Wednesday, August 17, 2016


By Kaitlyn Miller, Mercy Volunteer Corps 
Kaitlyn Miller (far right) and her community members

I have been fascinated by the language of the Diné (Navajo) people since living on the Rez. In the nursing department we have been trying to keep up with learning a new “Navajo Word of the Day.” The language is quite a difficult one to learn as it uses sounds and syllables that my English speaking mouth just can’t seem to make happen no matter how hard I try.

One of the words (that I can actually pronounce!) I find particularly interesting. It is the word hózhǫ́ (it kind of sounds like ho-shown). It occurs in two important ceremonials called the Blessing Way and the Beauty Way and is found in many Navajo songs and prayers. My co-workers tell me it means, “walk in beauty, a place of harmony, blessing, a state of holy being, or a peaceful place.” From asking around and from doing some research, I was amazed to come to know that not even a hundred English words can truly describe what the word hózhǫ́ means to the Navajo people.

In short, this word seems to encompass beauty, order, harmony, and the idea of striving for a balanced life. According to Navajo culture and traditions, every aspect of life is related to hózhǫ́. Even more so, the Diné people believe that this doesn’t mean to pray for what you do not have, but rather to pray for balance with what is going on. For example, while others may pray for rain during a drought, the Navajo hold ceremonies to put them in balance and harmony with a drought.

The whole idea of hózhǫ́ recognizes what is beyond our control to change. Hózhǫ́ is changing one’s attitude to fit the situation, not to try to change the situation to our attitude. We need to try to become content with the inevitable. This harmony is a choice that we can pick each and every day. It calls us to be flexible in all situations, yielding adaptive skills and learning how to thrive under radically new conditions. Another English word that falls under this idea of hózhǫ́ is gratitude. Hózhǫ́ calls people to be grateful in every situation, both the good and the bad.

It is said that the Navajo do not look for beauty, rather they are engulfed in it. When it seems disrupted, they restore it; when it is lost or diminished, they renew it; when it is present, they celebrate it. Often it is said, “with me there is beauty (shil hózhó),” “in me there is beauty (shii’ hózhó),” and “from me beauty radiates (shaa hózhó).”

This makes me think of how Christians view God. He is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. We are engulfed in His love. When our relationship with Him seems to be disrupted, we try to restore it, when it feels lost or diminished, we try to renew it, when we feel His presence, we celebrate it. We are taught to be grateful in all things and to praise Him in both the good and the bad times. He is with me, in me, and from me His light and love radiates.

This year has been crazy so far, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. When we get stuck in the mud but God helps us find a way out, I think hózhǫ́. When we get to go hiking and be surrounded by God’s creation, I think hózhǫ́. When there are days when nothing seems to get accomplished at work or I feel like I didn’t make a difference, but I made a student smile, I think hózhǫ́. And lastly, when I see these four amazing women I get to share this year’s experience with, I think hózhǫ́. Being on the Rez this year, we have seen beauty and light with us, in us, and radiating from us, as we continue to live out what God has called us to do.

To learn more about Mercy Volunteer Corps, please click here

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Diversity is Beautiful

By Rebecca Lane, Mercy Volunteer Corps 

Mercy Volunteers serving on a Navajo Reservation in Arizona enjoy hiking as a community
She turned around abruptly to look at me and with sureness in her voice, the words, “I have never been friends with anyone like you before” echoed off the walls of our new apartment. She was probably right. Our interest and outlooks surely didn’t streamline together in a perfect way. It was no secret, we were undeniably different. We were placed together for a year of service, but that did not constitute a friendship. Our humor did not match, our lifestyles were polarities, and I thought we were headed for a year of turmoil. 

It wasn’t just her and I at opposite ends of the life spectrum. As a community, we all had stories to share of where we came from, and who we are today. None of which corresponded. Placed in an entirely different environment: college, a party, or a workplace, would we still have built a friendship with one another? The odds are slim. We are wildly unique, chasing our own lavish dreams. Even with three nurses in the house, they are each sprouting in various directions. Yet cohesively, we lived together, we worked together, and we adventured together. Truth be told, it isn’t easy. Robotic we are not. Each of us is wired with deep passions and strong thoughts on what community in the Navajo Nation should entail.

Packaged in our fleshy nature are concepts and ideals that have been unknowingly manifested in our psychological pathways and present themselves daily. They are caused by how we were raised, experiences we had, and a moral code we have developed. Most individuals are unaware of these concepts and ideals until they are forcefully removed from an environment that accepts them as normalcy. 

One ideal that may not appear as a dilemma but can shake other’s routines is washing the dishes. Four of the five Saint Michael’s Mercy Volunteers are from the East Coast where droughts and water shortages do not plague a community. One of us, however, is from the West Coast. Growing up in eco-friendly Colorado, her ideals are rooted in water conservation, composting, and gardening. As I write, there is a beautiful box garden growing on our windowsill. Therefore, continuously running water as one washes the dishes strikes a nerve in her. As we sit down at the dinner table nightly, each one of us brings assumptions like these on how daily chores should be done, how to make decisions, and different lifestyle choices. The beauty is none of us are wrong, we are simply different. 

Because of our diversity, we are learning a great deal. Yet, we did not simply learn about each other, we teach other. Living with nurses, I learned far too much about infections, medical terms, and how to be an advocate for others and myself in a hospital setting. As for the Speech Therapist, she shows me how to teach my non-verbal student to begin to speak and the importance of communication. For me, I have the opportunity to teach my community members American Sign Language and how to manage difficult behaviors in a classroom setting. 

Informally, we taught one another how to cook from delicious Italian meals to meat and potatoes and every other oriental dish in between. Winter nights were best spent learning to crochet and using them as “living simply” Christmas gifts. Summer months were spent learning to face the fear of height as we hiked all over this beautiful desert. In our downtime, we painted, we completed puzzles, and we learned which roads were best not to take after a rain shower. In 1 Peter 4:10 it states, “Each of you should use whatever gifts you have received to serve others, as a faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” We were each unique gifts and destined by God to serve in Saint Michaels, Arizona to not only serve our community, but to serve one another and teach each other every day that diversity is beautiful. More importantly, we taught one another that although assumptions are inevitable, to step into another’s life in intentional community is life-giving.   

Community forces yet fosters deeper relationships. We are unable to hide behind our exterior, instead everyday demands us to pour out a little of our soul on to the table for each member of the community to probe at and infer their own judgments. In the beginning, it was excruciating. By the end, it was liberating. To be a part of a community that freely allows you to be who you are, despite differences, makes for a pleasant abode. We are truly blessed. 

To learn more about Mercy Volunteer Corps, please click here.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Learning to Pray in Appalachia

By Matthew Junker, Father Beiting Appalachian Mission Center

When I was an atheist, I liked to say that prayer is selfishly asking for every atom in the universe to be rearranged just for your own interest. Having mocked it for so long, I had a very difficult time with prayer when I came into Christianity. Unwilling to be completely vulnerable, my first response was to intellectualize it. I bought a book of prayers originally intended for seminarians and poured over the writings of Augustine, Catherine of Siena, the Little Flower, and other great spiritual teachers. But despite the beautiful prose, these prayers meant little when read as poetry or fragments of theology. This kind of intellectualization was a cautious half-step into the spiritual life, and although it kept the door propped open, I had yet to experience the full richness of prayer.

This half-stepping didn't last long after coming to eastern Kentucky to work with the Father Beiting Appalachian Mission Center. Together, we pray at the beginning of each day in our chapel. We pray before each meal, and we pray at the beginning and end of each work day with those we serve. People here don't shy away from displaying their faith, and it wasn't long before others began asking me to pray for them. By friends and strangers alike, almost everyday I'm asked by someone new to keep them in prayer. It's easy to see that these kinds of requests aren't just pleasantries. When people here ask for prayer, they really mean it, and I knew if I was going to be honest, I had to follow through. As the director here said to me one day, “there's nothing worse than saying you'll pray for someone and not doing it.” 

This kind of religiosity is so often mocked in the wider culture. The tragedy is that this hostility isn't just out of disagreement, but out of a profound misunderstanding of what faith actually is, a misunderstanding that deepens as our societal literacy in philosophy and the liberal arts slowly deteriorates. Prayer seems ridiculous if one is expecting the miraculous regression of tumors or the sudden reappearance of sight, as some televangelists might promise. But seldom do we encounter God in this way. Rather, we find God in the passion and intelligence of those advancing medical science. We find God working through healthcare practitioners who turn down offers with higher pay in order to serve those with greater need, and we find God in the sacrificial love of friends and family when illness strikes. 

Despite poverty, illness, and all of the other reasons here for people to lose trust in God, I've encountered a people of relentless faith. The passion of the kids in our youth program, of the community leaders I've met working at the food pantry in town, and of my neighbors while visiting them in their homes has acted like a mirror to point out those shallow areas of my own spirituality. Their faith does not weaken because they recognize God everyday in the face of good neighbors and loving families. They see God acting through the hundreds of people who, despite having every reason not to, choose to come here anyway to swing hammers and dig ditches. And most importantly, they see God in themselves as they muster the strength to press on. Although these encounters are more commonplace, they are no less extraordinary than miraculous healings. In fact, the regularity of these encounters is what makes them so extraordinary – that we are continually brought back to love in a world filled with great darkness.

During my time with the Mission Center, I have learned that prayer is not just an intellectual exercise, some sort of meditation on metaphysical reality. Prayer is not passive; it is a generative act that strengthens our spiritual bond. As social and economic divisions grow, prayer asserts our radical equality before God. We are brought together to the common table where we learn to see the world from others' shoes and to recognize each other's value as uniquely-created and equally-treasured beings. We see darkness spreading by dividing and conquering. We pray so that we can tear down these walls and strengthen our spiritual solidarity, so that, together, we can walk that righteous path toward liberation.

My time in Appalachia has taught me to come down from my head and into my heart, and out from my heart into my hands. We do not pray because we expect sudden intervention from on high. We live in a world of great abundance, overflowing with talent, skill, intelligence, natural resources, and everything else we could possibly need to build a world that benefits all. The only element we lack is love. This is why we pray - to strengthen our ability to love, that deep, sacrificial kind of love that no other power can stop. The kind of love that heals wounds, uproots oppression, and builds anew. I pray so that I may love, so I must come to love to pray. This is what I have learned volunteering alongside the people of Appalachia.

To learn more about Father Beiting Appalachian Mission Center, please click here