This I Believe: Sweat Lodge

Tom - St. Paul, Minnesota
Entered on December 12, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30

I hated going to church as a kid as I feel most kids do. I think parents forcing their kids to go to church can be a good thing, and in my case it was a great thing. After I was confirmed, my parents stopped forcing me to go to church but I kept going to our church’s youth group. My first year in the youth group we went on a mission trip to a Native American reservation called Cherry Creek. The Lakota tribe had invited us there to support the reservation.

At seven o’ clock the next morning, I put on my swimming trunks and headed down to the sweat lodge. When I got there I saw a couple of cars, a huge fire, and a mound made out of hundreds of blankets. The Lakota men were heating rocks in the fire to put in the lodge. When the rocks were hot enough they filed us into the sweat. There were 10 kids from my church and 5 people from the Lakota tribe in there. I was told that leaving the lodge during the sweat could be taken as an insult to their gods and some groups won’t let anyone leave the sweat until it’s done. As I entered the lodge the sun was going down and when we finally fit all of us into this tiny lodge they started to cover the entrance with rugs. The darkness inside the lodge was immense, not only couldn’t you see anyone or anything you couldn’t even see yourself. This is when the steam and the music started. The glowing red rocks had water poured on them to create steam. The music and steam got more intense and eventually I could barely breathe and was completely panicked. Then the door was opened and the steam billowed out. At this point I was very happy, I had struggled through the whole sweat and barely made it. Then they brought more rocks into the lodge and started to close the door again. As the door closed, the music and steam once again began to grow. At this point I began to get an other worldly experience. I don’t know if it was the lack of air or the extreme dehydration but at that moment I had the deepest religious experience of my life. It was the only time in my life when I felt God was in my presence. Then the door opens again I take a deep breath of fresh air and the leader of the sweat asks if anyone would like to leave. My heart was saying “no” but my head was saying “I can’t do this any more”. It was time for me to end my amazing experience.

Pushing a child to be religious is not a bad thing. I think pushing a kid towards a religion isn’t always a bad thing either. But once a child turns to a young adult he/she should be able to make these decisions for themselves. I’ve decided that God doesn’t have a religion. Different religions are just different ways of experiencing the same God. I experienced God in a Native American way and it was amazing.