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Dade City man blends Kiowa heritage and other faith traditions

DADE CITY — Most days, at dawn and dusk, Bob Dodd does a fire offering from an 11-foot dirt circle in the woods behind his home.

There are no books for his faith tradition, and no specific words. When asked whom he prays to, he uses the term "The Great Mystery" and smiles humbly.

"We don't know, we just believe," said Dodd, 67, who draws on the traditions of his Kiowa Indian mother. He says faith is "not something outside of you that you go to, but rather inside you, a guiding force."

Dodd's thoughts, prayers and songs are between him and this greater power that he reaches with the smoke of his fire. He can see something magical in the embers.

"The heart of the fire is the heart of creation," he said.

Born on Indian land between Colorado Springs and the Garden of the Gods, Dodd struggled early to find his place. His mother was an Indian woman who had been raped by a white man, so Dodd wasn't accepted as Kiowa or as white. He spent many nights tucked away in a tent, within earshot of his mother's people as they practiced their traditions.

He spent the latter part of a difficult childhood in the Everglades and then joined the Marine Corps, serving more than 20 years, including two tours of duty in Vietnam.

Much of his life — 22 years — Dodd said he had "dragons in his belly." He was addicted to drugs and alcohol, and said he was a very violent person. He called himself a "self-righteous, abused Indian."

After his military service, he became a federal officer with the Bureau of Indian Affairs on the Miccosukee Indian Reservation near Miami. But he was suffering tremendously and got to the point that he was going to end his own life.

A co-worker got him help, and after months in rehab, Dodd's life was changed.

He's been sober for 27 years.

"My dragons were able to be put to rest," he said.

For years after that, he traveled to share the Indian ceremonies and teach them to the next generation.

He went to villages of Eskimos near Nome, Alaska, helping them reconnect with their faith and themselves. He spent time in Tibet and Thailand and walked for six months through the desert of Australia. He said he absorbs what he learns from other cultures, and brings the feelings back with him.

"That strengthens me," he said.

When he prays, he said he doesn't ask for anything. He finds it odd to ask a "supreme being" for something.

"I give thanks for all that I see and that I might see," he said. "I give thanks for my ignorance first and that keeps me teachable."

He has a deep respect for other faith traditions. A Hindu fountain flows in his garden, Buddhas perch inconspicuously around the house interspersed with American Indian artifacts, and a large, multicolored Tibetan prayer flag hangs outside near his carport. He has friends in China-controlled Tibet who aren't allowed to hang the Tibetan national flag, so he does it for them, he said.

Some of his travels take him around the world with his wife, Vicki, a nurse practitioner who works for the U.S. State Department. He points lovingly to a spot on the map where she's living: the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon, West Africa. She'll be back next month for a visit, and then in January he's bringing her to Bangkok to show her the temples and the culture there.

Many Sundays Dodd can be found at the Palm River Thai Temple, or Wat Mongkolratanaram, in Tampa. He often meets there for brunch with longtime friend Maureen Cox, a nurse practitioner at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg.

She traveled with Dodd and his wife to Machu Picchu, Peru, recently. When Dodd finished his fire offerings, all the birds suddenly began singing, Cox said.

"There's an extreme presence with him. It's very reverent," said Cox, a practicing Catholic who believes that "all religions tie together."

Dodd said he's done traveling around doing outreach. The impact he has now is mainly through his fire circles at home.

On occasion, others will join him at the fire circle. They travel from Georgia and Tennessee and other places around the country. Usually they're of the American Indian tradition, but not always. If a visitor doesn't seem genuine, Dodd politely ends the ritual, offers that person a drink and sends him on his way.

Some visitors call him a healer. Dodd said he doesn't deserve the credit.

"The peace that people find here doesn't come from me," he said.

"Faith in Motion" is a weekly feature about an individual or group doing something inspiring in the course of a spiritual journey. Story ideas are welcomed, via e-mail. Send them to Mindy.Rubenstein@me.com.

Dade City man blends Kiowa heritage and other faith traditions 10/23/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 23, 2009 9:02pm]
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