As the lights went down, and the countdown number cards came out, it was time to start another session of Pilgrimage! The Saturday evening session brought together new songs, old favorites, meaningful testimonies, sacred traditions, and an exciting speaker to hear: Ray Buckley. He is a teacher, lecturer, storyteller, poet, artist, basket-maker, woodcarver, sculptor, author, and illustrator, as well as an amazing speaker who shared his talents with 3,810 youth and adults here at Pilgrimage.
Ray Buckley is a talented leader in the United Methodist Church, serving as the interim Director of the Center for First Nations Spirituality, and a faculty member of The Academy of Spiritual Formation. Buckley has also served The United Methodist Church as a staff member of The United Methodist Publishing House, Director of the Native People Communication Office for nine years, and Director of Connectional Ministries and Native Discipleship for the Alaska Missionary Conference.
A buzz came over the Crown Coliseum as Ray strolled onto the stage and began to speak. He wove beautiful stories of his mother and father, his brother Rick, as well as friends Ed and Monty. “With storytellers, when they speak, they are telling you something that belongs to their people; it is treasured.” This was echoed throughout Ray’s speaking, as the arena was silent and people were leaning in to hear his calm voice share this treasured talent with us. His stories blended together traditional teaching tales and personal anecdotes of his interactions with friends and family to emphasize the messages of God and what we should be listening for.
His first story was a teaching folktale about animals putting their best features on a wall when walking into a lodge: the elk gave his antlers, the fox gave her tail, the beaver gave his teeth. This was to make the other animals not feel as small because the best was gone. He spun for us the moral that it is easy to give your best to God. It’s simple, you are confident in that giving, and you are good at it for a reason! But he states that it is not as easy to give your worst; not everyone can or will give their worst to God: the things you cannot give to anyone else. We should instead be eager to do this, to give the worst of ourselves to the One who already sees it but does not care. This message carried through Ray’s speaking.
He spoke of his friend who worked with horses, and who eventually became an expert on “equine language”; he learned how to work with them without beating, breaking, or having barriers. He would allow the horses to go away from him, and actually push them away until they were ready to trust and return to heed. This is how God is with us! He does not beat, break, or try to separate Himself from us. He lets us walk away and stay away until we are ready to return because He has already accepted us long ago, and is delighted to have us and be with us. Even in our worst.
One last exercise from Ray, from Fayetteville, from your family at Pilgrimage:
Close your eyes.
In your mind, lay down a blanket.
Put down the things that you feel are important that others see: your appearances, your “faces” you put on for the world.
Think of your joys and things that make you most proud: hold them up to God, then set them around you, as comfort.
Think of your loved ones; your family, your friends, your church, your youth groups, the people who care about you and you care about most. Add those to the comfort around you.
Now, pull out those things that you wish no one knew or that you would trust only with a few close friends: put them down on the blanket in your mind.
Then, rest. Imagine God behind you, with open arms, and lean back, cradled in the comfort of God’s hands. Do not rest forever, but rest for the moment, for the day.
When you have rested enough, take everything you are afraid of or do not like about yourself, the appearances you try to keep, your loved ones, your joys, your things of pride, and the worst, and wrap them up in the blanket. Wrap it like a bundle, safe and careful. They are a sacred present which is given to God from all of you. Not only the best of you, not just the worst, but both parts and every part in between.
Open your eyes.
As Ray shared his gifts of storytelling, we all have gifts to share as well. Share earnestly, share your best, but never forget your worst. Wrap your worst in a careful bundle, and hold them up to God because He is eager to receive it, and love you anyway.
*Article written by Morgan DiFruscio