“You don’t stand a chance against my prayers . . . You don’t stand a chance against my love.”
These words written by Robbie Robertson and Jim Wilson for their song, Ghost Dance, speak not only of Native American angst but apply to anyone’s combat with any injustice or evil. It speaks to the power of prayer and love which are stronger than any difficulty.
About two decades ago I was inspired to study and read everything, including some primary source material, about the Native American Ghost Dance Religion, a spiritual movement which arose among many tribes in the latter part of the 1800s. Indians’ tenacity to faithfully practice a religion outlawed by the white American government was inspiring. I wanted to know all I could about this religion, about Wovoka, the Messiah who taught them through dance and vision that their ancestors (12 million slaughtered by Whites) and precious buffalo (forty million buffalo killed between 1830-1885 by Whites), and their land (stolen by false treaties with Whites) would return and the White man would disappear. Afraid of the Ghost Dance which they wrongly perceived to be a threat, the U.S. government cavalry soldiers massacred more than 300 Indians, including women and children, in 1890 at Wounded Knee. The Ghost Dance is a compelling study that I highly recommend. (To start, try Smithsonian ethnographer James Mooney who lived with the Cherokees and met Wovoka.)
When I first encountered the Ghost Dance twenty-some years ago, I did a series of large oil paintings following that theme (most are sold now). But recently in going through my multitude of note cards, this subject newly aroused my interest. I was led to purchase the CD, Robbie Robertson and The Red Road Ensemble, Music for The Native Americans. Playing this music, which I love, and re-reading my many notes on The Ghost Dance, I found myself gripped by two lines in one song, Ghost Dance: “You don’t stand a chance against my prayers . . . You don’t stand a chance against my love.“
It struck me that these lines had more than one meaning. We need to bravely speak these words to any wrong, any evil. It seems to me the Ghost Dance teaches a universal message. Whether we are concerned about Russia’s war against Ukraine, democracy’s demise throughout the world, politicians’ lies, racism, injustices of any kind, or some personal trauma, we must wear these words like shirts of the Ghost Dance. We can dance them in our hearts, speak them, live them: “You don’t stand a chance against my prayers . . . You don’t stand a chance against my love.” We must pray and we must love. Always. Under every circumstance. There is no other answer.
Artwork: You Don’t Stand a Chance, oil, mixed media, 30″ x 30″, $1,200. This recently finished piece came as I realized the personal and universal meanings behind this Native American-derived song on Robbie Robertson’s album, Robbie Robertson and The Red Road Ensemble: Music for The Native Americans.