It is so easy to wax poetic about simplicity or transformation in Lent when writing from a well-appointed house in Denver’s metropolis. I can simply skip one meal, have another of broccoli, switch out coffee for herbal tea, cancel some appointments, expand my prayer hour to three and – voila! I have simplified.
(the village a few decades ago)
Yesterday I spent the day in three Hopi villages, three hundred feet up on top of a mesa in the middle of Arizona’s harshest desert, inside a Hopi Reservation which was, in turn, set inside a Navajo reservation.
( a model of the last few of 100 homes on First Mesa)
The trip through reservation entrances, along cliffs, through desert passes and along highways (which seemed to end beyond the earth’s curvature) was long, hard, dry and capped off with a slow and treacherous trek up onto the mesa shelf. Once there, a Hopi friend and I wandered through the three villages. We spoke of and with Hopi potters, dancers, tribal leaders and spiritual conjurers which inhabit that small city on a pillar of stone. I was not in an Episcopal Cathedral.
( a map of first mesa’s three villages)
The day shifted my view of my own faith by encountering their faith. The long journey was what made the arrival and subsequent ending-feast of hominy and lamb stew with fried blue-corn cakes so transcendent. I felt so foreign there, until they took me in for the day, taught me their song, their hopes, their tastes, their colors, their fears.
(first mesa from the desert floor)
They journey humbled me. I felt very small, pale, doughy and curious. But in the same way that whales of a family all sing the same songs until they swim with another family and the two families part having had their songs adjusted; so too I left the mesa changed. And my Hopi friends admitted that I was not what they expected in an Episcopalian – and said they also felt changed.
(Noqkwivi – lamb and hominy – and blue corn fry bread)
Over the next three to five years, the cathedral will be experiencing the Art of Hosting. We will come together in some powerful ways, led by some very powerful humans. We will bring our songs, sing them and part with altered songs. We will be in ancient places but engage in modern conversation. We will make some short and some very long journeys to get to these meetings – perhaps not long distances but long pathways to the required fragile vulnerability and open curiosity. And perhaps some of us will travel through some deserts every bit as barren and yet full of hidden life as one finds here in Navajo and Hopi territory.
What made this day possible was that an Episcopalian man and a Hopi woman met, found each other interesting, allowed curiosity to brew, exchanged stories and made friends. Now my song has hints of Hopi sage smoke in it and hers, hints of Anglican incense. Neither will ever be the same. Pilgrimages and change take great courage – considerably more than reciting prayers and giving up chocolate.