Ward Dalley

A Recipe For Living

Learning on the Great Hoop


The scenery was beautiful and green in this part of Oklahoma. Even though much of Texas and other southwest states were in the grips of a severe drought, eastern Oklahoma was beyond its reach and had received generous rainfall.

Soon my thoughts began to refocus on the week ahead and my destination in Claremore, Oklahoma. I was part of an eighty-person mission project from Strawbridge United Methodist Church in Kingwood, Texas – sixty youth and twenty adults. We were to work Memorial Day week among the peoples of Christ United Methodist Indian Mission Church of Claremore. We had agreed on goals for the week: To assist with the rebuilding of their church building and refurbish houses of several members in a multi-cultural environment that enabled our spiritual growth and nurtured and strengthened us as a community of youth and adults.

My role was work coordinator. I had visited Claremore in January along with Julian Dalzell, who with his wife Mary Sue was charged with providing necessary housing, showers, meals and recreation for this huge contingent for the week. So while they attended to these issues, I was busy looking at potential work sites, but mostly I was wondering how to provide eighty people with projects that were meaningful, would last four days and yet have a good chance of being completed. I remembered the beginning of these youth missions five years earlier when I planned work for thirteen youth and two adults in Brownsville, Texas. The number had grown in successive years to sixteen, thirty-two, forty-five, sixty and now eighty!

From my vantage point at the end of a literal caravan of eight vans, I realized that we had been following the edge of Lake Eufala for about twenty miles now. It seemed forever! And I was reminded of a Walking People following the Never Ending Mountains. In that reflective moment the edges of understanding formed into a smile. I also had been wondering how I would enable the cross-cultural experience. And now I knew! Each morning while I had the group together for work progress review, I would guide them through the Medicine Wheel. There were four days of work; I would offer them one quarter of the Wheel each day, using current events for illustrating the steps.

The thrust of the engines of Continental Flight 533 shakes me from my reflective reverie. As we quickly ascend from Tulsa, I recognize the highway to Claremore and also the one we traveled from Texas. From 10,000 feet I see a whole experience with the Circle complete. I see it in a perspective of a greater whole whose Circle has now also come back to North. Last night after three days at Claremore I received a phone call telling me Mom had died and I’m en route to Houston to gather my family for the journey to Austin for her funeral.

We pass through the clouds and I can no longer see Earth. Yet, I see very vividly the new Christ’s Church we have given form to with framing, roof decking and insulation board. I see clearly Mrs. Ramona Randall’s new steps and sidewalk; new windows and paint for Mrs. Rickard; many other new and freshly restored structures. Although I know they are still being worked on this day, I know how they will look and I see them finished. But mostly I see smiles on wrinkled faces and sunburned young faces; I see joy in old eyes and a spark in new ones; I see added skills and personal growth; and I see new threads woven into the community and new threads weaving together two once separate communities.

As I reflect on my part in this tapestry, I remember Monday morning. I remember the excited, attentive, curious eyes of those assembled as I tell them of my intent to take them on a journey around the Medicine Wheel. I remember asking them to close their eyes and to take a few minutes of silence, and then in this quiet place to honor their wisdom, to honor who they are. As I joined in, I felt a great vibrant energy in the room and I knew this path was good, this path was sacred. I told them of sensitivity and perception leading to inspiration. I asked each to consider in the context of this week of mission and service in this circumstance at Claremore, what it was they wanted to experience, to learn, to build, to create. Each was invited to share and many did. They talked of new friendships amongst themselves and with those of the Native American church we would meet, of learning of new construction skills, of learning about Cherokees and Choctaws, of growing spiritually, of having fun, of helping others, of building a new church building.

On Tuesday, I asked them to still their thoughts and in this quietness to honor their wisdom and then to recall their vision and the collective vision from the previous morning. Then I told them of understanding and communication leading to growth. Of wholeness to specific, right foot, left foot. We talked about how important the new building would be to this community in serving the people here and how it was an answer to prayer and patient intent. And yet we had begun to see in the faces and comments of the pastor and others in the church how much more than just a building was being built. And we began to have a special feeling and warmth grow inside each of us. We talked about his feeling and about always understanding more than we can find words or pictures or form to communicate.

On Wednesday, I again led them from North to South and then told them of community and individual and introspection. I reminded them of the evening before when our Youth Director had admonished the group after rumors of someone doing drugs. She had chosen not to confront any individual, but to remind each, to remind all, of our purpose and our covenant for the week. I invited them now to consider this ancient wisdom: Wise is the individual that provides for the community; wise is the community that provides for the individual. I invited each to consider the need of this community for rules that assured the safety of each and of the whole and also assured an experience that would engender possible trips for next year and the year after. I invited each to consider their covenant to serve the purpose of the whole group and this mission project.

Later that day, I called home to check on Mom and found out she had died only moments earlier. I was alone in the church since I had felt ill and had chosen not to join the group for an evening of bowling. So God had given me a quiet place to grieve for a couple hours and time to make plans for me and my two daughters to fly home. Soon after, the group returned.

Following our evening devotional, I began telling others of Mom’s death and my plans to leave early the next morning. I also began passing on my work coordination roles. As I was talking to Beth Chenault, our Youth Director, she told me how much she would miss me and how much the morning dances around the Wheel had added to the week for her and many others. I met her eyes and in that moment saw the answer to the last remaining turnover item!

“Beth, I had been wondering who God would send to complete the journey around the Medicine Wheel. Will you do that for me in the morning?” Without hesitation, she said, “Yes. It would be an honor.”

We found a quiet place and began walking the Wheel. I retraced the three previous mornings and answered many questions. We added the concepts of conflict, diversity and then peace. It seemed fitting since I had so many emotions and thoughts rumbling through me, that as we talked a certain calmness and peace began to settle around me. After reviewing some examples from our week, Beth said she would be able to complete the journey around the Wheel for the group, although she felt they would get shortchanged. She certainly could not explain it as well as I nor would they get the same level of understanding.

As I considered her words, I was instantly reminded of a story we had heard earlier in the week from Anita Phillips, a wonderful Choctaw lady who also is pastor of Christ’s Church and who had invested tremendous energy over the last year to plan, finance and coordinate this church building project. One of their fund-raisers was to make and sell food at a booth during the Muscogee Azalea Festival. For three days their small congregation had made and served Indian fry bread and other delicacies to hundreds of festival participants. She told us that each member of the tribe or congregation had certain jobs or roles they had accepted or earned over the years. In their congregation, Lucille Coleman was the fry bread maker. No one else ever made fry bread and no one wanted to, since it was always superb. However, the huge crowds were taxing Lucille’s capability and stamina. So, Anita’s sister was enlisted to assist in rolling and frying the bread. As the hours turned to days, the two became friends and soon Lucille was calling out the recipe and letting the new apprentice mix occasional batches. On the last morning, Lucille turned to her and said, “Your bread is pretty good, but have you begun to experiment with the recipe?” “Oh, no, I would never change your recipe” was the instant reply. And then with the quiet beauty of ancient wisdom, Lucille said, “When you make it, it is no longer my bread or my recipe. You should experiment and test it and see what is right for you. Once you decide to make the fry bread, it is yours.”

With this ancient lesson of life fresh in my mind, I turned to Beth and said, “Do you remember the story Anita told us about fry bread? This is not my Medicine Wheel. Search your mind and your heart for your own understanding, talk about it, test it. Find your own recipe, for it is now your Wheel. And now we have returned to North and add this to our wisdom and honor it.”

Flight 533 is touching down in Houston. Home again, as I bring to a close this Circle. And yet the Circle does not quite close, since I am not the same as when the journey began. I am told it is a Spiral, and so it must be.

And what about Mom? Today, I will honor and be grateful for her life, for 90 years – healthy, loving and full. What of our intersecting Circles? Ah, that’s a journey for another day!