Jul 7 - “Navaho Madonna” © icon by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM.
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In northern New Mexico and Arizona, the Navaho people preserve an ancient way of life on a remnant of what was once their land. Their history and their art bear witness to the strength of their culture. This icon celebrates the beauty of Navaho culture, and its closeness to the Christian Gospel.
Beauty -- hozho -- is the highest Navaho ideal. Most Navahos are artists of some sort, and their spirituality is woven around beauty. Beauty includes harmony, goodness, well-being, and order. Sickness and other ills come when humans do not live in a beautiful manner. The Navaho phrase at the bottom of the icon is repeated four times at the end of their religious ceremonies: "Beauty has been re-established." This is also the message of Christ’s incarnation.
Mary here wears her traditional Byzantine colors, but she is a Navaho woman. Jesus is strapped to a cradleboard and He is laughing for His first time -- a special moment in every Navaho’s life. His parents will now give a feast so that He will not be stingy as He grows up. The inscription by Mary’s head is Church Slavonic for “Mother of God.” The inscription above the cradleboard is "Jesus Christ," and the letters in Christ’s halo mean "I am who am," the name God told Moses in the Old Testament. Around the bottom and sides of the icon is one of the Holy People of Navaho religion -- a Rainbow Yei. He always surrounds religious sand paintings.
Laughter and beauty are two ways Navaho culture can enrich traditional Christian spirituality. The entire world is a divine epiphany, if only we had eyes to see. After viewing this world as a place of exile and a vale of tears, we would do well to listen to what the Holy Spirit speaks to us from other cultures like the Navaho.
In Beauty (happily) I walk
With Beauty before me I walk
With Beauty behind me I walk
With Beauty above me I walk
With Beauty all around me I walk
It is finished in Beauty.