The Mysterious Elsewhere

Frank Lloyd Wright once reflected, “I’ve been about the world a lot, and pretty much over the country, but I was totally unprepared for that revelation called the ‘Dakota Badlands.’ What I saw gave me an indescribable sense of mysterious elsewhere—a distant architecture, ethereal… an endless supernatural world more spiritual than earth but created out of it.” Many summers of life I spent working alongside the Oglala Lakota in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. As soon as the Badlands and other signs of entry to the reservation were in sight, I felt the world kind of fall away. What were essential—the moments for connection and relationship in a sacred place—took precedence and were the only things that mattered. Holy encounter met me.

Equally extraordinary are the deep and abiding friendships with the Oglala Lakota nurtured for more than 20 years. Up to and until this pandemic time began, and over the past several summers, faculty, staff and students where I currently serve as Chaplain have partnered with the reservation and walked this “mysterious elsewhere,” investing themselves by being in community with the Oglala Lakota. Bringing to my mind’s eye this landscape and the many who call the Rez home draws into focus our kinship with and responsibility to humanity. 

In remembrance of this spiritual and ethereal place in South Dakota where I met the expanse of the natural world and multiple generations of Oglala Lakota—stewards of this sacred land—I am drawn to the time and place we inhabit now. The rugged regions of pandemia move us to pause, to turn interiorly as we navigate together the upheaved terrain of a country’s people calling out for healing, unmasking, reconnecting and reckoning with the long deferred response for justice. 

For many of us in Episcopal schools, Covid-era Chapels in Zoom have served as essential community meeting points, valued opportunities to prayerfully and contemplatively take in the horizon together. Albeit a seemingly limited vista, there is the call to much needed moments of stillness. Very close, here and now, is a destiny we share. “Mitakuye Oyasin,” as the Lakota prayer reminds, “We are all related.”

The Rev. Sarah Anne Wood is Lead Chaplain at Trinity School in New York City.