The Blackfoot People were very appreciative of the time I was able to spend in Gleichen. I drove up on Monday and visited around during the week with a parishioner, Arthur, who was extremely helpful in guiding me around and acting as interpreter. Arthur later took Holy Orders and served there as a priest himself.
On Sunday, we celebrated the Liturgy in the Old Sun School Chapel and the people turned out in large numbers. Arthur would assist me in the liturgy, which was a mixture of English and Blackfoot-particularly the readings from Scripture. In those days, there were no written texts in Blackfoot. Arthur was absolutely amazing the way he could translate the readings into Blackfoot directly from the English of the Book of Common Prayer. I was always in awe of his wonderful gifts. My comprehension of spoken Blackfoot was such that I could vaguely follow what was being said, and, of course, knowing what was appointed to be read helped considerably.
On one particular visit, it was the week of Pentecost Sunday, which I thought would be a wonderful opportunity to introduce, or at least emphasize, the wonderful diversity of language and culture that God has called us to share. I perused the readings as I prepared my sermon. However, I was completely stalled when I looked at the readings for that day. It was, of course, the account from the Acts of the Apostles, where the author-undoubtedly Luke-describes the scene. People of many heritages and cultures gathered together to share in the wonderful experience of receiving God's Spirit in their midst. I read the words over and over:
"And now hear we every man in our own tongue, Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and Proselytes, Cretans, and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God."
I thought, My God, whatever will a Blackfoot Indian in the middle of the Alberta plains ever make of that? Phrygians and Cretans! As I contemplated the problem, I thought, Somehow I must try to make this a little more relevant. I am not, and never have been, any sort of revolutionary, nor have I ever thought of myself as being on the cutting edge of innovation in liturgy, but it seemed important that this be clarified. I sat down at my portable typewriter and tried to come up with a translation that would convey the real intention of this text. Eventually, I came up with something like this:
"And now hear we every man in our own tongue, Sarcee, and the dwellers in Brockett, and in Siksikai, and Calgary, in Gleichen, and Montana, and we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God."
I met Arthur for coffee on the Saturday morning and gave him my typescript suggestion for use as the Acts reading, which he would translate into Blackfoot for our liturgy on Sunday. In his stoic Blackfoot way, he looked it over but made absolutely no comment. I presumed that he was comfortable with the idea and all was well. On Sunday morning, I was to receive a revelation with regard to the ingenuity and tactfulness of the Blackfoot people. As Arthur rose to read the Epistle, I sat in my chair in the sanctuary and listened with pride. He opened his maroon copy of the Prayer Book, in which I could see my little scrap of paper, and he began the Epistle reading. I was able to follow the gist of the Blackfoot, and my mind went into overdrive as I heard him recounting the beautiful Pentecost story:
"....we hear every man in our own tongue wherein we were born; Sarcee, and the dwellers in Brockett, and in Siksikai, and Calgary, in Gleichen, and Montana, and Cappadocia. Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those from Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers from Rome, Jews and Proselytes, Cretes, and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God."
He did the entire thing. Instead of challenging me about tampering with Holy Scripture or engaging in an argument, he had simply done what I asked, but also remained faithful to the Church's appointed reading. I learned a little lesson that day about diplomacy, respect and Native wisdom.
During another of my visits to Gleichen, Arthur and I stopped into the local coffee shop, which was a good place to meet people. A woman approached and spoke to Arthur. After a lengthy conversation, almost all of which I didn't understand, Arthur turned to me and said that she would like me to bless her house. I sensed there was more to this than a simple blessing. I asked if there was a problem. Arthur spoke to her again in Blackfoot and it was revealed there had been some sort of strange activity in her house. I asked Arthur to explain to her that I understood. I am quite open to the possibility of unpleasant spiritual entities and wanted to assure the woman I was comfortable with that and would be happy to bless her house. We arranged to visit her house after the parish Mass on the Sunday morning.
I arrived at the appointed time to find a very tiny, one room house full of people. There were about twenty of them-all sitting on the floor leaning against the walls. A wood-stove crackled in the kitchen area. I knew from Arthur the problem was some sort of a presence that rattled pots and pans in the night. They assured Arthur it was definitely not the wind or prairie dogs causing this. The woman and her children were frightened to death by the noises.
I realized what she was really asking for was an exorcism. While recognized and practised by the Church, exorcism is done only after great care and preparation, and never by one priest alone, or without the bishop's permission. My intention was simply to bless the house with prayers for the repose of departed souls. The people assembled in the house were all very quiet when I came in. I vested myself in surplice and stole, and then made my holy water sprinkler ready. I tried to explain what we were going to do. We would invoke the name of the Holy Trinity, then read an appropriate psalm during which I would asperge, or sprinkle, the room with Holy Water, and then say prayers asking God to give rest to the departed.
Everyone stood, and I began the rite. As we began reciting a psalm, I moved around the room sprinkling Holy Water. I had forgotten about the hot wood stove. As I passed it, and some water hit it, a cloud of hissing steam rose up. Everyone gasped. Rather a dramatic touch. There were a few giggles, but this was only a momentary distraction. We continued with our psalm, read from Holy Scripture, and said prayers for the departed and for those who lived in the house.
Several months later, I learned from some of the people who had been involved that the noises had stopped. Laus Deo! One does wonder whether the blessings and prayers were responsible, or if the minds of those affected were freed by the ritual to let go of their 'ghosts'.