Beyond Christianity

Navajo: Practicing Basic Principles, Because “Eternity Is In It”

A neighbor woman and friend of ours is Navajo, and grew up on the reservation in northwest New Mexico. Since her Navajo spirituality is very precious to her and a fundamental part of her life, we invited her to visit with my “Religious Foundations of Ethics” class last semester.

During her talk she repeatedly used the word “sacred,” as in:

  • If you move a yucca plant in order to enlarge the garden, treat it decently because it is a sacred plant.
  • Do you see your children as the sacred beings they really are?
  • The corn meal is sacred.
  • The four sacred mountains.
  • You enter the hogan in a certain way to honor the sacredness of the place and of the family that lives there.
  • That is a sacred animal.
  • My sister is a sacred being.

She was making it sound like everything in life is to be regarded as sacred. Then one student asked her what she meant by the word, since she used it so frequently. Her first response was very brief: “Respect”. You respect that person, thing, place, etc., because respect is profoundly appropriate and utterly necessary. If you do not have and show respect, you are ignoring and violating the reality that is there, which is a part of you.

Serious respect, appropriate and necessary — what if we felt toward everything and everyone around us such a respect, such in alert realism? There might be a steep learning curve involved in this! What if we as Americans practiced that toward each other and toward other nations?

I heard a guy talking the other day about how he interacts with clerks, checkers, tellers, ticket-agents, etc. He likes to bring a smile into their day, some pleasantness, and has several techniques ready for achieving that. “It’s a small thing,” he said, “but eternity is in it.”

“Eternity is in it.” “Do you see your children as sacred?” Now there’s some moral — maybe even political — guidance for us. In each interaction with other humans, even in our thoughts about them, “eternity is in it.”

If the Christian conviction — of a Personal Creator who is the Just One and who is also Redeeming Love — is true, then eternity IS in our choices to extend love, respect, and recognition of sacredness to other humans, not to mention to animals and the broader environment. That’s really what the “dominion” assignment in Genesis is about. Christian theology provides, as does our friend’s Navajo spirituality, a solid ground for that. Constant recognition of sacredness and the practice of appropriate respect are the foundations of “everyday activism.”

And they are an implicit part of the American liberal tradition. Sadly, this is not a part of the “Christianity” that the currently dominant powers in this country choose to identify with. That is a great and grave error; and sometimes it can be hard to maintain our own convictions and values in the face of it. But we need to be sure to practice the reality daily, even against this sand-storm of false theology and warped dominionism.

We, at least, in our days and places can live that sacredness, that respect, and bring eternity here. It counts. That is a big part of my faith.

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  • This article is interesting indeed…I agree with somecowgirl’s posting. I believe that the “Bilagaana” and “Dinah” lifestyles can be bridged with religion.

    For example, the respect applied to the Holy Bible and its lessons is almost similar to how Native Americans apply their sacred admiration towards “Mother Earth” and its abundance.

    Genesis 1: 1-5

    In the beginning God (The Great Spirit) created the heavens (The before and the next life) and the earth (Mother Earth). The earth was without form and void, (Sacred) and darkness was upon the face of the deep (Perpetuity). And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters (Water is life). And he said, “Let there be light; and there was light (The creation of the Sacred Sun). And God saw the light, that is was good; (God is pleased) and God divided the light and the darkness (The creation of the division between Father Sky and Mother Earth). And God called the light Day, and the darkness Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day (Beginning blessing which rises with the sun).

    When I read the Bible, I understand it as the earth given to the people as the primary foundation. With out it we are nothing, and so is our pattern of life, our belief in our authenticity. Why do we want to destroy our first and ultimate gift? Such a gift that he allowed his only begotten son to roam upon this earth; which emphasizes the John 3; 16 verse….read it again and look at it from another point of view (Native perspective)…is it not sacred?

    Just Nova

  • Thank you for this article. I have long wished that the U.S. church would listen to Native Americans, because their daily personal lifestyles, relationship to this SACRED earth and philosophy (e.g., “don’t take more than you need”) could teach so much to this trashy culture infiltrating this land.

  • So what do we belagaana (gringos, whatever) do? We generally have more economic freedom &/or security; but we don’t have much in the way of rituals to teach our kids and remind ourselves of all this sacredness. How can we “live that sacredness?”