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Governor celebrates faith, prayers, miracles during interfaith blessing ceremony

Published: Friday, Feb. 1 2013 4:45 p.m. MST

Lacee Harris, a Native American shaman, and Gov. Gary Herbert attend a "blessing ceremony" to mark the first day of Interfaith Month at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 1.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Gov. Gary R. Herbert joined an eclectic religious group that included Jews, Muslims, Christians and others as a Native American holy man evoked a blessing from the Creator, Mother Earth and the four winds at the outset of February’s Interfaith Month in northern Utah.

“I appreciate what you stand for and what you represent,” Herbert said Friday morning as he welcomed members of the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable to the Capitol rotunda for their Interfaith Month opening blessing ceremony. “Your motto — ‘Many Faiths, One Family’ — represents how I view the state of Utah, even politically.

“As we set aside our differences and help each other, love each other and appreciate each other, miracles can happen in our lives and in our state.”

Prior to the Interfaith Month blessing from Lacee Harris, a member of both the Northern Ute and Northern Piute tribes and a represenative of First Nations, Herbert reflected on the role faith plays in the state over which he presides.

“I’ve discovered as governor the greatness of our state comes from the goodness of its people,” he said. Emotion crept into his voice as he spoke of how often people come up to him in public settings and tell him that they are praying for him.

“This is one of the greatest blessings I’ll ever receive,” he said, pausing for a moment to compose himself. “You have no idea how much it means to me to know that you care about me and you care about each other enough to pray for the governor and for the state.”

Those prayers, he said, make a difference because “from time to time we need outside help and guidance beyond our human abilities.”

He spoke of the wildfires of 2012, which he called “a difficult time in our state.” At one point the fires and fire danger became so severe that the governor asked Utah’s faith community to unite for a weekend of prayer “to ask the Almighty to temper the elements.”

“I was overwhelmed with the response to that request,” he said. “People all over the state, from every faith group, offered their prayers in their own way, and the elements were tempered. It was a miracle in our lives.”

Such miracles come from being united in our faith together, the governor said, and then “getting some outside help” from God.

He referenced the prayer given at his inauguration by Indra Neelameggham, a Hindu member of the Salt Lake Interfaith Rountable.

“In Indra’s prayer, one of the things she mentioned was, ‘Let us be led from darkness into light,’ ” Herbert recalled. “As you begin your Interfaith Month activities, I echo that thought. Let us be led to light. Let us work together. Let us care. Let us love one another. If we do that — working together — our state goes from good to great.”

Following the governor’s remarks, Harris came forward in ceremonial dress and decoration to conduct the blessing, but not before he welcomed the group “to my land.”

“This was our land for the northern Utes and Shoshones,” he said, smiling at his listeners. “You were visitors, but you stayed. You are welcome anyway.”

He then chanted the blessing in his native Ute language, waving an eagle wing fan as Roundtable members passed the unlit peace pipe around the circle.

“I asked my four brothers — north, south, east and west — to give of their gifts to us,” Harris explained.

Praying in all directions is symbolic of what was happening with that gathering of many faiths in the rotunda, he said.

“Spirituality has no boundaries,” Harris said. “Spirituality says we are one regardless of our skin color or political philosophy. We are one.

“What we are doing here today and for the rest of this month is bringing all of our spirituality together, hoping we can see each other with love and respect.”

For a complete calendar of Interfaith Month activities, please click here.

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