Tuba City Mission Trip: Day Three (Sweat Lodge)

Work continued in ernest today, I never saw one of our 76 children or adults slacking…they were all working hard for Jesus. The wood hauling crew on which most of the Merkel folks were working cleared branches and loaded wood so fast the Forest service crew working ahead of them had to work overtime to catch up. Texans can certainly work.

The wood they collect will be distributed to the Navajo most in need this winter. This act of good will builds the trust Paul needs to break barriers to spread the good news.

To better appreciate the culture we are serving everyone was given the opportunity to participate in Sweat Lodge http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweat_lodge Sweat lodge holds important spiritual, ceremonial and purifying purposes to the Navajo. Our experience and this account in no way serves as a legitimate source for authentic sweat lodge information or the meanings and purpose behind them. I am only recounting our experience.

As we drove 20 miles out of Tuba City, 3 miles on a single lane dirt (gravel and sand) road the sun was just thinking about setting. We arrived at the sweat lodge site at an authentic hogan on a working Navajo ranch. As you will find sporadically around the Navajo nation an authentic (and well used) sweat lodge was a short walk format the back door.

The sweat lodge in no way resembles what you are picturing in your mind. Sunken two feet in the ground the approximately 8ft diameter circle is covered with split cedar planks and a thick coat of the local soil. It blended in perfectly with the landscape and except for a blanket covered door you would think it was a small mound of dirt.

Rocks were ready to be heated by a fire just outside the entrance of the lodge immediately in front of the door. To get the rocks properly hot I have read it takes up to three hours…for our purposes we waited an hour as we watched the flames consume the rocks.

We had prepared ourselves for the experience by removing anything metal and drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Most wore shorts and t-shirts with natural fibers to avoid any burns from melted synthetics. Because we were participating in a Christian version of the lodge we had reflected in prayer requests for our experience.

After an hour, 10 glowing rocks were gently placed with pitch fork just inside the door. Once deemed hot enough small groups began entering for sessions lasting 15-20 minutes Following Navajo customs girls went separate from the boys (and first).

I admit right I was apprehensive about the whole experience…not because of the lodge itself but because of the “touchy feely” aspect. I’m just not a sharing kind of guy. But because I love my wife and the curiosity of a new experience I agreed to it.

As the 11 men and I entered the lodge clockwise and sat side-by-side in a very cramped and dirt floor fFive glowing rocks were added to the pile, the blanket door closed, and the room became pitch black. I couldn’t see the proverbial hand in front of my face and it was hot (I thought…it would get much hotter).

Paul, serving as the lodge master, asked each man to give their name and discuss something we would like the rest to pray for. As we discussed our issues the temperature continued to increase. When the final request was made Paul directed us to begin praying aloud and at once not for our own requests but only for the requests of the other men. Water was thrown on the rocks as we began to pray and illegible sound filled the room, almost like a chant.

After several minutes of prayer and steam someone started a hymn and the illegible individual prayers transformed into a unified voice of praise to God. At the end of the session Paul chanted a Navajo exclamation and threw back the door. We exited clockwise into the cool desert air feeling refreshed spiritually and physically.

We only experienced one short session, the Navajo will endure multiple sessions to “suffer and pray” with only short break mixed into the sessions. While I cannot comment on the spiritual aspect of the traditional Navajo culture but I imagine the Navajo Christians surely benefit from the focus meditation and prayer experienced in a sweat lodge.


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