SALT LAKE CITY — Lacee Harris began his blessing in the Capitol rotunda at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, but his ceremonial preparations started more than an hour before.
He arrived around 2 p.m. to invite sacredness into the space, holding up and then releasing a few bits of traditional Indian tobacco at the easternmost, southernmost, westernmost and northernmost points of the circular area, ensuring that the people hearing his blessing would be drawn to the creator, Mother Earth, rather than the murmurs of passing politicians and tourists.
"Everything that's going on around? That's all right. All of our feelings here are going to be more focused," said Harris, who is Northern Ute and Northern Paiute, before his prayer began.
This is the fifth year in a row Harris has led a blessing ceremony at the Capitol, which is one of the premier events of Utah's annual Interfaith Month. He said the location doesn't intimidate him or alter his message, but it does influence the types of issues that come to people's mind when they're asked to reflect on the world's suffering.
For example, Josie Stone, chairperson of Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable, began the event by recalling her recent experience as a participant in the Feb. 4 March for Refugees, which ended at the Capitol. She said the march helped her understand the different meanings the building has for its many visitors. It's a place of business, protest, learning and prayer.
"This is the people's place," she said.
Similarly, Gov. Gary Herbert reflected on how Utah's welcoming spirit is captured in the Capitol's paintings and plaques. He described the blessing ceremony as a chance to think about how each Utahn can spread this spirit to others.
"We all ought to say, 'What can I do? What can we all do in our own spheres of influence to assist others?'" he said. "Our neighbors may not be refugees in the traditional sense, but they probably could use a helping hand, a shoulder to lean on, a kind word, a compassionate note to help them get through the day's challenges."
After Herbert's brief remarks, Harris offered a few words, outlining his feelings on what Mother Earth intends for humankind.
Holding his hand up to the crowd of around 30 people, he said, "Just as these four fingers work together, we should be working together as brothers and sisters."
Harris then introduced his blessing, noting that he'd be speaking in Ute.
"I'm going to pray in my language," he said. "Just know that I'm praying for us."
Waving an eagle feather in his hand, he turned first to the east to call upon Mother Earth for the creator's blessings. He then repeated the same gestures and words to the south, west, north, up to the sky and, finally, down to the ground.
His small circle called to mind his earlier walk around the Capitol rotunda, the start of his efforts to bring blessings to Utah's leaders and citizens.
Interfaith Month will continue for three more weeks. Upcoming activities include a Baha'i devotional gathering at the Salt Lake City Baha'i Center at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 12, and a tour of the LDS Family History Research Center at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 16. The full schedule is available online.