Evil vs. the Angels of Stony Island
by Jim Heaney

“What we’re trying to do is help you see earth as a living, breathing organism so that you will begin to treat our planet withreverence. It’s like the bumper sticker, ‘Give a hoot, don’t pollute’ but in a deeper way.”
“Is there a schedule?” someone asked.
“Our first session takes place at noon, in the lodge. There are two bunkhouses down this path. They are marked Guys and Gals and please, no hanky–panky. We’ve had some problems lately. It is important to stay focused. Just as life leads you, you must let us lead you to a place of awareness.”
I unpacked in the guys’ bunkhouse, then walked over to the lodge. It was basically a one-story wooden cabin, with square casement windows. The interior walls were beige. Six stained-glass light fixtures hung from a twelve-foot ceiling. The floor area was like a quaint living room, filled with couches, easy chairs, and tables. A gray stone fireplace in the north wall had a blazing fire going.
Thunder Foot greeted us, told us what was going to happen, and then had us pair off into partners “to vent your anger about a person who wronged you seriously.” I sat face to face with a smallish, very polite woman in her fifties named Susan. Slowly, she stated that she had been hurt by her husband’s infidelities. She felt very angry because of his betrayal, and foolish for having been so loyal. She wished she were still young.
“How could qualities such as dedication and loyalty be foolish?” I asked.
She shrugged, lowered her head and sobbed. I looked around the room. Most pairs had a partner who was either crying or yelling at the other partner. Thunder Foot walked around the room offering suggestions and making sure things didn’t get out of hand. He stopped when he came to us. Placing his hand on Susan’s shoulder, he asked me how it was going. “your name should be Chief Handker Chief,” I said.
The chief grinned. Susan raised her eyes and gave me a faint smile.
“Just as life leads you, you must let us lead you to a place of awareness,” he said, repeating part of his welcoming speech.
Susan continued to cry until she had no more tears. Curiously, she felt calm and relaxed.
“Switch roles now,” Thunder Foot directed. I screamed about alcoholics and child abuse until I was calm. Susan sat quietly listening. When I finished, Susan said, “I have three beautiful children whom we cherished. They’ve grown to be wonderful adults.”
“The byproduct of your loyalty and dedication. Do you see them much?”
“Focus on the silver lining,” I suggested.
When this part of the retreat had run its course, Thunder Foot took us outside.
“Now we will walk with nature,” he said. We hiked through the magnificent scenery until we came to a teepee-shaped hut built of mud and saplings in the middle of a clearing. A small fire burned under rocks gathered from the forest. Thunder Foot pointed to the teepee.
“This sweat lodge is an Indian church. Here we will pray. The theme for our prayer is Father-God and Mother-earth providing compassion as One, which is needed for the survival of the animal kingdom, planet earth, and humankind.”
We gathered in the sweat lodge and sat around a hole in the middle of the dirt floor. One of Thunder Foot’s helpers brought the hot rocks and placed them in the hole, then poured water on the rocks to create steam. Thunder Foot prayed aloud while we meditated collectively to Father-God.

Father‑God of planet, animals, and people,
Bless our Mother‑Earth as giver of life,
Supply us with everything we truly need for our growth,
And instill in us the desire to nurture Her ability to nurture us.

When the meditation on his particular request was over we locked eyes. His commitment to the land touched me deeply. “Please pray with me,” he said.
I nodded. The prayer that I offered went like this: My Creator, I offer my life to protect the infant souls. Please grant them safe passage from child to adult. Continue to bestow your holiness on the Little Ones, And supply me with courage and wisdom to change what I can. Amen. We prayed into the darkness of night in front of the fire.
“This afternoon we vented our anger against those who harmed us,” Thunder Foot said.
“Let us now switch our focus to our part in the relationship. How have we retaliated against those who attacked us? What can we stop doing to bring peace to the relationship? How can we meet anger with kindness? When we have honestly faced these questions, forgiveness will be possible.” We discussed our difficulties openly and made resolutions to forgive them. My resolution went like this:
“I have fought my family wherever possible but now will lead through example, which will begin with forgiveness of them.”
Instantly I realized that this outpouring of my heart was the answer, because it brought incredible peace. It would work for every living creature in every situation and culture, even alcoholic Irish-Americans in Chicago. The next morning, Thunder Foot walked me to my car and we shared a moment of reverence over our passions, his for the sacredness of Mother earth and mine for the protection of the children of the planet. We wished each other well on the journey and shook each other’s forearms in brotherhood. He whispered,
“Look up. They’ve come.” Three American bald eagles were soaring over the sweat lodge. Thunder Foot chuckled. “We made good prayer last night. Something good will come from it. Be steady in your determination to free the children of the planet.”

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