Tuesday, July 18, 2006

the hummingbird's daughter

I've been doing a bit of summer reading, for fun thank God! So last week I read the book "The Hummingbird's Daughter," by Luis Alberto Urrea. It's a novel, kind of historical fiction, based in 19th century Mexico. It shows the transition between the "Indian" culture (as it was called then) and the Spanish culture, and what it was like trying to develop a culture that was authentically Mexican with no racial distinctions, living into the Catholic faith brought from Europe and accepted by their ancestors while still staying connected to the land and the sense of cultural identity that comes with one's own religion. I found this book to be fascinating and challenging.

One of the things I came away with was the question of why it seems like Christianity, as opposed to almost all other religions on Earth, has very little connection with the land. Is it because of Greek influence, emphasizing dualism and the evil nature of this world as opposed to the perfection of the soul? But Greek gods and goddesses were connected with the land. In some ways it's good--Christianity can go to any land and flourish because it's not connected to a specific holy place, to God being available only in certain places or to certain people. But at the same time, I think we lose a lot by discounting the earth so much. There is much we can learn about God, about ourselves, about healing suffering, from the land we inhabit. Sure, we shouldn't worship the land, but it's something God created, and called good, according to Christian tradition. So why do we ignore our connection and need for the earth?

In this book, the main character, eventually called St. Teresa (not to be confused with Mother Teresa who was also sainted), is a sort of medicine woman as well as Christian healer and prophetess. She has a powerful connection with the land and "the People," the indigenous people of Mexico; and she also finds faith and truth in Catholicism and in the person and values of Jesus. She is apparently a historical figure, the great-great aunt of the author, and there are numerous newspaper articles and other publications about her. She sometimes seems to have healed people with herbs and other natural remedies, and sometimes she heals them by touch or putting her hands near the person.

She also preaches to the People, calling for revolution, but calling for it to be nonviolent. Basically calling for her Indian people (she's half Indian) to stand up and not allow themselves to be subjugated to whites. The ending is powerful and surprisingly nonviolent. This was a beautiful piece, and I recommend it highly! Thanks to my step-mom for telling me about it.

I'll leave you with one interesting passage. Teresita is talking to a medicine man. He says:

"Christians don't like the left side, but Indians do. Christians have forgotten their hearts. When a medicine woman hugs you, if she means it, she will move you to the side and put her heart on yours....Have you noticed...how the Yoris [white people] hug?....They never put their hearts together. They lean in and barely touch the tops of their chests, and they hang their asses out in the wind so none of the good parts touch. Then they flutter their hands on each other's backs. Pat-pat-pat! One-two-three! Then they run away!"

I think this is a very true and interesting commentary, perhaps not only on Christians but on Westerners. It's an interesting thought that the left is the side of the heart, and that we've lost our hearts. We're more interested in rational, logical stuff, not that emotional junk. Not that we think of hugging our left sides together as meaning anything, but it's very true about the lack of real physical touch. This does somehow go along with the loss of heart. Interesting to think about...


Steve P. said...

Hi Cherice,
I've never left you a post before and I'm new to the whole world of blogging so I'm not really sure if there's like a right way to leave a first post but anyway "Hi" and I wanted you to know I liked your post. The book sounds interesting and I like the points you make about disconnectedness from the land and our hearts. I've been trying to get in touch with both lately and I agree that a lot of people would be a lot better off if they focused more on these. Oh, and reading the description of hugging western-style, I realized my hugs could use some improvement. Don't know if I'm ready for the heart-to-heart hug but it makes me happy to know that some people do this, or at least used to. Peace. Oh, and I just started my first blog at letusconnect.blogspot.com.

raye said...

Cherice, Thanks for letting us know about "Hummingbird's Daughter." That's a perfect description of Westerners' hugging.

Regarding lost connections to land, I think it's reflective of "Christians'" lost connections to Christ. What images did Jesus use in his parables? The sower, the farmer, the keeper of the vineyard, mustard seeds, weeds in the wheat, and so forth. Perhaps he was just keeping the metaphors familiar to his audience, as some have told me. But perhaps he was pointing out that nature has much to teach us about matters of the spirit. After all, one of the creation stories has us being formed out of the soil itself. I think I recall being told Adam means "of the earth."

In my experience, it seems humans would rather see themselves as warriors than as farmers. We'd rather fight than work. But the metaphors for spiritual growth point to our connections to the land and nature, to the seasons, to seeds falling to the earth to bring forth new plants. That stuff requires humility, and it's not very glorifying to our egos.

One early Christian liturgy I'm aware of gave thanks to God for the "circle of the year."

Anyway, you've identified something that really matters, and I hope many see the post and look in the mirror, and then step outside into the "big room" and begin to listen to the Spirit speaking through the land, the plants, animals and seasons.

In Peace,