The message of this book is to keep up hope and to find your courage. A more timely set of virtues for what ails us couldn’t be found.
Steven Charleston is a member of the Choctaw Nation, living in Oklahoma. He is also an Episcopal priest and former president and dean of the Episcopal Divinity School. He’s 73 years old.
“Day after day, morning after morning, I say my prayers,” he writes in the introduction to this book, “outside, if weather permits — in a traditional Native American way. I start by acknowledging the four sacred directions that encompass my life in the holy geometry of creation, then I acknowledge the earth beneath me and the sky above me, and finally I speak to the Spirit in humility and remain silent to hear what reply comes into my heart.”
These replies that the author hears in the heart form the core of his book. They’re important for others to hear, as they are full of hope and courage in the face of sorrow, difficulties, and loss.
Chapter 1 is about faith. Chapter 2 is about blessing. Chapter 3 is specifically about hope, and what it means to have hope today. Chapter 4 focuses on community, and its increasing elusiveness in our lives. Chapter 5 is a challenge to action. Chapter 6 asks, in various ways, what is truth? Chapter 7 deals with renewal and the power of change. And chapter 8 is on “The Rung of Change” since “the light is coming.”
One of those replies that Charleston hears in his heart, from the first chapter, is called “Stubborn of Spirit”:
“I don’t know if I am spiritual or stubborn or a combination of both. But the more the bad news piles up, the more determined I am to respond to it with the good news I feel so clearly in my mind and heart. Yes, life is hard. It is full of suffering and sorrow — and believe me, I have had my fair share. But life is also beautiful, full of moments that are transcendent in their healing and love. I know because I have been blessed by more of them than I can count. I cannot change the reality of pain or loss, but I can claim the reality of grace and joy. Maybe I am just stubborn, but I want my last word be not a complaint, but an alleluia.”
That is perhaps the best summation of the wisdom in this powerful book.
There are stories of Coyote, the trickster, and there are laments over climate change. Charleston reminds the reader that all of us and all of our social systems are interconnected, and truth is still real.
Charleston also points out lies in our lives and lies coming from our elected officials, but then reminds the reader: “Truth does not get lost.”
In the realm of action, he says that the Spirit is “the maker of all things” and the Spirit “calls each one of us to share her image” by not being complacent, or sitting idle when work needs to be done, “but to take up our tools [because every creature has tools] and make tomorrow happen.”
One of the things we appreciated most was the emphasis on the wisdom of elders and the necessity (somewhat lost today) of listening to them as teachers. Charleston says “Elders are a people of the future.”
“My culture respects the elders not only because of their wisdom, but because of their determination. The elders are tough. They have survived many struggles and many losses. Now, as they look ahead to another generation, they are determined that their sacrifices will not have been in vain, that their children’s children will not grow up in a world more broken than the one they sought to repair. The elders are voices of justice. They are champions of the earth. They defend the conscience of the community. We follow the elders because they have a passion for tomorrow. They are people of the future, not the past.”