Teri Orr: Sacred messages amid the madness…
The news stories in the past two weeks have been so rich in symbols and meanings a person could feel dizzy from just trying to extract a story from its symbolism. The heartbreaking reveal of priests raping nuns, impregnating them, then forcing them to have abortions — sin after sin in their faith — forced upon those women for decades. So saddening it defies any explanation of the defilements.
Jeff Bezos was revealed to have taken a selfie of his other self and he becomes just another dumb middle-aged white guy having an affair with his neighbor until … he fights the ugly paper that threatens to expose what he has already exposed unless he drops the investigation by his paper, the Washington Post, into the death of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi. And suddenly Bezos is a hero for standing up to a bully of epic legendary proportions and justice becomes more important than the breakup of his 25-year marriage to the award-winning novelist MacKenzie Bezos. Her 2006 prize work was “The Testing of Luther Albright.” She also raised their four children. She is about to become the fifth-richest person in the world. As for cheating Jeff — money does have privileges and if one privilege means fighting for the First Amendment in a way no ordinary corporate giant could imagine, well then, the richest man the world just pulled his pants back up in an epic fashion.
Down the road — those stories are still worthy column material. They will continue to unfold.
But there was a quiet photo last week that resonated with me on a more vibrational level. It was posted with the hashtag #IndigenizeCongress. There was a picture of newly elected New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland and her place in the hall for the delayed State of the Union message. Dressed in all white solidarity with her fellow female legislators she had done something with echoes from native ceremonies — she “saved her seat” by putting a native blanket (think small rug) over the back of the bench. It is a time-honored symbol among native peoples of marking a space. Like-minded folks know not to move a blanket once laid out. It is sacred.
The rug appeared to be a small gray and white square from her Laguna Pueblo tribe in New Mexico. It has more than one cross woven into the piece. Along with Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas — a member of the Ho-Chunk (Winnebago tribe of Wisconsin) these women are the first Native American women to ever have been elected to Congress. Ever. Two women. Let that sink in.
The beautiful gray rug with the crosses could have multiple meanings from tribe to tribe but in the Navajo culture and many others — those crosses represent the presence of Spider Woman — who was the most powerful of deities. It was she who taught people how to live sacred lives.
When I saw the photo with her hashtags and the simple statement “Yes I did,” I smiled broadly. She was bringing into that stuffy divided chamber her own healing medicine in the shape of a rug of two soft colors. It was powerfully symbolic. And it whispered change. I just sat with it for a spell.
I saw the image on my laptop while sitting in my living room, a space I redid last winter to more accurately reflect my own small collection of native rugs. Mine are largely Navajo, collected since the ’90s when I first had the privilege of traveling to The Rez in Southern Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. Linda Myers had started a small, simple program on her own, of delivering yarns and supplies to elders who were increasingly unable to make to make it through the long cold winters. Linda valued each person, learned their stories and their families. She simply made it her mission to see their rugs find a way into the hands of folks who would pay fairly for them and return dignity to their makers.
I spent hours sitting at the feet of weavers watching them thread yarns onto looms into patterns they had geometrically memorized. Their hands moved in a kind of prayer as they brought to life symbols and scenes in both monochromatic shades and occasionally strong colors. There were stories about creation and how to care for the land and how to walk softly upon it. I would try on those visits to buy a small rug. The gas down there and the hotel for the trip was a lot for me as a single parent with two kids in college when I worked as editor of this paper. The time away was my vacation. I always came back from those trips grounded and centered … for awhile. And over the years as my life and job changed I stopped going to The Rez on any regular basis. The rugs were in different rooms of my home but most not hung and not honestly being respected.
Last year I painted my walls downstairs of many colors, all white. I pulled up the white carpet and laid down dark hardwood floors. It is still the same tiny funky track home built in the ’70s I have lived in since 1980. There have been no structural improvements. But last year’s symbolic shift has brought me great peace.
Seeing Congresswoman Haaland dressed in white with her gray and white cross rug behind her gave me such hope. I have tried to center on that. Her power comes not from where her office is in a building — but in how she walks on the land. And she walks in beauty — like the Navajo blessing. She sees like a cross — in all four directions. And I feel better knowing her medicine is at work in that place in Washington which so desperately needs sacred souls seeking change. Each day including Sunday, in that (national) park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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