The most precious gift I received in my work with Native people has been the awakening of my spiritual life. Their openness in sharing wisdom, traditions and ceremonial life have spoken deeply to me and opened me up to how many ways there are to learn beyond rational thought.

For 40 years I have been a participant in the Native American Church. Sitting in those meetings opened me to those unfamiliar and unexplainable ways of knowing. As a participant I have accumulated the ritual paraphernalia and sacred objects feathers, fans, drums, tobacco, cedar wood are all carried in a box. It’s often toolbox with trays to fit everything in, but sometimes they’re handcrafted.

I keep mine in a wooden box that was made for me by my physician friend, colleague, co-author, Dr. Howie Silverman…he also happens to be a talented carpenter. I gave him the dimensions and he crafted a one-of-a-kind masterpiece out of a reddish African hardwood called Paduak (King Solomon chose this wood for the pillars of his Temple in 10 BC.), the interior of the box is lined with Red Cedar.

That box and its sacred contents (including my prayer shawl) have accompanied me to meetings all over this country; those potent symbols have been held, caressed, ingested, and filled with the songs and blessings of many tribal people. I no longer sit up at these all-night meetings, and for these totemic objects to retain their power they need to be used and their stories told. Over the last year I have given away my fans, feathers, drums, rattles, drumsticks, tobacco and cedar pouches to Native relatives who I know will use them.

The last thing to give away was the box, and at a Sweat Lodge ceremony a couple of weeks ago I gave it back to Howie. Inside the box was a small Torah scroll, he now has a small traveling Ark to carry his sacred objects. He will fill it with his songs and prayers, others will hold the instruments and add their voices to thousands of others whose blessings he also carries.

Prayer is the universal language of an open heart, and we need to be blessing each other more.