Friday, June 12, 2009

ENMEGAHBOWH –“Fiery zeal and gentle humility…”

When the Sisters of St. Mary’s Convent at Sewanee tell you to do something, they frame it in the form of a kindly request that you don’t dare refuse to comply with, not from fear of wrath but from fear of displeasing a wonderful group of Anglican nuns. Last night when we began a retreat for Associates of St. Mary’s (a group of which I’m a member) at St. Mary’s Conference Center on the bluff, I knew a” request” was coming when Sr. Elizabeth caught my eye after Evening Prayer and stepped across the aisle to ask if “I’d do some things” for the priest who would be celebrating at The Table the following morning.

Such ambiguous language and the glint in Sr. Elizabeth’s eye made me suspicious that I was being touched for a challenge. I was asked to read the Gospel from Luke 6 and to serve as deacon of The Table – fair enough – but, then I was asked to read from LESSER FEASTS AND FASTS, in lieu of a sermon, as is often customary on weekdays. When I opened the book Sr. Elizabeth so readily supplied and spied the word “Enmegahbowh” in the first sentence, I knew why she had given me an impish smile before scurrying off to make other assignments.

How was this name pronounced? I had never seen it among the entries in LESSER FEASTS AND FASTS. I consulted the professor of drama from Sewanee, Marcia Cook, who was attending the retreat. Marcia, a long-time associate of St. Mary’s, is also an advocate for correct pronunciations. She studied the word for several moments and hesitated to give an official pronunciation of this Native American name. “Just look confident when you read the name and say it authoritatively but quickly,” she advised.

When I stumble on unfamiliar names that I must read aloud in public, I had rather prepare an entire sermon than botch those names. I suffered restlessness at bed time last night because of Enmegahbowh, our first native American Episcopal priest who worked among the Ojibwa Indians of Minnesota. I kept telling myself that deacons are the eyes, ears, VOICE, arms, hands, feet, and heart of Christ when we serve in the world and no one, except Enmegahbowh, who is with the Great Spirit now, would know about a mispronunciation. I lulled myself to sleep chanting “Enmegahbowh, Enmegahbowh.”

Imagine my consternation when the officiating priest this morning preceded me with a prayer for Enmegahbowh and pronounced his name in a way that wouldn’t match my bungled interpretation. After all that chanting, tossing, and turning! I decided to let my voice drop off at the end of the name and like a good deacon imitated the priest’s pronunciation. However, I resisted a strong impulse to raise my hands in the air to signify I had received the Holy Spirit and was beginning to speak in an unknown tongue.

My only consolation is that if I had lost control and put on such a show (I, who have to invoke the Holy Spirit several times before I stand up to preach in order to calm my anxieties about interpreting the Word) no one would have complained or corrected me – it’s a silent retreat!

Since I’ve mentioned my struggle with Enmegahbowh, I’m compelled to share a few salient facts about this valiant missionary who was born to high position in his tribe as he had been set apart to become a Medicine Man in youth. His name means “the man who stands by his people,” and after the Ojibwa native Americans were moved to White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota, Enmegahbowh labored among them, inspired and encouraged the ordination of many Episcopal deacons. He lived to be 95 years old and during his lifetime helped deter numerous massacres, sometimes suffering through wrongful imprisonment.

So, an encore for Enmegahbowh, priest and missionary… but I think I should insist that Sr. Elizabeth pray an Anglican rosary and recite his name 100 times for not warning me of difficult names to come!

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