Sunday, June 19, 2011

Canyon de Chelley

After a week of Ruhi intensive, the youth decided to visit Canyon de Chelley, a national monument particularly important in Navajo history. We drove two hours through sage brush and juniper bordered roads before we arrived at the visitor center and proceeded to the trailhead for White House Ruins.

At its deepest locations, the canyon walls rise 1000 feet above the canyon floor, through which runs a dry and sandy streambed. The name Canyon de Chelley actually refers to several connected canyons, including Canyon de Chelley and Canyon and Canyon del Muerto. People have occupied the canyon for 5,000 years, beginning with nomadic hunters. After corn was introduced from the south, a new way of life changed the people living in the canyon and they are known as Basketmaker for their expert weaving skills. Farming techniques improved and these people became sedentary. They grew the three sisters: corn, squash, and beans. After the Basketmaker were the Pueblo, characterized for their skills in pottery. Dispersed households gave way to villages which changed the social life and structure of the people within the canyons. The Puebloan lifestyle ended around 700 years ago as they moved out of the canyon, establishing themselves along the Little Colorado River and Black Mesa. They became the Hopi and a few stayed or visited the canyon seasonally. Then, around 300 years ago, the Navajo occupied the canyon, bringing with them herds of sheep and planting fields of corn. Among there resources in the canyon was an orchard of peach trees planted in the days of the Spaniards.

In the 1860s, General James Carleton began a process of removing Navajos from their native land and relocating them to Bosque Redondo, a reservation he had “prepared” for them. He promised them happiness at Bosque Redondo when in actuality the soil there was poor for farming and the water unclean to drink. Many died there from famine and disease. The Navajo chiefs resisted for some time but eventually had no other choice but to submit. Carleton partnered with Kit Carson, who had once had friendly relations with the Native Americans, in a campaign which involved removing the Navajos by brute force. There would be no more promises of peace or words of compromise. Many Navajos died from the cold winter, as they had been cornered by Kit Carson in Canyon de Chelley but still refused to leave. Hogans, the traditional Navajo home, were destroyed and herds of sheep killed. The peach tree orchards which the Navajos had so carefully tended were also destroyed. Thousands of Navajos were escorted on The Long Walk to Bosque Redondo over 300 miles away.

In 1868, under the new authority of General Sherman, the Navajos were allowed to return to their homeland.

Today people of Navajo descent live in the canyon, farming corn and raising sheep. Their hogans and homes dot the bottom of the canyon. Tourists are asked not to take pictures of the hogans, as they are the homes of people living there and not a spectacle for tourists to take advantage of. Though it has since been made into a National Monument which many come to see, it is still a home to Navajo people.

We took our time hiking to the White House Ruins, which were built by ancestral Puebloans. A few faded pictures remain on the surrounding canyon wall near the ruins, including a depiction of a road runner and a man. Along the bottom of the canyon vendors sell turquoise and coral jewelry or clay pots. The four of us paused for prayers in a cool tunnel, escaping the heat and refreshing our souls. I played my flute and thought of the people who had lived here throughout the years, wondering if there had been other flute players in this canyon, as I released my own song and prayer into the atmosphere.

Note: Much of the above history I learned from a National Parks service pamphlet and the second chapter of Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. One of the youth serving at NABI is Navajo and he also graciously shared his knowledge with us.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ruhi Intensives at NABI

A view of the scenery from NABI, the white haze is from the recent and still out of control fire, now the largest in Arizona history

After some tough decision making and painful but necessary spiritual growth, I am now serving at the Native American Baha’i Institute near Houck, Arizona. I’ve only been here for about two weeks, but I’ll try to fill you in on what I’ve learned thus far….

Since I’ve been here I have helped with children’s classes and junior youth groups, facilitated an intensive Ruhi book 4, made a few home visits, and washed dishes (no less important of a service, and a needed one!) I have learned the most from the facilitating, which, by the way, just ended today! The study circle consisted of nine to ten people, although that number fluctuated from day to day as people had various appointments and commitments. Here are a few gems of learning I mined from this week:

1. It is part of Navajo culture to take things at a slower or more contemplative pace. This makes an intensive challenging because they are meant to get people through one of the books in a short amount of time. Intensive studies of the Ruhi books tend to feel rushed no matter what the setting. The books are, after all, meant to be carried out in study circles which might meet once a week over a period of months. So taking a Ruhi intensive in 5 days might sometimes feel like one has been hit and squashed by a very fast moving truck, and when it’s all over you might not remember what hit you! Some options for making intensives more manageable are to skip some exercises and suggest participants work on them at home, include ample arts and crafts to keep it from being dry, and splitting participants into small groups or partners.

2. I thought it important to remember that as a facilitator, I am also part of the learning process and in no way the “teacher figure”. Especially being a young facilitator with elder participants, I thought it necessary to establish that I was not an “authority” on any of the matters within the book 4, but rather a more experienced member of the group sharing what I had learned from when I took book 4, as well as the experience all tutors gain from taking book 7, which is all about how to facilitate Ruhi books!

3. Don’t be afraid to do the practices. In fact, you must do them for a Ruhi book to achieve its purpose. In this case, participants visited a few families and shared a simple presentation on the life of the Báb and Baha’u’llah. Sure, the presentations weren’t perfect and sometimes felt unnatural or awkward, but the group learned from the experience, even if all we learned was to overcome our fear of visiting someone in our community whom we’ve never met before or don’t talk to often.

There might be a few readers of this blog who are not Baha’i and wondering what I am talking about with all this “home visit” and “Ruhi” business. Am I some weird spiritualist or involved in some kinda obscure cult? Absolutely not! Here’s a very brief overview on some aspects of the Baha’i Faith and its emerging plan of action for bringing the family of man closer to universal peace and understanding.

There are Baha’is all over the world: from the mountains of Colorado to the villages of Zambia, from war-stricken Iraq to ever-peaceful Canada and Australia. Baha’is are followers of Baha’u’llah, whose name means “The Glory of God” in Arabic. Baha’is believe that Baha’u’llah (1817-1892) is the Promised One of all ages, fulfilling prophecies in many of the world’s religions and cultures. In Baha’u’llah’s writings we find instruction on how to build universal peace, how to improve our characters and grow spiritually, among countless other topics. A few Baha’i tenets/principles are:

1. Elimination of all forms or prejudice
2. Equality of men and women
3. The responsibility for every individual to independently search for truth and not see through the eyes of others
4. The harmony of science and religion
5. Universal education

That is not even a taste of the Baha’i Faith, but a very brief and incomplete representation. So if you agree with everything I have said up to this point, maybe you ought to check it out for yourself and delve a little deeper into the search for truth. You can start here:

Now for all this Ruhi business: Ruhi books are a series of materials developed by the Ruhi Institute which Baha’is around the world are using as a tool for social action with religious principles as its base. The sequence begins with Book 1, which investigates the life of the spirit, the meaning of prayer, and life after death. Book 4 covers the history of the faith, specifically the life of its two manifestations (messengers from God): the Bab and Baha’u’llah. As one progresses through the sequence, skills are acquired for teaching virtue-based children’s classes (book 3) or mentoring junior youth groups (book 5). In book 6 participants learn the meaning of a home visit, which is to visit a community member and engage in deep and meaningful conversation on spiritual matters.

Is the purpose of the sequence to convert people to the Baha’i Faith? Nope. The Ruhi books empower individuals to lift up their community. Baha’is all over the world are learning how to weave close ties of friendship with people from all walks of life and how to knit together the hearts of their community members. This sequence of courses is open to all, Baha’i or not, and all are warmly welcome to join the process of community building, which is part of a greater goal of global unity.

Baha’u’llah says:

“…These strifes and this bloodshed and discord must cease, and all men be as one kindred and one family…Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind…”