Saturday, November 18, 2017

Above and Beyond


The other morning, I strode buoyantly homeward after a predawn workout. I was feeling refreshed and invigorated by the physical activity and the clean crispness of the air. As far back as high school, I have had a love-hate relationship with early morning exercise. I hate to drag myself out of a warm, comfortable bed to initiate an hour or so of (what I consider) strenuous activity, but I love the feeling of having battled a more matronly figure one more day. I also enjoy witnessing the dawn of new beginnings.

As I walked home, I glanced to the west and witnessed a spectacular show of light and color. The sky dome overhead was a dark and dreary gray. It looked as if a curved lens cap of high clouds fit snugly over the world. The exception was a horrific-looking rift on the southwestern horizon. A ragged tear of incredibly bright orangey-red light split the horizontal separation between earth and sky. I thought to myself that this must be how the first primordial dawn looked.

Stopping in my tracks, I watched in wonder as the rift widened until the sun sprang forth, igniting the earth one more time. The fiery orb lit up and blended with the blanketing cloud cover and cast an ominous glow upon the surrounding landscape. It was a simple, yet glorious, moment. I wondered what ancient peoples might have thought of such events. The Sky World must have at once attracted and repelled them.

Working with local Native American artists has allowed Steve and me a deep and abiding interest in their creativity, and the myth and legend from which they draw inspiration. We have learned that the Sky World is of critical importance. Living in such close proximity to the natural world and her splendid wonders allows these artists a unique and exciting perspective that many of us can only imagine. To them, the sky alone implies a potent, thought-provoking reality.

The sky is infinite, remote, inconceivably immense, inaccessible, and eternal. From this upper realm, as with numerous cultures around the world, the Navajo derived their first notion of the divine. Native artists are inspired by thunder bolts, eclipses, storms, meteors, falling stars, phases of the moon, sunsets, and rainbows. The sky was (and is) an endlessly active dimension with a life all its own.

Although the Sky World was basically effected by human beings, it affected and motivated them tremendously. From this elevated realm evolved cultural and faith-based inspiration that developed into elements that were essential to their spiritually inspired, artistic lives. These, now iconic, images are projected through rug weaving, basket, jewelry, and folk craft.

The images include the Bearer of the Sun, who carries the light disk across the sky and can represent youth, endurance, virility, and strength, and the Moon, a more settled personality associated with knowledge, wisdom, compassion, and understanding. These two inseparable characters combine to present a harmonious, balanced persona. Big Thunder, Star People, and those beings with dual citizenship to earth and sky, such as the raptors and small birds, are now common to Native American art forms.

All of these images are instrumental and beneficial in explaining creation, existence, and relationships. The art allows us to experience a mystical unity with people of a unique perspective derived from the ancient past and the natural world. This grants us a glimpse at primitive richness common to the land in which we dwell and the people with whom we associate. Look to the skies, there is beauty and enlightenment there.