A Pile of Stones


Dr. Thom White Wolf FassettRead Habakkuk 2:11, Luke 3:8, Luke 19:39-40, & 1 Peter 2:5

My father, Spotted Horse, was a traditional Lakota pipe-carrier from the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota. By John Wayne’s standards, he was a medicine man.

And, although my mother was Seneca, there were common stories and traditions and oral stories that I knew about. But I didn’t know much about stones. I had read the biblical accounts as we are looking at them now but never saw more deeply than what was obvious.

One day, after a long-delayed visit to my father, we sat in his little one-room house on the Sitting Bull camp on the Grand River making what he called cowboy coffee and talking. Making the coffee was an important social ritual for him and he threw a fistful of coffee into a pot of water and put it on the propane hot plate to boil. He had no electricity.

Once it finished boiling and the churning grounds settled to the bottom, he poured a cup for each of us. I choked down the black water out of respect for him and listened to one of his rodeo stories.

As we sat at his little table by the open door where the light could brighten the room, I noticed a pile of stones outside of the door. They were not big stones but ones that you could put in your pocket or carry in a bag. I asked him what they were for.

He shifted in his chair and his face visibly changed as he prepared himself to tell me something. “Well,” he said reaching for the handful of stones on the little table where we sat, “people bring me stones.” I asked him what he did with them. He cleared his throat a few times and said “People bring them to me from miles around. They want me to tell them about them. They are special stones to them and they think they may be saying something that they don’t understand. They ask me to see what they are saying. That pile out there are stones that weren’t saying anything.” He sort of chuckled.

I was silent waiting for more. He then picked up a palmful of stones that were on the table in front of us and told me about them. He said people brought them to him to interpret them. “I had them here for a long time and couldn’t figure out what they meant. So, I threw them out on the pile. I had to go to town for supplies that day and when I got back and unlocked the door, they were back on the table. I’m still not sure what they are saying but I’m working on it.”

What do we make of this? Do we have what others would call superstition here, or do we have a new understanding of the stones based on Spotted Horse’s story that they were capable of things we had not believed before? Our modern society would scoff at stories like this. They would say they personally had never witnessed anything similar. They would brush off the story by saying “Stones don’t do those things.” And the medicine men and women might reply: “They don’t do them for you!” But stones are part of our traditional experiences whether Christian or Native. Faith calls us to believe that we are capable of things that we had not believed before.

(Rev. Dr. Thom White Wolf Fassett is a member of the Seneca tribe and is a retired elder of the Upper New York Conference of The United Methodist Church. This devotional is an excerpt from his book, On This Spirit Walk. Dr. Fassett will be one of two keynote speakers at the 2015 Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference in Peoria.)