Last summer season a friend suggested I read Reclaiming Two Spirits. I’ve enjoyed their books and the way they think. So, I figured the book was likely worth the read. I ordered the book, but it being the season of haying and irrigating, I put it on my unread bookshelf when it arrived Equinox came and went. Then, a hard cold arrived in the latter part of fall. When the ground and water troughs freeze my morning life easily moves toward reading. As a result, by mid-winter I was midway through Reclaiming. It was then I came upon a quote by Marlon “Marty” Fixico of the Southern Cheyenne.
Cheyenne people, we call God Maheo. Maheo means “I don’t know,” because we don’t know what it is but it’s everything.
Landscape has a lot to do with the way folk think, develop language, and grasp mystery. Believing this, had me thinking that one day I should spend time in the landscape that allows people to think this way. That was my first thought. My second was, there are Christians who would find this way of God thinking troublesome. For many, a God who is within and part of everything—rather than separate from and existing at the top of a hierarchical vertical up-down schema of Creation—is nothing less than profane. After all they might figure, if God is part of everything then God is wedded to the profane. Yet, that, it seems to me, is the point.
A couple quoted sentences cannot speak to the complexities of Maheo. It takes a lifetime to live into a people’s way of understanding the everything of all. Which is why I cannot use the word Maheo to talk of the I don’t know. Furthermore, if I were to use Maheo I am afraid I would ultimately appropriate a way-of-being into just one more word of many for that which Christians call God. So, no Maheo for me. Not today. Rather, I don’t know will do.
My early life in Christianity was that of God-on-top. Any thought of a God-within would have been heretical. As a young adult I switched to a Christianity that allowed for greater breadth. However, even that was more anthropocentric than creational. Though I find these ways of thinking of God problematic, I continue to find the Christian and Hebrew texts helpful to explore and comprehend the I don’t know of my kin. Of course, this is problematic in and of itself, but we cannot throw away the framework of our lives.
Though Fixico’s Maheo and my exploration of I don’t know surely differ due to our cultural differences and our individual encounters of colonization and white supremacy. I believe common ground is found in the landscape. Landscape, that place of interplay between human, plant, winged, water, wind, four-legged is one of kinship. When kinship becomes central to the I don’t know conversation, human-centered systems and structures begin to falter. Then is when we must listen. For in that faltering moment, the land (with our help) has the ability circumvent the melting pot of manifest destiny and put an end to north American Christianity’s bipolarization.
Should we allow I don’t know to inform Christian theology, the Christian binary of either sacred or mundane becomes apparent. For many Christians, the narrative is the sacred is beyond human knowing. What is sacred is ideal, perfect, love, watchful and that which might be mimicked by creation but never fully experienced. The sacred is beyond human understanding and better than the human experience; that which exists without tangibility. Mundane is thought of as sacred’s opposite: imperfect, ordinary, and everyday; that which is recognizable and attainable. However, if Christians listen to the landscape’s I don’t know we may find sanctification in the fluidity of the liminal space between the sacred and mundane.
When freed from the binary of either-or the American landscape becomes alive, whole, and sacred. Recognizing the sacred in the profane becomes pleasing rather than distasteful. Structural sureness no longer hinders creational place and space. The land of our birth becomes sacred (once again). Our place of dwelling becomes animated. We are provoked to experience abundance of the here and now. Our ears become tuned to the natural. And we are no longer surprised when the sacred of the bush speaks our name. Perhaps, if we settle into we don’t know what it is but it’s everything we will learn that sacredness in normal. Find fertileness in the native. Recognize inquisitiveness in the marrow of community. Become people of sacrament seasoned by the ordinary.
[On February 8 Center for Indigenous Ministries’ Indigenous Book Study begins a conversation on Reclaiming Two-Spirits: Sexuality, Spiritual Renewal & Sovereignty in Native America by Gregory D. Smithers. If you would like to join and/or buy the book you can do so at Indigenous Book Study.]