Sisters in Scripture
Acoma Story
7/30/2014 Kathleeen Kichline

SOUTHWEST SOUVENIR

On our recent trip through the Southwest, my husband and I made a stop outside Albuquerque at a pueblo that has been continuously inhabited for over 1000 years, the longest period of human habitation in North America.   It is Sky City, a pueblo sitting atop a mesa in the Acoma Nation.  The Acoma people were farmers as well as hunters and gatherers but nearby tribes, like the Apache and Navajo, were raiders who took their crops as well as women and children.  So they moved to the top of the steep, cliff-faced mesa, farmed and hunted in the valley below, but stored their bounty and built their village hundreds of feet above the raiders.  

At the foot of the mesa, the Acoma have created a modern museum and tourist center that tells the Acoma story and prepares visitors for the world they are about to enter.  A small tour bus winds up the backside of the mesa on a road constructed just a few decades ago.  It delivers you to a world remarkably unchanged in the 1000 years it has existed, a world without electricity or running water, a silent world suspended in brilliant color and endless vistas.  Those whom the tribe has chosen as spiritual elders live there and never leave the mesa for the duration of their office.  Artisans and others, usually grandparents, also choose to live there and families return for feast days and celebrations to their ancestral homes throughout the year. 

Spaniard Franciscans lived among them, built a church and school and "converted” them to Christianity but the religion they practice is a synchronistic blend of indigenous belief and Catholicism—with more than a slight lead given to their native practices.  Circle 360 degrees, take in the cliffs, the valley and hills spread below.  Shade your eyes against the piercing pure color that shimmers all around.  Breathe in exhilarating freshness and the numinous becomes possible-even quite likely.

After the tour, we bid a reluctant farewell but stopped our drive back to take pictures at an overlook.  There was a young Acoma man there, in his early 20’s.  He was helping some women set up their tent for selling souvenirs.  We struck up a conversation and I told him how impressed I'd been by the pueblo and the elders and others who lived there.  He started telling me about his way of life and how every morning he rises as close to dawn as he can and as he watches the sun, he prays, that he prays for all people.  He looked at me and said, "I pray for you, I pray for everyone this day will greet.  I pray for their well-being, that they will have their needs met, that they will grow in love and awareness."  He went on to say that of course he prays for his own people and himself.  He said, "We dry farm.  That is to say, we do not irrigate.  We rely on the rain and the springs and that means we pray.  And that is good.  So every day I pray for rain--not expecting that it will necessarily come that day but that it will come as we need it to come and God will provide for us." 

Now that we are home in our northern clime of slanting light and watercolor hues, I find that I think of that young man most mornings.  As the sun so sweetly and briefly graces these summer days, I remember that distant and different world and I mindfully enter a quiet space, a shared space, a place where I can pray.  As I pray, I try to be generous in my prayer for all people.  I try to be grateful and confident that God will provide.  I try to grow in love and awareness and I hope that others may do the same.

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