Thursday, March 12, 2009


The Hopi or “peaceful people,” now centered in the northern portion of the state of Arizona, claim an ancient heritage and think of themselves as the records-keepers of American Indian lore and truth. Their traditions exhibit a fierce concern for “Mother Earth,” the recognition of a mystical “higher power” and a generalized caution against most forms of modernism.

I have been impressed with the lines reputed to be from the Elders Oraibi, of the Arizona Hopi Nation. Utilized by some American politicians recently, these words should be heard beyond the histrionics of the campaign:

"You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour.
Now you must go back and tell the people that this is The Hour.
And there are things to be considered:
Create your community. Be good to each other. And do not look outside yourself for the leader. This could be a good time!
There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.
See who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally. Least of all, ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt. The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!
Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we've been waiting for."

For the people with whom I now work very closely, Albanian Immigrants in Athens, Greece, these words could be of help. The ancient wisdom is also relevant for many in America, beset by a seemingly unending economic meltdown and the loss of trusted sources of personal and corporate security. For that powerless feeling imbedded deep within us and the tendency, in the face of adversity, to be overwhelmed by uninvited forces and tempted to beat a safe retreat, to wait for reinforcements to arrive, the Hopi insight speaks directly.

Indeed, “this is the Hour!” We must live with a keen awareness that, despite the challenges of this hour, this is the time in which we are called to act. This is not the time to run away or to regress. This is the time to step forward, fully alert, active and ready to give back our very best in this time that has been given to us. We could pine for an easier hour; we could hope for an hour like safer hours we have known before; we could yearn for a blissful, imaginary hour that is not yet to be. But “this is the Hour!”

Who can disagree with the Hopi that our present day is one in which we are in the midst of a fast-flowing river? Some want to hold to the shore when the waters begin to swirl around; but staying ashore is no option for those who are already in the boat and in the water. We must navigate the rapids, channel the forces and position our life craft in such a way as to capitalize on the momentum of the waves, lest we be overtaken by them. Even amateur boats-men understand that resistance to the waves adds a greater danger. When one is in the fast moving stream, tis better to focus on steering than to abandon ship and strike out for the supposed safety of the shore.

I recall John Updike’s classic book of literary criticism, entitled, Hugging the Shore. For Updike, who excelled at both fiction and literary analysis, “writing criticism is to fiction and poetry what hugging the shore is to sailing the open sea.” While I am no literary critic, I resonate strongly with Updike’s contention that human beings are often like ocean-going liners who were meant to sail the open seas, but who, in fear of the depths or the force of the waves, choose to “hug the shore.” Although the Hopi imagery is that of a fast-moving river, rather than the ocean, the instruction is the same: “We must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.”

How wise of the Hopi, also, to encourage us to “see who is in there with you and celebrate.” Times of difficulty and challenge should send us toward each other, not away from each other. Knowing that “we are all in the same boat” should help us to treasure each other, rather than trying to compete against each other.

At last, with the Hopi, we must conclude that “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for!” Some Albanian immigrants in Athens, Greece, beset by a legacy of poverty and the modern-day nemesis of powerful prejudice, believe that someone else holds their destiny. With too much passivity and too much resignation, they too easily surrender themselves to doing nothing and waiting for someone else –the European Union, the United States, or some humanitarian organization – to bring them deliverance.

Likewise, some Americans are so stymied by the economic malaise that they have convinced themselves that they can do nothing. The wait for a “stimulus package,” an extension of unemployment benefits or the election of the “right” political leader or the “right” political party before their liberation is at hand. Like native islanders who once witnessed the arrival of sailing ships, loaded with material goods from a far superior and more technologically advanced culture and concluded that their only hope was to stand on the shore and wait, it is easy for some moderns to develop a “cargo cult” mentality in these days of challenge.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I recognize and believe firmly that the only true hope in this life and the next is in God. But, unlike some religions, Christianity asserts that individuals have the power and the responsibility to choose for themselves their eternal destiny and, to a considerable extent, their temporal outcomes as well. Followers of the One who went to Calvary understand that the Spirit of the Christ is in this with us, redeeming the difficulties and giving us the strength to face them, if not rescuing us from them. We must choose to believe, trust God and take the actions that are open to us. Relying on the Almighty to help us, we must claim the truth that, “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for!”

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