As one who has enjoyed mysteries, as a genre, for a long time, I recommend these as pretty well written stories which take place among the culture of the native peoples of the Southwestern United States. Specifically, the main characters are Navaho, but they frequently interact with characters who are members of other tribal groups in the Four Corners area. I enjoy the characters, themselves, but I have also come to appreciate the insight which these books have given me into the culture of these peoples, and which I hope (and believe) represent their cultures fairly.
I confess that I have also come to some greater awareness of the truly shabby way which the European-based dominant society has (and continues to) treat those people who were present on this continent prior to European colonization. I should also note that forty-three years of living near the Qualla Boundary in Eastern North Carolina (to say nothing of having a fair number of students work at Unto These Hills, the dramatized story of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee and the Trail of Tears, over the years) has contributed to my understanding of the shameful way we of the dominant culture have treated, and continue to treat, these peoples. Before we have the right to condemn other countries for their treatment of minority groups, we should probably look to our own history, but that’s not really my point here.
As I have said, part of what has intrigued me about these stories is not just the fact that they are pretty interesting mysteries, but what they have taught me about the culture, religion and philosophy of, especially, the Diné (Navaho). Now I don’t pretend to understand the details of their beliefs, but I believe that it is correct to say that the cornerstone of their spiritual notions is the idea of “walking in beauty.” I believe that this refers to the idea of accepting that all aspects of life are, naturally, beautiful if we will only take the moment to appreciate them. The rising of the sun, or its setting, a flower, or a landscape, the quiet breathing of a sleeping child, the sound of laughter, or of honest tears.
I think “The Beauty Way” is the path of accepting the value and beauty of life itself, in all of its complexity. Even discomfort and death can be beautiful when we understand that they are a part of the natural way and may be necessary in the course of existence. My understanding is that the Diné believe that sickness and unhappiness are the result of the loss of awareness and acceptance of these facts, and that much (perhaps all) of Navajo spiritual practice is about restoring a sense of balance and harmony to a person's life in order to produce health. It struck me that this really isn’t so far from the sense of the appreciation of the beauty of the world as a key factor in health and happiness which seems to be a part of many, perhaps all, spiritual traditions that I have any awareness of.
Yes, it sounds a good deal like what is called Christian Science which, at least as I understand it, suggests that illness is caused by an improper relationship with divinity, but the idea is, or at least seems to be, paralleled in other branches of Christianity, at least.
For example, we have the “Serenity” prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference” which seems to me to express much the same sort of notion. And, the Zen concept of using meditation and contemplation to restore one’s sense of peace and wholeness also seems to be related, at least to me, as do the seasonal (sun-based) ceremonies of many neo-pagan traditions. I also know of many Christian worship services which I have attended over the years which speak of going forth from this place with the “peace of God (or Christ).”
While there are many variations, and I have no desire to espouse any particular one as better than another (after all, what may work for you may not be suitable for someone else), my sense is that the basic idea of “finding your place,” “finding your balance with Creation,” of “walking in beauty” with the world seems to be a fairly universal idea. Those who at least try to do this (whatever path they choose to follow to get there) seem to be among the happier, healthier, and nicer people I know (and have known).
So, as I close this posting, I wish to leave you with a picture which I took on the trip I took with my daughter, Maggi, to England in 2009. I believe (I’m pretty sure) I took it in the garden at the Shakespeare Birthplace in Stratford-Upon-Avon, although we visited a lot of gardens on that trip and many of them were filled with beauty. I think back on that trip with some frequency and it led me to a much greater appreciation of the beauty which surrounds us, from a flower, to a sunrise (or set), to a mountainside, or an open prairie. If this picture can bring a bit of beauty to your life, even for just a moment, it will make me happy. If it doesn’t, I wish it could.
May you always walk in beauty…