Sunday, October 3, 2010


The flower you hold in your hands was born today and already it is as old as you are.
- Antonio Porchia

The Navajo medicine woman wore a long purple skirt, a black vest and a turquoise chain. Her gray hair was held in a tight bun, bangled braclets hung loosely around the wrinkled brown skin of her wrists, and she peered with dark eyes from behind her spectacles. With hunched shoulders, she moved slowly down the halls of the little ranch house that were covered with that seventies floral wall paper. In one hand she raised a gray feather, while her sons chanted and she sang.

Grace followed with blonde bob, blue eyes, and only eight years, looking very Swedish and wearing a brown cowgirl dress. She solemnly brought the bowl of ground white and yellow corn, and sprinkled it in the air, in the doorways and down the halls.

A Navajo grandson came last with another gray feather which he dipped into a bowl of water and also sprinkled throughout the ranch.

There is more than one way to bless a house, to bless the creatures and the land, to realize what is sacred and to begin again, but in honor of the feast of St. Francis, and in the land of Red Mesas, we were Navajo blessed.

With the arrival of a new herd of sheep that are so dear to the Navajo people, we moved outside to the yard, underneath the desert sun and the slow moving clouds of the west. Grandmother and sons, grandchildren and Grace came with smoke, hot coals and ancient pipe, for more songs, more ritual, feathers, and blessing. People took the corn dust and sprinkled it on each other, like Ash Wednesday.

One of the Navajo sons stood up at some point and told everyone that while he was in Vitenam, his mother walked the hills daily, and in every direction that the wind hit her she said a blessing on his behalf.

Later, we feasted. A traditional Native meal: flat bread, mutton, corn and chocolate cake.

I sat next to an older man who traveled North for this Celebration. He told me that he had retired in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, once called Hot Springs. It was renamed after a popular radio quiz show in the 1950's. He also told me that he had a few pilgrimages planned and seemed extremely insulted when I referred to them as "little journeys." "A little journey is a trip down the road to Dairy Queen," he said scornfully. There were a few other things he mentioned that I didn't quite pick up on: a vision of Mother Mary, a nun trying to save his soul, and something about writing sonnets about his cat.

Then the wind picked up, and it rained. The group huddled together beneath a tent until the storm blew further west, and then we wandered to the Red Mesa, following the friar, a hitchhiker and Gracie. On the red rock walls there are prehistoric etchings, bear's feet, spirals, a man and a drum. Pieces of old pottery lay near the base, someone found a ceramic bowl.

I found myself subtly detached from the day. Appreciative, but distant. And so, a message from a dear friend came:

The great thing about prayer is not to pray but to go directly to God. If saying your prayers is an obstacle to prayer, cut it out. Let Jesus pray.

- Thomas Merton

I don't often pray when the wind hits me, in fact, lately I haven't prayed much at all. But I hope, in spite of my own cluelessness, wandering and fear, something can still happen on my own little journey - that the song will keep on being sung, the smoke will billow, and clouds will rain.

1 comment:

  1. YES! This is beautiful, Ambo. Your desert memoirs will make you famous.