By Daniel C. Romeo
Guest Columnist 

My spiritual journey


While pastor Nancy is away on vacation Daniel Romero was asked to share his experience at the 2015 37th 500 Mile American Indian Spiritual Marathon.

During the month of March of this year, runners from the 500 Mile Spiritual Run visited the National Chavez Center, and I was invited to participate at that time.

On June 20th of this year, I greeted the sunrise in the beautiful city of San Jose. It was a new day and I was looking forward to being part of the 500 Mile American Indian Spiritual Marathon. At 7 a.m. I arrived at my destination, which was located in a parking area behind a church, and I quickly found myself among a large congregation of approximately 60 to 80 people. Everyone was busy unloading their sleeping bags, back packs, food supplies and kitchen items. Everyone assisted in loading all these belongings onto a truck. Clearly, the atmosphere was filled with excitement and promise. A few runners of the group gathered and centralized the sacred drums, where we soon gathered in a circleand we were smudged (blessed) with the sage. In the circle, we were reminded of the purpose of the spiritual endeavor before us. Once travel assignments were made and special instructions given to the drivers, we all embarked on the mission.

By early afternoon we arrived at our first destination, which is located near Burney, just east of Redding. There, we set up our tents while hot meals were being prepared. An invitation to the sweat lodge was announced for all, in which I was more than willing to participate. Within the sweat lodge we prayed while we sweated, and sang sacred songs. There again we were reminded of the spiritual endeavor before us. We spent the next day in a community circle, where the giving of gifts is exercised with the utmost respect. I learned that day that the person receiving must also honor the person that is giving, by standing upright and in a humble manner. I also noticed that many gifts were given without the expectation of receiving a gift in return. Gifts ranged from blankets to t-shirts, beaded feathers and patches, bags of seed and feed for the chickens, the horses, and the dogs. Gift giving also came in the way of song and of words of wisdom. One young lady elaborated on the Seven Laws, exercising the values of Bravery, Love, Respect, Truth, Honesty, Wisdom, and Humility. Another lady provided small medicine bags, for each and every one of us in the circle. She went on to explain the meaning of the contents within: Sage, which represents outer prayer, Cedar inner prayer, Tobacco personal prayer, Obsedian Mother Earth, and Corn food supply.

Also within the community circle, each person was introduced and acknowledged as to where they hailed from. I was surprised to hear of those that came from the state of New York, Hawaii, Washington State, Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico, California, and Canada. Within the next few days I would also become aware that many were professionals with their own businesses. One runner is providing young adults that are homeless with a place to live while they earned their high school diploma and with job placement. Another runner works within the paraplegic community in his area with therapy and mechanical repairs. Among the runners were educators, child psychologists, criminal attorneys, counselors and healers. I called my wife to let her know that I was among some very serious and dedicated people. Some good, heavy medicine!

On Monday morning the task of running the 500 miles began. The runners were divided into two teams. One team went with the name of Buffalo Thunder, a strong and mighty name. Each team of runners was responsible for accumulating 100 + miles each day. Each runner ran a minimum of ½ mile intervals, and the runners ran as a relay team. Each team ran with a sacred staff which stayed with the runner–throughout the day. As for the runners, there were long distance runners, medium runners, and short distance runners. The youngest runner was an 8 year old girl while the oldest runner was an 87 year old man. My contribution to the running fell among the short distance runners. I averaged 2 miles a day for 3 days. Not too bad for a 67 year old.

The running took us through back roads graced by tall pine trees, some steep hills and through roads west of Mt. Lassen. We ran through the Land of Ishi, the Native American who in 1911 came out of the woods and was claimed as the last “wild” Indian. Along the way we camped along the river banks of the Sacramento and slept under the stars of the Calusa Rancheria. Also, the people in Clear Lake provided us with shelter and much needed rest.

During this time, I also became aware of the unscrupulous practices that property developers and local government officials alike engage in “giving“ away of land for mining, and the pollutinsg of waters. We completed our journey in Willets–to give support to the Native Americans there who are fighting against the disturbance of sacred burial grounds.

The 500 Mile Spiritual Run has been on-going for the past 37 years. Each year they run, for in running there is prayer. Each year the run carries a theme–from defeating drugs and alcohol to preventing and reversing Diabetes II and currently for the protection of sacred sites. Their principal message is, “All Life Is Sacred”.

In reflection, the 500 Spiritual Marathon was a great personal experience. It was enriched by the fact that I was among a group of dedicated people composed of grass roots working professionals that carried within themselves the need to exercise prayer in a proactive way. I got to know every single person by name. Every day I witnessed acts of humility, of generosity, of power and of sacrifice. The runners endured a lot of physical discomfort, hot roads– and time away from their loved ones. During this week I was void of television, of music, of answering phone calls. And I didn’t miss anything!

During the sweat lodge ceremony I prayed for the dead and the living, for the sick and for the families that endure that pain. I prayed for the healing of our lands, for the wisdom that is lacking in the goverance of our societies. I prayed for every member of my family, of my friends, and for my few enemies. I prayed to my grandmother, to my grandfather, and to my Creator. I emerged from the sweat lodge drenched from head to toe, feeling exhausted, yet clean. Looking up into the heavens, I prayed once more, to give thanks for the beauty that surrounds us.


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