Tuesday, October 20, 2020

An Icon of the Wilderness: St. Kateri of the Iroquois

 



Our dog, Coco, is curled on a chair in the corner of my office, heaving deep, sleepy sighs, in-and-out. It’s a damp, gray day and napping long hours sounds like a wonderful plan. I am on my third glass of water, first cup of tea. I am not napping, but rather tending to email, scheduling zoom meetings, and reading about the wilderness motif as it appears in the Hebrew bible. 

Google dictionary tells me the wilderness is an “uncultivated, uninhabited, and inhospitable region.” An examination of the wilderness as imaged in the Hebrew Bible reveals it is a place of “intense experiences;” particularly, hunger, thirst, isolation, and danger. It's also a place of divine encounter. 

Looking out my home office window, I wonder at the wildness of this place, this space I find myself in. Is this small land, just two acres, wild enough for an encounter with God, or nature, or both? Is this way of life, this season, off the beaten path, its own wilderness? 

They say our bit of land, indeed much of the United States, is in drought this year. In the kitchen in the morning, after the kids have left for school, I tell my husband of the drought in my life, the lack of refreshment and nurture, the isolation. 

Later, settled in my office, after reading and prayer, I google for a once-discovered, then forgotten icon of St. Kateri of the Iroquois, and image I associate with the invitation to dwell in wilderness spaces for awhile. I spent just 15-20 minutes with this icon in one of my two years of spiritual direction training and she has hung around in the background of my mind ever since. Kateri, born in the forests of New York state, was the daughter of a captive Algonquin woman and Iroquois chief. Converted to Christianity by Jesuit missionaries, she walked 200 miles to join a Christian Indian village near Montreal. One website concludes, "She was a sign of contradiction to two cultures and a prophetic presence in both. She is an icon of Otherness." 

Although the details of Kateri's life and the traditions that surround it are complicated, the woman in Br. Robert Lentz's icon captivates me. She stands at the edge of a birchwood forest, with the trees receding behind her. I sense her invitation to the wilderness places of contradiction and betweenness; I sense her strength and prophetic presence. 

Later, I pray again for the strength to stay awhile in my own wilderness space; to commit to the wandering and waiting, as the Israelites did; and to trust the call to this journey, knowing I am not alone. 

1 comment:

  1. Kelly, as I read I pictured the wilderness during drought, as opposed to when it is well watered. I am saddened at the trees' and shrubs' drooping leaves and their fruit shed too soon and immature. They wait as you describe yourself waiting and to walk through them feels as if refreshment will never come, or not come soon enough. It seems the wilderness space, dry as it is, is your home for right now for reasons that only the Spirit knows. May blessings fall on you as you wait and walk through the dusty paths and may you recognize them when they come.

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