We had been going up the mountain in northern Arizona for an hour and a half with a small group of guests from the East Coast of the U.S. The road was challenging. We were an hour away from the last dwelling we had noticed. Ponderosa pine, juniper and pinon—their fresh smell filled the air.
We stopped to unhitch two “gates,” both thrown together with barbed wire. About a half-hour away from the first one, we saw the compound. It wasn’t much different from what would have been there centuries ago. There were few indications that anyone but the Navajo—the Dineh, as they call themselves—had been anywhere near here.
Jonathan, the young man who greeted us, was only 13 at the time. He showed us around the compound and, later, walked us on an ancient path toward a mountain creek. One of our guests asked me what a particular plant was. I said, “Ask Jonathan.” Soon, Jonathan was telling us the English name, the Navajo name, the medicinal uses, ceremonial uses and some of the stories surrounding the plant. The guests marvelled. In his youth, in his intimate spiritual knowledge of a universe they had never imagined possible, he re-enchanted the world for them.
For the past few centuries, we have observed the progressive cost of technical knowledge alone—of technical knowledge imparted without any anchor in faith, without any connection to hope, without any hint of a Creator. It is not that this knowledge is bad—much of it has made life better. It is just incomplete, as modern experience demonstrates. Even with all our expanding technical knowledge, we appear to know progressively less about some essential aspects of being human.
The problem is that each advance in knowledge appears to take us farther away from the living connection God gave us to the Land, to our ecology, to the spiritual centre of Creation. A knowledge that alienates us from who we truly are must be described as dangerously partial, nothing more than a step along the way.
There is a better way. I think I would like to follow Jonathan into the forest. Though his people have suffered under numerous attempts to dis-enchant their world, they have chosen to join the old to the new. Today, they understand and accept science as something useful, but know that there is more than can be seen by the eyes. Everything in Jonathan’s world is animated by the Spirit, even science. We all know of such a world. It is a place that is enchanted by the pulsating presence of the Living Word of God. It is, in God’s love, our world—once again. Ω
Mark MacDonald is national indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.