I met Joedy Yglesias while training to become a Texas Master Naturalist. He calls himself a Bodhisattva of the Earth, someone whose compassion extends to every living creature. It is his calling. In this excerpt from The Smile on a Dog: Retrieving a Faith That Matters (free download here), he shares the journey of how he came to this place in his life.
My parents raised me as Catholic during the ’70s and ’80s, a time when Chicano Americans were having an existential identity crisis. For those of us on the left, it meant consolidating our power, supporting La Raza or the United Farm Workers. For conservatives, it meant identifying more with their Spanish colonial roots and ignoring the indigenous aspect. The Catholic church and the government had always done a good job of separating us from those roots, which led to internalized racism. For my own parents, who wanted to make things easier for their children, it meant giving their children English names. This was part of the American Dream as they saw it.
I was quite involved in our local parish church. I taught catechism and sang in the choir, all the while trying to deal with my gay identity. I eventually thought I might join the priesthood as a way of circumventing that issue, essentially shutting it down.
Then, one day while visiting Austin, Texas, I saw a poster advertising a group called Shaman’s Circle, hosted by gay activist Toby Johnson. Toby had an earlier association with Joseph Campbell, having spent time with him in northern California. He had been a Roman Catholic priest but gave up his ordination and dedicated his life to focusing on gay spirituality. Like Campbell, Toby understood religion as myth and metaphor, and he introduced me to a much wider awareness of my spiritual journey.
I attended their shaman drumming circles and discovered that it was all white men. I approached them with the idea that even though I couldn’t afford their retreats, I could join them as a worker and bring a different ethnic perspective to their group. It was a great experience! Toby took me under his wing like a spiritual father, teaching me some of the primary truths from Campbell, like the journey of “the hero with a thousand faces.”
I came to understand how important my indigenous heritage was to me. I discovered that many of my relatives had practiced indigenous rituals in the past, but they hid it because the culture considered it pagan. The more I delved into it, the more I developed my own unique spirituality as someone who is half Native American.
Toby convinced me that the priesthood wasn’t right for me, so I joined the Navy. I loved the adventure. I saw it as a challenge to participate in the military from the inside, showing how the LGBTQ community could bring honor to the institution. I was still practicing my Catholic faith, operating as the lay leader on ships, but after I returned to America from one deployment, I saw a Unitarian Church flying the rainbow flag. I visited their fellowship, and it blew my mind how they welcomed the spiritual writings and traditions of so many faiths. I began to attend there on a regular basis.
After a final deployment to Iraq, I returned to live in San Antonio, Texas, suffering from PTSD. To get my head clear, I began to visit a number of Texas State Parks—camping, volunteering, and eventually receiving my certification as a Texas Master Naturalist.
I believe that the universe opens up to us at just the right time. While touring Seminole Canyon State Park, I saw, for the first time, the ancient pictographs for which the park is famous. When I looked at them, I instantly had a connection. I intuitively understood what they were really communicating, an awareness that amazed our “expert” tour guide.
As I spent more time outdoors, everything seemed to fall into place. Even the snakes, tarantulas, and vinegaroons emerged when I was there. I felt a deep connection and kinship with my indigenous roots, especially in the Trans-Pecos desert region of southwest Texas. I knew I was home.
Today, I am working with Texas Parks and Wildlife at Big Bend Ranch State Park, a remote and beautiful region of our country. It’s where I belong right now, and I feel it is part of my journey to help protect this majestic landscape. Our natural resources are under attack through neglect and development, and although I know I can’t fully stop it, my presence can help preserve the spiritual magic of nature for others.
My ancestors call me here, and every time I go into the canyons, I sing a prayer song of the Lakota Sioux to let the spirits know I am present.
Tunkasila wamayanka yo
Le miye ca tehiya nawajin welo
Unci Maka nawecijin na
Wowah’wala wan yuha wauwelo.
Grandfather look at me
This is me standing in a hard way
I defend Grandmother Earth
and I come humbly with these ways