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...