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Sacred Mornings | Why I Pray With My Coworkers (It’s not what you might think)



The walk to the office

7:30 in the morning. The sun has barely risen and I’m thankful for my warm clothes. My co-Fellow and I make the brisk five-minute walk from the dirt parking lot to the Tribal EcoRestoration Alliance’s office in Upper Lake, California. I admire the robins and blackbirds that seem to have made the old English walnut trees their permanent home and appreciate the icy lake air moving over my face and through my lungs.


We slide open the heavy barn doors, inevitably tracking mud and dirt onto the concrete floor. More often than not, we’re late by a few minutes, and I rush to drop off my things in my office as others gather in the common room. Some crew members buzz around outside, getting their field gear ready for the day. Eventually, they trudge into the common room too and buzz about there. Some days, they move in a set of tired, silent sighs, but equally as often they chat and crack jokes.


Some crew members buzz around outside, getting their field gear ready for the day. Eventually, they trudge into the common room too and buzz about there.

“Morning circle?” Someone says, which is usually stated in the form of a question, but meant as a gentle command. We shuffle ourselves into a circle. After another moment of silence: “Who’s up for morning prayer today?”


I’ll go.” Sometimes, a pause ensues when the person is gathering their words. Many other times the words flow out readily.


“Thank you, Creator, for the breath of life. Please watch over us today, watch over our loved ones and those who are not with us, please keep them safe. Let us open our hearts and minds and have a good, safe day. Oh.”


Oh.” Everyone echoes. [“Oh” is a Pomo expression that signifies group agreement].


We then go around the circle and rate how we’re feeling on a scale of 1 to 10. 10 is for when you’re feeling really good. Anything under a 7, and the team knows–let’s check on this person more often today.


Anything under a 7, and the team knows–let’s check on this person more often today.

For the first few weeks of work, I noticed my heart would beat faster when we’d circle up in the mornings. I was nervous about getting called on to give a prayer–I wasn’t sure what was expected of me. How could I, a non-Native, non-religious person possibly do the group any justice?


The truth I’ve come to learn is, TERA’s morning prayer is not an Indigenous religious act. Nor is it a non-Indigenous, non-religious act. In a place where ongoing colonization and compounding environmental and political crises are often acutely felt, morning prayer is a protection rite and a call to action. It is a greeting, an honor, and a request, one that inspires every person working with TERA to do right by their families, ancestors, and the land they live and work on:


  • Greeting - For me, a white American with Jewish and European ancestry, prayer is my opportunity to greet the ancestors and living inhabitants of the land I’m living and working on, as well as the land itself. This greeting is imperfect and I don’t do it well every time.


  • Honor - By greeting the land and the ancestors and living inhabitants of the land, I attempt to honor them. By addressing them directly, I want them to know that they are worthy of my attention and goodwill.


  • Request - Part of prayer is asking the land, its inhabitants, and the lands’ ancestors that I be allowed to engage with the land in good conscience. In this step I try to make my intentions as clear as possible. If my intentions aren’t clear, that’s a sign I need to take a step back and reevaluate my mindset before engaging further.


The truth I’ve come to learn is, TERA’s morning prayer is not an Indigenous religious act. Nor is it a non-Indigenous, non-religious act. In a place where ongoing colonization and compounding environmental and political crises are often acutely felt, morning prayer is a protection rite and a call to action.

This is also why TERA encourages its employees to literally introduce themselves to the lands they visit for project work. I try to take this practice into my life outside of work too, introducing myself to the places I take walks in or otherwise visit. Sometimes, in especially urbanized places, I also imagine what these places looked like before colonization, which helps me to create a pathway to honor that land and its people (past and present). 


Yes, I could listen passively to the morning prayer, and not think much of it. That would be perfectly acceptable. I could also continue walking around places whose flora, fauna, and people have been wrenched away from their homelands and from each other and mind my own business. No one would ever know. On the surface, prayer is an internal thought process.


Instead, I now choose to engage with our morning prayer fully, with my whole heart and mind. I soak up every bit of this daily three-minute ritual as best as I can, for I am open to the real possibilities–oriented towards life, health and sovereignty for all–that ensue once one begins making moves to restore the sacred relationships between land and those that are Indigenous to it.


To my coworkers at TERA: I am eternally grateful to you for your willingness to embark on this messy process of cultural, economic, and ecological revitalization while being in community with each other. Let’s keep praying together.


I soak up every bit of this daily three-minute ritual as best as I can, for I am open to the real possibilities–oriented towards life, health and sovereignty for all–that ensue once one begins making moves to restore the sacred relationships between land and those that are Indigenous to it.
TERA staff and on-call EcoCultural Fire Crew members walk together before sitting and observing the nature around them

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Beyond words, that is just extremely well-put. Being able to hold that communal moment to set the intention for each day is immensely powerful. Thank you for sharing this, Kat!

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