Servant of God Nicholas Black Elk (1863—1950) is popularly celebrated for his fascinating spiritual life. How could one man, one deeply spiritual man, serve as both a traditional Oglala Lakota medicine man and a Roman Catholic catechist and mystic? How did these two spiritual and cultural identities enrich his prayer life? How did his commitment to God, understood through his Lakota and Catholic communities, shape his understanding of how to be in the world?
To fully understand the depth of Black Elk’s life-long spiritual quest requires a deep appreciation of his life story. He witnessed devastation on the battlefields of Little Bighorn and the Massacre at Wounded Knee, but also extravagance while performing for Queen Victoria as a member of “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s Wild West Show. Widowed by his first wife, he remarried and raised eight children. Black Elk’s spiritual visions granted him wisdom and healing insight beginning in his childhood, but he grew progressively physically blind in his adult years. These stories, and countless more, offer insight into this extraordinary man whose cause for canonization is now underway at the Vatican.
Jon M. Sweeney is an independent scholar and one of religion’s most respected writers. His many books include James Martin, SJ: In the Company of Jesus, in the “People of God” series; The Pope Who Quit, which was optioned by HBO; and The Pope’s Cat, a popular fiction series for children. He edited A Course in Christian Mysticism by Thomas Merton, published by Liturgical Press. Sweeney writes regularly for America in the US, and The Tablet in the UK. He is the publisher at Paraclete Press in Massachusetts, and lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with his wife and daughters.
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