In Native American culture, there are two kinds of literature: mythology and poetry. Myths and legends communicate sacred truths and history. But traditional Native American poetry serves a deeper purpose — it’s an integral part of everyday life.
For Native Americans, poetry has a sacred quality. Sometimes spoken, sometimes sung, words harness spiritual power. And indigenous poets hold a place of honor because they have a special, holy responsibility.
The most common themes in indigenous poetry involve spirituality and finding balance in life. And even though their poetry speaks to the Native American experience, it also has a sort of universal quality that speaks to all of us.
And so, we’re looking for inspiration today from a short Navajo poem. The author’s unknown, but it’s a personal and intimate piece that describes the writer’s perspective of the world around them. It’s titled, “Beauty Is Before Me.”
BEAUTY IS BEFORE ME
Beauty is before me,
And beauty is behind me.
Above and below me hovers the beautiful.
I am surrounded by it.
I am immersed in it.
In my youth I am aware of it,
And in old age I shall walk quietly
The beautiful trail.
FOR ADDITIONAL READING: See When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry.
Some more inspirational nuggets for today:
- On this day in 1953, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible premiered at the Martin Beck Theatre on Broadway. Set during the Salem witch trials of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1692, Miller’s play shined a spotlight on religious intolerance, hysteria and persecution. He wrote it as a condemnation of McCarthyism and the persecution of American citizens suspected of being communists. But in a case of life imitating art, Miller himself was dragged before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to provide the names of people who were present at meetings he attended.
- Today also marks the death of the hymnwriter, Anna Bartlett Warner, in 1915. You might not recognize her name, but you probably know her work — she’s best known for writing the children’s song, “Jesus Love Me.” But she also wrote a catalog of books, poems and hymns. Warner was born the daughter of a wealthy New York lawyer, and started writing hymns to earn money when her father lost his fortune during the depression of 1837. She also taught Bible classes to the cadets at nearby West Point, and her family home is now a museum on the grounds of the U.S. Military Academy.
- And on this day in 1908, a woman named Katie Mulcahey was arrested for smoking a cigarette in New York City. It happened the day after the city enacted the Sullivan Ordinance — a local law that banned women from smoking in public. Mulcahey was arrested on the spot and fined $5. When she appeared before a judge, she said, “I’ve got as much right to smoke as you have. I never heard of this new law, and I don’t want to hear about it. No man shall dictate to me.” The mayor struck down the law a few days later, but it set a legal precedent that allowed women the same public activities as men. And in a twist that city legislators never saw coming, the Sullivan Ordinance became a rallying point for suffragettes who preached that women have the same God-given rights as men.
Way to go, Katie. We’re proud of you. And that’s today’s Spiritual Almanac.
Be kind, take good care and we’ll see you soon.