September 2, 1862
“Just before sunrise the sharp crack of a warning shot signaled the start of the Battle of Birch Coulee, one of the hardest fought battles of the U.S.-Dakota War. The Dakota kept U.S. soldiers under siege for 36 hours before a relief detachment arrived from Fort Ridgely.” *
A coulee is a term derived from the French word “couler” which means “to flow”.
In the Midwest, coulee often describes a three-sided valley formed by erosion. Perhaps both of these descriptions seem symbolic of spiritual and relational realities that the Holy Spirit wants to reveal through this event. Let’s think about this!
In the context of this battle, a three-sided valley acted as a place of entrapment where the blood flowed. Where can one escape in a three-sided valley with the enemy blocking the only hope for escape? Yet, geographically Midwestern coulees are often green places of growth, a shelter from the wind, and a location where the water flows outward in one direction.
What apt symbols of war and peace? Like in the Battle of Birch Coulee, when human beings practice a mindset of “us versus them” there is no escape; only kill or be killed. Yet, Jehovah Shalom (G-d our Peace), shows us a way out of our two-sided oppositional positions, and reveals a third perspective to us; one where His mercy triumphs over our judgment. When we can yield our pride to Him, maybe we can see the lovingkindness He has for our opponent, gain a new perspective, and flow peacefully together in one direction?
In Your mercy, Lord hear our prayer. Will You intervene in the long-term aftermath of this battle? We have sinned against You and the place of Birch Coulee. Will You forgive the bitter judgments of all participants? Will You make this site a holy site of peace? To the Minnesotan, American, and Dakotan of this event, and their generations, I speak this truth; “…A Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
To many of my contemporaries, even the concept of a Savior, or needing a Savior, is offensive. Yet, I wish to add a confession of behalf of myself, my peers, and especially the Church within this State. We live in a time where “self-determination” is esteemed as a political right, and sometimes as a worldview that shapes much of our decision-making. Will You forgive us this offense, and the places we have become imbalanced in terms of “self”?
We correctly see that we have a right to our “self”, but our trust is broken and incomplete . We don’t see another’s right to “self” because we trust solely in our human abilities. We do not seek, believe in, or rely on an “other” perspective greater than our “self”. So, we do battle, both parties attempting to preserve their precious “self”.
So, we do battle to preserve this precious “self” that You have given us.Yet there is another way! You are the rightful Advocate and Mediator of all our relationships because only You completely see the Infinite worth of every human, every life, all matter, all Spirit under the sun! You would bring Infinity and timeless perspective to our moments of potential conflict if we only inquired, listened, and received Your insights.
Will You show us the eternal “win-win”, “honor-honor”, and “mercy-mercy” of our negotiations? Will You teach us the ways of “other-determination”? Amen.
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3,4