There is a church in the high desert of Arizona that grows its own future.
The first time I made my way to the Peyote Way Church I was in my early 20’s. The memory still most impressed on my mind from that day is the ceramic mural adorning the front of the congregation house. Blue Corn, two people kneeling in prayer, symbols of world religions, birds, and lots of peyote buttons. I was impressed! I still am.
Who put in the hundreds of hours creating this visual explosion of peyote prayer, vibrating with devotion and glowing in the desert sun? Who was I about to meet? Two goats browsing in the yard overlooked by this spiritual art piece appeared agnostic and uninterested. The message at the top of the mural hooked me the most.
Seek ye first the Kingdom of God. Hold not to the ways of the world. No matter what the material world offers you, hold first to the Ways of God.
Perfect! Can it be real? Isn’t this code? Like an artistic method saying whoever devoted the inspiration, care, and attention in making the message is therefore living it? That’s what I was pondering when someone greeted me, the awestruck visitor, so long ago.
I don’t remember too many specifics of that first visit but it soon segued into meeting two young couples, children, peacocks, and the goats. Soon I was introduced to the elder of the congregation, Immanuel Trujillo, who had a certain “hermit with a sparkle” style, a red headband, and a smile that seemed to say- Nice to meet you. You’re in way over your head. Try to not to waste my time. Enjoy your stay! It felt something like that. Honest, without being offensive. If he had any reason to speed this up, he would have read me the riot act right there regarding my spiritually deficient lifestyle, having been spoiled by the well intentioned love of my parents, never having had to cut life’s edge on my own. Employed. Comfortable. Easy.
He eventually would break it down for me (many times) in his uniquely intelligent, eccentric, and sharp edged way. But better to be cut by a sharp blade than a dull one they say. There was nothing dull about the Reverend Immanuel Trujillo.
Immanuel and the Peyote Way Church changed the direction of my life by imparting the ethic that, working hard, in ritual labor, is a self proving method for getting your mental, physical, and spiritual life together. It happens as you do it. Like the key code embedded in the “putting God first” billboard out front. Like displaying a quiz you figured out the answer to. It worked, because you did. You kept first to the Ways of God so the Ways of God kept first to you. Do It Yourself inner peace. I liked it. I did it. I worked for it and it worked for me.
Many hundreds of people have gotten help for their lives through the spiritual service of the Peyote Way Church. I believe this to be so primarily important that the methods are secondary to the results. But the specific method, besides ritual labor, (where your means of making a living is your prayer), is the ceremonial Spirit Walk, a solo quest on 160 acres of land devoted to being in the reality of Divine Nature, with medicine, and an examination of conscience.
Very few people spend the night alone outside in a very natural setting. With the sacrament along as your guide it’s almost an erasure of centuries of ignorance, at least decades, of not being in touch with earth as a sacred place. It transforms the person through the night so when the sun rises, they’re literally reborn and have a new connection with Mother Earth, Father Sky, and their time in their body. Rabbi Matthew Kent
Rabbi Matthew Kent and partner Reverend Annie Zapf, have been my spiritual brother and sister since that first meeting 40 years ago. Sharing their 46th wedding anniversary this month, Matthew and Annie are, in my mind, an outstanding example of the self proving qualities of living the Peyote Way.
Your Lorax correspondent spoke with them recently, and regularly, about our common concern for the future of peyote for our children’s children’s children. As grandparents who have been providing a place for medicine to grow since Jimmy Carter was president, they’ve learned some things about conserving peyote.
When you have a seed, and you see it takes as long to grow these things as your children, you have a better reverence when you take a knife to them, Matthew told me. It’s very fragile for the first couple of years, just like children, so you need to parent it. That’s the relationship.
Matthew and Annie are caretakers of three sacramental greenhouses. The resources, time, and attention applied to this makes the wall mural I was so impressed with on my first visit seem like a single word in a thousand page prayer book. This is serious love for the medicine in action, an act of ritual labor of the artistry of the soul. Annie and Matthew are highly practiced ceramic artists, having created decades worth of Mana Studios earthenware as the funding vehicle for this devotional mission. They are not kidding around.
The church’s do it yourself attitude naturally extends to the means of access to their sacrament. Cultivation of medicine has been a part of the Peyote Way ethos since long before it became a crisis of necessity. Discussing the question as to the “spiritual appropriateness” of growing medicine in greenhouses, Annie asks- Why is it sacrilegious to grow but it’s not sacrilegious to haul it in bags across the country?
The church’s location in the upper Aravaipa Valley of Graham County, Arizona, consistently brings low temperatures in winter that would damage otherwise unprotected medicine. Great care has been taken in providing the best conditions possible for the sustenance of the congregation’s future sacramental needs.
Seed germination along with properly timed and performed harvesting are key to this garden’s success. Upwards of 200 spirit walkers come each year to spend three days in camp alone, with a fire, and tea made from sustainably harvested plants. Individuals seeking this experience are often advised to check back in another year as the garden of several thousand plants can only thrive if left a certain amount alone. You can’t cut this year, the medicine that will be needed next year, and the years after that. Less is more, says Matthew regarding the membership versus supply ratio issue. That’s the hard lesson of the future that we need to learn, that growth is sometimes disadvantageous, and finding out how to do more with less is the best way to go.
As long as Peyote is an endangered species, it is more blessed to grow the Holy Sacrament than to consume it. Articles of Faith
This doctrine alone is enough to automatically give the Peyote Way two Lorax thumbs up in my Churches I Support And Pray For ranking. You can read more on their website and support this cause here. Individuals from all walks of life , (with Annie and Matthew at the core and on the job), who provide their time, labor, and donations to continue the work of the church, invite your contributions for helping them help the medicine.
Ensuring a future of sustainable peyote prayers is an excellent enough concept, but I am also personally fond of this statement from their website-
What we believe is personal, and we are not interested in forcing our beliefs on anyone else. The mural on the Congregation House depicts symbols of five major religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. Peyote is available to the communicant regardless of his/her religious preference. We also believe that the government has no place inside your conscience.
This was the message impressed on me by the church art in the front of the congregation house on that first day so many years ago. Along with beautiful imagery, some peyote wisdom was literally baked into a ceramic message of faith. And it has positively affected my life, and many other lives up to now. And I pray that may continue for a long peyote road ahead.
Oh Creator of all things. Bless our brothers and sisters who help shine your light into this world. Through their faith, let your love share itself with those in need of help on their own life path. Help the helpers of your divine medicine to learn and to teach us all, and each other, that our path forward begins in the prayers of our dedicated labor.
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