The following is a story from an article “The Wisdom of Native American Elders” from Shaman’s Drum #34, Spring 1994…

This true story reminds us of the importance of honoring the power of prayer. In addition it is equally important to honor our own karmic path.

Arvol Looking Horse, Keeper of the Sacred Pipe

Arvol Looking Horse is Keeper of the Pipe that has been in his family for nineteen generations. Arvol has led prayer services at the United Nations and conducted lectures at Harvard, Dartmouth, and Berkeley. In the following excerpt, he speaks of the healing power of prayer.

When I was young a black widow spider bit me. The venom started spreading and eating away at my skin. I remember my grandmother praying that I would live, and it was the prayer that pulled me through. But it left a bad scar on my face, which made me very shy when I was growing up. I stayed away from people because I was ashamed of the scar. I rode my horse, and spent time sitting on the hill in Green Grass, looking at the beauty of the land and thinking about how it must have been a long time ago. I’d feel secure and at peace. I’d find my center.

Another time my brother died, I decided I wanted to do something to honor him because he was so good in everything he did. At that time, I was just the opposite, I had no confidence. The day he was being buried, I thought about how he was so natural with horses and that he would have been the best rodeo rider. So I made a commitment to ride rodeo for him, in saddle bronco riding that he loved.

I went to the rodeo in Deadwood, but my body didn’t feel quite up to it. I got ready anyway because there were a lot of friends from the reservation who had come to see me. I saddled my horse, and was feeling good. I looked up at the grandstand. I got on the horse, he bucked and went straight up in the air. Then he spun around and fell backwards – right on top of me. I heard a crack in my backbone. When the horse stood up, I was just lying there, shaking. I couldn’t feel my body. The ambulance came and then I was lying there in the hospital. The doctor was telling me that I’d never walk again, that I was paralyzed from the neck down. I had broken three vertebrae, cracked one, and had a concussion. I remembered my grandmother once saying to me that when a person is getting ready to go up into the spirit world, their relatives come to them. At different times I would open my eyes and see them standing there.

Then the phone rang, and the voice on the line said, “I’m your grandmother and the people need you.” This grandmother chewed me out about the rodeo and said I had done this to myself. I felt my mother and father entering the room, but I kept my eyes closed because I didn’t know if they were real or not. My dad started talking to me about the Sun Dance they were having. In my mind I kept thinking about my grandmother saying that it didn’t matter how many people prayed for you, if you didn’t pray for yourself the prayers wouldn’t be effective. So I was trying to relax my mind. I kept picturing the Sun Dance with all the people circling around the Tree of Life in the center. I prayed so much, humbly, from my heart.

When the Sun Dance was over, my bones healed back together. The doctors couldn’t believe it. A week later I walked out of the hospital. I knew deep down in my heart that my prayers had been answered.