THE LIGHT IN DIVERSITY
There came a man named John who came to witness that the light, the true light that gives light to every man, was coming into the world.” John1: 6-9
My husband and I were a little more than twenty years old, had a VW Beetle, some savings, money in our pockets, a few clothes and military discharge papers. We were homeless and jobless, but it did not seem that way to us. We left San Antonio, Texas heading west for San Francisco, Seattle and eventually Wisconsin where we planned to settle down. Gasoline was eighteen cents a gallon and the cost to stay in a AAA motel was forty dollars a night. Our formal education and military service behind us, we were about to start on the rest of our lives. This trip and many to follow hold wonderful memories but the special one on this adventure happened on the infamous Route 66, Gallup, New Mexico’s main street. We stopped at one of the many places that advertised Indian Art and found ourselves the only customers in a Southwestern Indian Art Gallery.
The owner took us through the building explaining Indian Art. Sharing, in detail, the history and creative process of weaving, pottery and jewelry; telling about the special clays that are needed; about dyes obtained from natural sources for glazes; how the potter is able to begin a design on one side of a bowl and come out even at the other; how different pottery styles come from different Pueblos; how turquoise is cut and saved by size through a series of screens below the cutting table so that nothing is lost; how wool is raised, dyed and spun; how a rug might be over a year wound up on the loom but the beginning pattern, though it is no longer in view, is correctly repeated at the end; how a thread of the wrong color is woven in somewhere because only God can make something that is perfect. The experience was the beginning of my appreciation for Native American Art.
I took away with me a little black tortoise from the Santa Clara Pueblo that eventually joined, on a shelf, a Rosenthal Laughing Rabbit purchased later in Germany. Art from two truly diverse cultures that make me think of the story of the Tortoise and the Hare. They remind me that it is important to appreciate that differences need not be different. That together differences can be complimentary. Patience pays off.
In later years we marveled over Totem Poles made from trees in the very wet culture of Alaska and British Columbia. Art of the First People as they are called. Their culture so different from the arid southwest. In the Midwest are the Sioux with stunning bead work, an expression of their art. Art as it relates to Creation as they experience it. I am fascinated by stories and myths of Creation and Native American wisdom.
The oldest cemetery in my New England town is the “Indian Cemetery”, where, growing up, I would wonder about the lives of the settlers and the Indians buried there. Certainly, they had congenial relationships that did not match the old stories, I also heard, about Indian raids on the town.
Currently I am participating in a program developed by the National Episcopal Church, called Sacred Ground, designed to enable conversation about diversity in relationship to our own life stories. Last week we delved into Native American history. I am learning about the hardships white people imposed on people already living in the New World, as they set about claiming the new land for God and for themselves. Settlers who believed, as did those who later settled the indigenous peoples already there.
I am becoming more aware of how blind I am to the Divine in others. The more I learn of Celtic Spirituality, the more I realize how much we have lost in our collective blindness to one another and Creation. There is a question that troubles me. The plight of the Indian is so great, and I can do so little: What can I do?
I have chosen to make Indian charities my priority. I cannot make a huge difference but like the story of the man who, seeing Sea Stars stranded on the beach, was, one by one, throwing them back into the water. When reminded he cannot save them all, he replied, as he tossed another: “It makes a difference to that one.”
John Phillip Newell speaks, in his book Christ of the Celts, of teaching about the true light in each other that John speaks of in his Gospel. He relates a Mohawk elder, with tears in his eyes, was wondering where he would be, where his people would be, where we would be as a Western world today, if the mission that came from Europe centuries ago had come expecting to find Light in his People.