Karen Artichoker, an Oglala Sioux woman from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, once introduced herself to a national domestic violence conference in the way of her people.. She told us who her parents were and named herself as their daughter. She put herself in relationship with her grandparents and great grandparents and the elders who had taught her. And that was it. She did not talk about her professional accomplishments, which were many, nor her education, nor her extensive expertise in the field of domestic violence in Native populations.
As I listened to her subsequent presentation I could imagine the people she had named standing with her, surrounding her, proud and loving. Her successes were theirs, too. They were her cloud of witnesses, the web of humanity that was brought a bit forward in a new, creative direction in her.
My cloud of witnesses includes family members who are gone, but also teachers and mentors. Members of my church communities who worshiped with me and encouraged me to develop my gifts and engage in the ministries into which God has called me are part of that web that moves with me in my explorations and successes. Some of these relationships were complicated, fraught with pain as well as joy, with tearing me down as well as building me up. Such is the nature of our entanglements with one another.
Today, on All Souls Day, a time when the veil between worlds is thin, I pray a litany, asking all these people to be with me, to stand beside me, in the year ahead. This places me squarely in the midst of something bigger than I am, and reminds me of my affiliations.
All of us have such a cloud of witnesses. Some we may know well, others we may not know at all. But this is the stock from which we were made, an anchor in the Soul-dissolving currents of contemporary society. Light a candle to your people today, and say their names out loud. God has blessed you with them in all the complexity of those entanglements – as God blessed them with you.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and writer living in Fort Collins, Colorado. Some of her ions can be viewed at http://everydaymysteries.com. And check out her novel at https://smile.amazon.com/dp/B074G137V8/ref=smi_www_rco2_go_smi_g2609328962?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1&ie=UTF8