Are you a puzzle fan? As a child, I enjoyed hidden object puzzles. How about you? What puzzles did you like to decipher?
Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.
Psalm 31:16 – NIV
I used to love the hidden object puzzles that came in my Highlight magazine. The goal is to examine the picture and identify which object doesn’t fit with the theme of the picture. Which object is out of place?
Well, in the northeast corner of Wyoming, there is a pillar of rock that doesn’t quite fit the theme of the picture. Amid the rolling hills and wide valleys that comprise the region known as the Black Hills, there stands a tower of red striated rock that seems totally out of place. It just doesn’t fit, and yet, there it stands, defiant and unmovable as if defending its right to be there.
This monolithic protrusion of rock rises 867 feet above ground, its outer wall undulating like the folds of a Scottish kilt. The precipice of the tower is completely flat, its diameter spanning the length of a football field. A thick stand of Ponderosa pines flank it’s base like sentries guarding a fortress.
Legend surrounds this place. Native Americans consider it a place of deep spirituality, often a place of pilgrimage. Sojourners come there to lift their concerns and leave behind prayer cloths tied among the pine boughs. Native folklore tells of a young girl being chased by a pack of menacing grizzly bears. Her cries for rescue are answered when the ground beneath her feet erupts from the earth, lifting her high into the safety of the sky. In keeping with this legend, many indigenous people still refer to this site as “Bear Lodge,” but that’s not the name that stuck. Today, most know this atypical butte of igneous rock as Devils Tower.
In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt evoked the newly enacted Antiquities Act to preserve and protect Devil’s Tower, making the site of this unusual rock formation America’s first national monument. Each year, the park welcomes thousands of visitors who sojourn to the site to discover its unique story and surprising beauty. It is a favorite destination for rock climbers who brave the sprawling rock face for the opportunity to stroll its precipice. In June of each year, the park honors the site’s American Indian heritage through a variety of well attended gatherings and ceremonies.
Of all the places we planned to visit on our recent cross country adventure, this one caught me by surprise. I wanted to see it, but it wasn’t tops on my list. I thought it would be intresting, but I was totally unprepared for the depth to which it would captivate my attention.
My first glimpse of that towering rock made me catch my breath in surprise. It was so unexpected, so out of character with the landscape surrounding it. In the mid-day sun, the rock face shimmered a deep red mingled with a hint of purple. Along its longitudinal ridges, deep shadows marked the walls with black crayon-like lines.
We had an amazing view of the tower from our campsite. From the comfort of my camper rocker, I sat transfixed as the tower eclipse the setting sun, its dark outline highlighted by a wide band of glittering gold. When I raised the shade the next morning, I gasped in amazement as the golden rays of the rising sun set the rock on fire, transforming the stripes of black and magenta into blazing orange.
My early morning hike around the tower base did not disappoint either. I found myself entranced by the way the wind whispered through the pine branches, the soothing sound wrapping around my frame, covering me in a blanket of tranquility. There was a peace about the place. It fostered a sense of reverence similar to what I experience when I step into a sanctuary. I understand why pilgrims come there to pray.
Obviously, I was quite impressed with the place. I liked everything about it, except for the name, that is. Devils Tower? Really? Why would such an awe-inspiring place be named after the devil? Why would we label a place of such stark beauty after the evil one?
The choice of the name turns out to likely be a misunderstanding, a misinterpretation of the meaning of the Indian name for the much revered place. In 1875, when the expeditionary force led by Colonel Richard Irving Dodge encountered the enormous rock mass as part of their explorations of the Black Hills region, his interpreter translated the meaning of the traditional Indian name for the site as “bad god tower.” From this translation error, the leap was made to the label “Devils Tower,” and this misguided name stuck.
This naming error makes me think about the danger of labels, about the names we so easily toss around without consideration of their impact. We freely label something in a negative way, and it often never changes.
Have you ever felt lost and out of place? Have you known the uncomfortable feeling of not quite fitting in? Have you fallen prey to unkind labeling? What names have you been called? What hurtful words have been hurled your way? Have the names made you feel inferior, incapable, unwanted, unloved?
May I be the one to tell you that the names thrown at you don‘t have to stick. You have a special status penned into existence by none other than your Heavenly Father. You are precious in His sight. No one else can fill your spot in His kingdom. No one else can claim the place reserved for you in God’s own heart.
I am sorry for the names you have been wrongfully called. More than sympathize, I empathize, for I have felt the blow of hurtful names too. While people might sting us with ugly words, we don’t have to hang onto that hurt. We don’t have to wallow in a trough of resentment and bitterness. Rather, we can lift our heads high and tune our ears to hear the call of Our Father’s tender voice. He knows each one of us by name, and He has a special name reserved for you and for me. He calls us “Beloved.”
There is a movement underfoot to change the name of Devils Tower to Bear Lodge, the name perceived to more accurately reflect the original Lakota name. In 2014, petitions were put forth to support the name change, but as of yet, the appeal has not been approved. The wheels of government move slowly, but I hope the cause meets with success. Bear Lodge seems a much more apt name for a place of such rare beauty.
Names matter. Labels too often stick. Let us take care to choose affirming words today in the conversations we pursue. May our word choices help to heal the wounds of this broken world and bring God glory.
May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant.
Psalm 119:76 – NIV
O Heavenly Father, You know us by name. You call us beloved. We marvel at the depth of Your unfailing love and Your gracious forgiveness. May we bear Your light brightly into this dark world, offering kind words and loving deeds. For by our love and compassion, may You be glorified.
In the Faithful Name of Jesus, we pray,