Hot, Holy Gathering

March 4, 2007

Author: Lona O'Connor

Source: Palm Beach Post

By any definition of the word "church," the American Indian sweat lodge has got to be the most minimal, the most intimate and, unquestionably, the hottest. In the heat and the dark, people hope to sweat away their ills, both physical and spiritual.

And there could be no more unlikely person to lead a sweat lodge than Louie Ruvo, an Italian Catholic from New York, a falafel seller in Key West and a seeker whose quest for spiritual wisdom brought him here via the plains of South Dakota, where he learned to oversee the sweat lodge.

"I'm a Catholic, I was an altar boy and married in the Catholic church, but recently this is what works for me," Ruvo said.

The sweat lodge, or inipi, is one of the sacred ceremonies practiced by Lakota (Sioux) and many other American Indian tribes. Its purpose is to purify the mind and the spirit.

"The sweat lodge is like the Native American spiritual church," said Woody Vaspra, president of the World Council of Elders, a group dedicated to preserving the ways of all ancient cultures. "That's where the people gather."