This week I continue my series of reflections on wisdom I heard at the Spiritual Directors International’s 2022 Conference. Today I want to share my responses to a powerful talk given by Woman Stands Shining, a Diné woman who enthralled us one afternoon with a wrenching and inspiring story about her own family’s generational trauma, primarily as a result of her grandmother and parents having been forced to attend a Dutch Reformed missionary school.
We’ve been hearing a lot of stories lately about the atrocities perpetrated at Christian-run schools for Native American children. I grew up not far from the Indian School in Albuquerque. The Presbyterian-run school was still operating when I was a child, although I don’t ever remember visiting the campus. It closed in 1981, a century after its opening. Over the next dozen years, almost every building burned down, often under suspicious circumstances.
Woman Stands Shining’s story was fundamentally about somatic healing and the capacity to love. She told us this in regard to her mother:
You can’t make someone feel so repulsed about what they were born as and love them at the same time. And you can’t expect someone who hasn’t received that love, the attachment, to be able to transmit that to the next generation.
Take a moment to let that reality sink in. Woman Stands Shining’s mother was taught that everything about her was repulsive: her language, her culture, her skin color, her traditions, her faith, her family. No wonder her mother didn’t know how to love. No wonder Woman Stands Shining had trouble understanding love. She said her mother would flinch when she tried to hug her—somatic wounding indeed, on both sides.
Despite Jesus incessantly preaching love, the “Christian” groups which ran these schools clearly (to my mind) strayed far from the message of Jesus. No wonder there are so many young people today who look at Christian history and want nothing to do with it.
So, what does all this have to do with the quote that forms the title of this post? After receiving effective healing treatment through somatic trauma release, Woman Stands Shining speaks of finding herself in an ongoing state of “euphoria” today. Released from trauma, she’s reconsidering what Spirit is calling her to do with her life. She spoke of wondering if we are each stuck a shadowed movie house, wearing special goggles and earphones that distort what we see and hear. “We collide there in the dark while the sun is shining outside,” she said.
I would add that when we collide, the messages from those goggles and earphones have taught us to respond antagonistically. We assume, because we collide, that the other has bumped us intentionally and is out to hurt us. We don’t stop to investigate; we instinctively strike back. Far too often, we are no longer listening to each other. The conditioning from our cultural earphones is too strong.
Whether we identify as Christian or not, we have work to do. We need to get outside our movie houses, take off the goggles and earphones, and really listen. Listening to the variety of voices at SDI’s conference formed part of that process for me.
We also need to allow, and invite, oppressed people to bring about healing in ways that work for them. The 80-acre Indian School property in Albuquerque is one such example. It is now owned by the Tribal Councils of the 19 New Mexico Pueblo Communities. The single remaining building from the old Indian School now houses a free charter school for Native students. The rest of the land is intentionally being developed for the benefit of Native peoples. The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center shares the rich Native heritage our forebears tried so hard to erase. There are now hotels (where Henry and I stay when visiting Albuquerque), restaurants, and other businesses flourishing on land that once held only trauma and tears.
For me, it’s an example of what we can do when we no longer collide in the dark and walk out into the sun. I celebrate what’s possible and invite you to join me in listening and supporting such good work.