You know it's Lent Madness when you get the likes of Dorothy Sayers squaring off against Enmegahbowh in the Lent Dome! An Anglican writer and apologist vs. the first Native American ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church. It's a tough choice, but one must be made. Because that's how it works.
Yesterday, Joanna the Myrrhbearer routed Monica 81% to 19% to stave off a potential battle between Augustine and his mother.
Time to hit the polls!
Dorothy L. Sayers
If you’ve ever pondered that God works in mysterious ways, then look no further than God working through mystery writer Dorothy L. Sayers. It’s no mystery that God calls all sort of people to serve in the church in different ways, but sometimes, some ways are more mysterious than others.
Dorothy was born June 13, 1893, in Oxford, England to Helen Mary Leigh and the Rev. Henry Sayers, a rector of the local church. Dorothy went on to study modern languages and medieval literature at Somerville College, but she was not satisfied with an academic life and throughout her career, pursued experience in copywriting, playwriting, translating literature, and teaching. Frustrated by her various professional endeavors, Dorothy turned to writing as a means of making ends meet, and she conceived her most famous protagonist, Lord Peter Wimsey; a career as an award-winning mystery writer was born. Like her contemporary, C.S. Lewis, Dorothy’s fiction writing provided her with the economic independence to pursue deeper scholarly reflection on God, ultimately elevating her to one of the most well-regarded female theological thinkers of her time.
Unsatisfied by the weak and often shallow theology of the Anglican church during the 1930s and 1940s, Dorothy was a strong apologist who called for engagement not just in belief but also in dogma, traditions, and practice. In one of her most famous publications, Creed or Chaos?, Sayers exhorts the church to not bow in the face of the uncomfortable: “Let us, in Heaven’s name, drag out the Divine Drama from under the dreadful accumulation of slipshod thinking and trashy sentiment heaped upon it, and set it on an open stage to startle the world into some sort of vigorous reaction […] We do Him singularly little honor by watering down till it could not offend a fly. Surely it is not the business of the Church to adapt Christ to men, but to adapt men to Christ.”
While Dorothy was discovered as a mystery writer, her life and witness offers a surprise twist, shaping how we think, act, and live as members of the church today. She calls us to be uncomfortable, to be shocked, active, and engaged. Dorothy asks us to be so caught up in the mystery and drama of a God who would die on a cross that we cannot help but have faith.
Collect for Dorothy L. Sayers
Almighty God, who strengthened your servant Dorothy L. Sayers with eloquence to defend Christian teaching: Keep us, we pray, steadfast in your true religion, that in constancy and peace we may always teach right doctrine, and teach doctrine rightly; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
An icon of Enmegahbowh created in 1996 by iconographer Johnson D. Loud Jr. depicts the saint standing in front of an orange Minnesota sunset. He wears a surplice and tippet adorned with a traditional Ojibwe floral motif. The medicine wheel, which symbolizes balance and harmony in many Indigenous cultures, circles his head as a halo. In one hand, he carries a pipe, used in traditional Ojibwe spirituality. In the other is a flame, a symbol of the Holy Spirit.
The image paints a picture of a Native Christian who held Ottawa and Ojibwe cultures in one hand and his Christian faith in the other.
Enmegahbowh, who was Ottawa and whose name means “The One Who Stands Before His People” (sometimes taking the connotation “Stands Before His People in Prayer”), was born around 1820 in what would, decades later, become Canada. While he was raised in the Midewiwin tradition, he later was baptized as “John Johnson.”
Enmegahbowh first came to Minnesota as a mission interpreter around 1832. Nearly three decades later, he became the first Indigenous deacon in the Episcopal Church in 1859 and, later, its first Indigenous priest.
Historian Theodore Isaac Holcombe writes: “Enmegahbowh was the herald of all our Indian work; the man who cried from the wilderness, ‘Come over and help us’; the man who first opened the door for all that has since followed of God’s work for the Indians, even to the Pacific Coast.”
Enmegahbowh and Episcopalian James Lloyd Breck co-founded a mission in Gull Lake, Minnesota. Although Breck was ultimately driven out of the community because of his refusal to adapt to Ojibwe values, Enmegahbowh remained with the people for another six decades. He moved west with them when they were displaced to what is now the White Earth Reservation, preventing an attack on U.S. soldiers at Fort Ripley to protect the people from retaliation and encouraging peace with the Sioux.
He died on June 12, 1902, in White Earth, Minnesota, and is buried on the property of St. Columba’s Episcopal Church, which remains an active congregation. The Episcopal Church celebrates Saint Enmegahbowh on the day of his death. The White Earth Nation also remembers him each June, celebrating the powwow he started in 1873.
Collect for Enmegahbowh
Almighty God, who led your pilgrim people of old by fire and cloud: Grant that the ministers of your church, following the example of your servant Enmegahbowh, may lead your people with fiery zeal and gentle humility; through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Dorothy L. Sayers: Public Domain
Enmegahbowh: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons