilderness took more than two months.
At the mission, Kateri lived with other Indigenous Catholics.

(Kateri.org)

Katei lived a life dedicated to serving Christ and Christ alone– because of
her virtue, modesty and humility, many Native Americans who knew her referred to
to her as a “Holy Woman.”

Kateri died on April 17, 1680, at the age of 24.
Her last words were, “Jesus, I love You.” Like the flower she was named for,
the lily, Kateri’s life was short and beautiful.
Moments after dying, her scarred face miraculously cleared and was made beautiful by God.
This miracle was witnessed by two Jesuit priests and all the others
able to fit into the room. Many miracles were to follow.

Three people had visions of her in the week following her death.
A chapel was built near her grave, and soon pilgrims began to visit,
coming to thank God for this Holy Woman.

Kateri is known as the “Lily of the Mohawks” and the “Beautiful Flower Among True Men.”
She is recognized for her heroic faith, virtue, and love of Jesus,
in the face of great adversity and rejection.

(Kateri.org)

Our Patron Saint

I learned about Saint Kateri when I read an article by Casey Chalk, a columnist for
The American Conservative, Crisis Magazine, and The New Oxford Review.
The article, Saint Kateri’s Story Dispels The Myth Of White People As Uniquely Evil,
brought to light the story of St. Kateri but it also highlighted the complexities of
early Native American tribes.

Indeed, tribes in the American southeast in the 18th and 19th centuries managed plantations
that “rivaled those of their white neighbors.”
In 1860, citizens of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Cree, and Chickasaw tribes owned more
than 5,000 black slaves.
So much for simplistic narratives about the white,
European oppression of American Indians and people of color.

And whereas our past, be it black, white, red, brown, yellow—slave, freeman or tribal member…
the one underlying thread is a single, yet deeply important component—
it is single fact that we are all the children of one God, one Father,
and as those children we have but one Savior found in Jesus Christ.

Mr. Chalk’s article reminds us that history is complicated—
and that man is perhaps even more complicated than his own history.

Certainly, the United States has an obligation to right past wrongs,
of which there are many, against indigenous peoples.
But we also have an obligation to avoid superficial,
Manichean portrayals of history that unnecessarily divide our nation and
inflame ignorant ideologies of hatred and outrage.

“There can never be peace between nations until there is first known that
true peace which is within the souls of men,” said Black Elk,
a Lakota medicine man who was present at both the Battle of the Little Bighorn
and the massacre at Wounded Knee. Later in life,
he converted to Catholicism and became a renowned catechist.

He, too, is being considered for sainthood.
The humble, pious, and patient witness of St. Kateri Tekakwitha
and Black Elk offer a better way of overcoming our national distemper,
one marked by love, forgiveness, and truth.

https://thefederalist.com/2020/07/14/saint-kateris-story-dispels-the-myth-of-white-people-as-uniquely-evil/

‘unthankful day’???

Ingratitude is always a kind of weakness. I have never known men of ability to be ungrateful.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Ungratefulness is worse than a cancer; it eats away at your soul;
blinding your heart and eyes to the beauty and miracles that are
all around us each day in our lives.

Geraldine Vermaak


(a storefront window seen in Savannah, Ga / Julie Cook / 2019)

Well, I certainly hope everyone had a warm, happy and thanks-filled Thanksgiving!

Whether yours was small and quiet or large and raucous, I hope you had
some time for a bit of private and or even vocal reflection…
being able to reflect upon what it was and is that you have in your life to be
thankful for and over.

I made mention, in one of my posts prior to my brief Thanksgiving hiatus, that
I was concerned about our society’s obsessive frenzy over of all things black,
cyber and local shopping for Christmas, as we hurridly hop from Halloween to Christmas
flippantly glossing over Thanksgiving…

That in our zest and zeal, for all things of consumerism and materialism,
we forget the importance that first and foremost, there must always be gratitude.

Like many other families and individuals, our little crew took the show on the road
this Thanksgiving.
We ventured to Georgia’s first city…the city of her inception, Savannah.

There’s a bit of personal history there and I’ll chat about that another day…
but for today, my focus is on that of being thankful.

Thursday, before we were to sit down and break bread over our own Thanksgiving dinner,
we enjoyed a leisurely stroll throughout this Southern historic city.
As we made our way through the city’s shopping district, we noted that there were
actually, a few businesses open, while the majority were closed for the observation of Thanksgiving.

As I would expect nothing less.
Families and individuals being able to take a day for a national observation of
gratitude.

I stopped in front of a local business that had posted a bit of a diatribe on their
storefront window extolling the importance of an “Unthanksgivng Day” as they
opted to stand with the indigenous people.
Decolonize this place they said??

Huh?

First I thought to myself, “here you are closed, on a national day of Thanksgiving so
perhaps you should have actually been open to show your true discontent…
or is that malcontent?
But instead, you were closed, most likely indulging in the day…”

And then I pondered the notion of decolonization…as in are we all to vacate this
Nation of ours, heading back to whatever land was that of our ancestors,
telling the last one out to leave a single light on.

The following day, I caught a news story in the same vein of thinking.
It was a story about how the disgruntled, or is that disgraced,
former football QB Colin Kaepernick, who had attended an
“Unthanksgiving Day” on Alcatraz Island, of all places, vocalized his endorsement for
an Indigenous People’s day while espousing the need to do away
with Thanksgiving.

Sigh.

Again, I thought, ‘here is a very blessed young American man who has had so very
much in his life to be thankful over and for, yet he’s promoting the notion of
being Unthankful…”

It makes no sense to me.

Am I the only one who sees the egregious irony in someone having been adopted
as a baby and in turn, afforded so very much love and opportunities, opportunities
found in a great land of freedom and just that, opportunity, and yet here he is touting
a day of Unthanksgiving?
Is not this unthanksgivng just another word for ingratitude?
As in unthankful?
As in ungrateful.

Oh, I get it.
I get what this is all about.
I get the gist behind all of this being that our Native American populations have grievously
suffered over the centuries at the hands of the white European’s first arrival and then
the ensuing conquest of the new land.

I have often said we owe a great deal to our native Americas past and present,
but try as we like, we cannot rewrite our history.
We can’t do away with Columbus Day despite his treatment of the locals upon landing…
because he also opened a great door.

We can’t discredit that.

We can’t decolonize a nation or toss out Thanksgiving because Pilgrims
have gotten more attention than their local native hosts.

That is what much of this millennial disgruntlement seems to be about…
a desire to rewrite an often less than stellar history.

But here’s the thing—you can’t rewrite your history…it is what it is.

It is there for better or for worse, in hopes that you will learn from it
not erase it just because you don’t like it.
It will not disappear no matter how hard you try to turn it into
something it never was.

That you will learn from what was
Grow from what was.
That you do not repeat the negative of what was.
But rather that you may find that which must be celebrated and
in turn, offer thanks…

Do not grouse.
Do not complain.
Do not lament.
Do not have a temper tantrum over that which you do not fully grasp
understand or truly know…
And do not whine over that which you cannot change.

But rather learn, grow and rejoice.

Be grateful.

Do not ask what is there to be grateful for…
the list is endless.

Be thankful for the others, who went before you, offered their lives
so you could live in a place that allows you to grouse, to complain
to have temper tantrums while you opt to hashtag everything that
comes across your phone.

Find your gratitude not your negativity.

All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more
people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

2 Corinthians 4:15

humble past

“You may delay, but time will not.”
Benjamin Franklin


(a bible sits open on an old pulpit in the Shoal Primative Baptist Church /
Talladega National Forest / Julie Cook / 2017)

A long time ago, before cotton was ever king…


(a rural cotton field, Rabbit Town, Alabama / Julie Cook / 2017)

Or 13 colonies fought to form a new and perfect union…
the Nation of the Creek Indians called the lands of what is now Georgia and
Alabama home.

It is estimated that these native Americans had lived and thrived in this region
before the year 800 AD, as they were descendants of an even earlier people, from
what is known as of the Mississippian period.

In 1733 Captain James Oglethorpe landed in the what is known today as
Savannah, Georgia.
He claimed the land south of the Carolinas and north of Spanish Florida,
in the name of King George…as the New Georgia.

In 1752 Georgia became officially the 13th colony.
However despite the British crown’s claim to this new land,
the Creek indians continued to be the majority inhabitants and land owners
of this young colony.


(James Ogelthorpe /Savannah, Georgia / Julie Cook / 2016

However that all began to change in 1760 with the continued exploration
and expansion westward by the British, Spanish and French.
Native Americans were quickly being squeezed from their ancestral lands
by a deluge of European exploration and subsequent settlers.

By 1800 the Creek Nation ceded all of their lands to the state of Georgia
and were forced to move westward…

This time they moved deep into the lands of what is known today as
the state of Alabama.
But in 1819, with Alabama being recognized as the 22nd state
in the Union, once again the Creeks were forced to relocate.

In 1830, following the orders by President Andrew Jackson,
the once proud Nations of the Cherokee, Creek and Choctaw
tribes were forced from their traditional lands,
and were relocated to reservations west of the Mississippi,
as Scotch/ Irish settlers made their way
south and west, down from the Carolinas, claiming these once tribal lands as
their new homesteads.

Around 1835 to 1840, deep in the back woods of the Alabama foothills of the
Appalachian Mountains, a small community of European settlers found a home
in a rugged area of Alabama.

These settlers were farmers, hunters, loggers and even moonshiners.

At the heart of their community these hardy settlers erected a log hewn church
to serve as an anchor for their community.
It was a building that would serve their community needs, their spiritual needs
as well as the educational needs of their children.


(Shoal Primitive Baptist Church, originally built in 1845 / Julie Cook / 2017)

Today both time and Mother Nature have each reclaimed this once small community.
Long forgotten are the voices of those first Native American inhabitants…
as well as the voices of those early European settlers.

Yet hidden deep within a mix of virgin forest and replanted pines,
resting at the end of a long forgotten rutted, single dirt lane road,
a lone wooden church remains ever vigilant…
standing the test of time.

She is a far cry from the great Cathedrals and Churches of big cities or
of far away lands.
She possess neither stained glass, gleaming silver or brass nor
ornately carved wooden fixtures.

For hers is a humble yet strong and determined example of faith.

Her small cemetery of unmarked graves whispers tales of those hardy souls
who once called these lands home…those individuals who worked the land
living and dying in the shadow of this church.


(the unmarked graves of Shoal Creek / Julie Cook / 2017)

The Shoal Primitive Baptist Church originally erected in 1845,
with the building we see today being rebuilt in 1895, is listed and recognized
as an important historic building on the National Registry.

It remains a lone sentinel of the early American pioneering spirit in an area
that is now known as the Talladega National Forrest.
This area was bought by the Federal Government and made a national park
by President Franklin Roosevelt in the early 1930’s.

The church is one of 6 remaining log hewn churches scattered throughout the state
of Alabama and still hosts special events such as Sacred Harp singings.

Inside this lovely and lonely darkened church, resting atop the single black pulpit,
sits a worn and tattered bible.

It is open to the book of Psalms….

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

Psalm 121