|Photo by Christophe Maertens on Unsplash|
Anthropologist Don Reese tells a story about his graduate school internship on a Kiowa reservation in the Midwest. At that time, the Kiowa grew vegetables for subsistence, and their most plentiful crop was a misshapen, purple corn. Don had been sent to the reservation to introduce a hybrid yellow corn that his university’s agricultural team had shown to be more nutritional and easier to grow than the Kiowas’ purple strain.
Following anthropological etiquette, Don spent several weeks getting acquainted with tribal members before making home visits to every family to explain the advantages of the yellow corn. After each presentation, Don left a supply of hybrid seed for planting. Everyone graciously thanked him.
But in the following weeks, no one planted the yellow corn. That summer, Don watched as the Kiowa harvested another purple corn crop. Feeling like a failure, he asked a tribal Elder to explain what he had done wrong.
The two men met outside the old man’s house where Don painfully recounted his experience. The Elder was silent for a long while. Then he turned to Don and asked, “Mr. Reese, do you know who we are?”
Puzzled, Don said, “Yes, you’re the Kiowa.”
The Elder reached into a burlap bag and drew out an ear of purple corn. Holding it up with reverence, he said, “We are the people who plant this corn.”
Remembering this story today in a time of societal upheaval and global pandemic, I imagine that the Kiowa planted purple corn not only in years when life was going well. They also planted it in seasons of drought, scarcity, and in “the years that the swarming locust has eaten.” They planted their corn in seasons when diseases for which they had no immunity claimed the lives of loved ones, and after their ancestral lands had been seized. Even when they had no assurance they’d survive as a people, they still dug holes and planted purple corn, hopeful their efforts would produce nourishment that would somehow sustain them. Planting their corn anchored and defined them.
This led me to ask: what anchors and defines us? What sustains us during periods of uncertainty? What can we rely on when we are feeling afraid, despondent, oppressed, or lost? What is our corn?
I think our corn is Prayer. We plant it day after day, season after season, regardless of what is happening in the world around us. Prayer is inviolable, trustworthy, and sustaining. Prayer has always been our source of hope, and over the years it has been as nourishing as the Kiowas’ corn.
If we don’t know what to say when we pray, we don’t have to use words. We can meditate. We can contemplate. We can walk in nature. But however we choose to pray, we trust that God hears us and responds, even when we don’t understand the response.
On good days, we know deeply that God is with us, never abandoning us, working in our lives, molding and shaping us even when we are fearful about what will happen next or how it will happen.
On the best days, prayer leads us into compassionate acts of service, and we are united in Christ. When we plant our prayers, we trust they will bear fruit in ways that are “abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”
Do you know who we are? We are the people who pray. We are the people who plant this corn.
“…the years that the swarming locust has eaten.” Joel 2:25, NRSV
“…abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine…” Ephesians 3:20, NRSV