A CULTURE in COMMON
Volunteers share Christian Science healing ideas on Native American reservations.
As a Little girl, Beverly Lyle spent many happy vacations with her family in national parks around the United States, including her favorite, Mesa Verde in Colorado. There her interest in Native American culture took root.
Many years later, when her marriage was breaking up, she prayed, "God, where is my life?" The answer surprised her: "Your life is with the Indians." Not knowing a single American Indian, Beverly thought she had misunderstood. But the answer didn't change, so she packed up and moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where she soon worked and prayed her way into a dream job as National Manager for the American Indian Student Department of the High-Tech Institute colleges. In her 18 years at High-Tech, she's seen the Native enrollment on Phoenix's two campuses rise from a handful to between 150 to 200 per year.
But that's just her day job.
You might imagine that a national manager would have a wideranging definition of the word community. And Beverly Lyle does. In her off-work hours, she's often on the road with a carload of Christian Science books, magazines, and newspaters, running a wide circuit of sharing that's now in its 16th year. During this time Beverly has found homes for countless thousands of copies of the Sentinel, of The Christian Science Journal, and of The Christian Science Monitor, mostly in Navajo country, but also on various Apache reservations and in several other Native communities. "I just can't stand not to share it," she says.
Where, you may wonder, does one go with literature when visiting a reservation? Whose are the open hands you look for? Beverly Lyle quickly learned that laundries are a major gathering place on the Navajo reservation, a great place to offer reading material. As she has prayed about other sharing points, she's also been welcomed at hospitals, libraries, and behavioral centers. She's found that "the receptivity is tremendous."
Shortly before Christmas of last year, I visit Arizona and get to see Beverly in action. She picks me up at the airport near her home in Phoenix. A miniature Apache "burden basket"—the first I've ever seen—hangs from her rearview mirror. The basket has 18 tin cones dangling from it on deerhide strips, and as it sways, the cones make a jingling sound. In the basket's practical, historical use, the sound of the cones served as a warning to snakes that someone was nearby. With the baskets strapped around their shoulders, the Apaches gathered berries, prickly-pear fruit, nuts, kindling. I think of the tons of Christian Science material Beverly has loaded into her big Jeep and hauled all over the Arizona countryside. But Beverly's volunteer work is obviously no burden to her. In fact, there's no question that this labor of love inspires energy in her. In the next few days I'll hear her say, more than once, "Living is giving."
The next day after church services, Beverly and I pick up a totebag of copies of The Christian Science Monitor in which appears a translation of its Christian Science article in Diné the Navajo language. Individuals and church members have brought copies of that edition to a gathering point for Beverly to pick up. This is a common practice in the area. Beverly lets the need be known, and literature appears, sometimes from as far away as Farmington, New Mexico—gifts from other Christian Scientists who want to share.
The totebag of newspapers accompanies us on our outing to a Native arts event—Indian Market 2003 at Steele Indian School Park in Phoenix. It's a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The aroma of fry bread fills the warm air as we stroll from booth to booth. Beverly knows some of the Navajo and Hopi people we meet, or knows somebody they know. She makes new friends, and if she gets a "yes" answer as to whether they can read Navajo, she offers a copy of the Monitor. We both enjoy watching the recipients' eyes open wide and smiles fill their faces when they realize an article in their native language has been published in an international newspaper.
The next day we head south to Tucson to meet up with Ann Brown and Eugene Richardson. Ann has recently begun to learn reservation volunteer work from Beverly and has participated in several Christian Science sharing activities with the White Mountain Apache community about four hours north of Tucson in Whiteriver, Arizona. As a result of his spiritual healing of alcoholism, Eugene Richardson has been invited to speak to the Whiteriver parenting group (see his story "Addiction ended—moment by moment" in the June 2,2003, Christian Science Sentinel).
The next day at breakfast with Beverly, Ann, and Eugene, I meet a Pascua Yaqui mother-son duo, Jesusita and David Cordova. As I sit between Jesusita and David, I hear their stories of finding and learning and loving Christian Science. David has shared several of the "Eugene Richardson Sentinels" with a reservation group called Walking in Balance.
David's mother, Jesusita, studies Christian Science and has had instruction in its healing system. Her close relationship with God shows up in conversation, as in "I'm so grateful that my Father put us all here together today." She says she prays to see the spread of truth throughout her community in Arizona and even beyond to the Yaqui people in Mexico, who are struggling to find a market for their harvests. Ann mentions Jesusita's having told her of a Yaqui teaching that says, "Children come intelligent and ready to serve." It reminds Ann of Science and Health's description of Children, which begins, "The spiritual thoughts and representatives of Life, Truth, and Love" (p. 582).
"Ready to serve" describes Eugene Richardson's willingness to travel from his home in Seattle, Washington, to Arizona (his first-ever visit there). He asks, "Isn't that what being sober is all about—sharing?" "Ready to serve" also describes the openhearted willingness of area church members to support his expenses in making the trip.
After breakfast Ann drives with Eugene and me north through Salt River Canyon to the White Mountain Apache reservation. The next day at Whiteriver's community center, we meet Amber Cromwell, the parenting group trainer, who, when offered the Monitor Navajo article, acknowledges that because Apache is so similar to Diné she can read it easily. She's clearly delighted to have a copy.
Men and women of all ages, including an infant and toddler, gather in a circle in the community center to hear Eugene's story of how Christian Science saved him from alcoholism and related diseases. Some people in the audience recognize Eugene because when Amber Cromwell heard about his story, she asked for 100 copies of the article that told about his healing and shared them around the reservation. (The Sentinels were delivered to Amber by Lorraine Stimac of Farmington, New Mexico.)
Toward the end of his story, Eugene asks the group to highlight a couple of passages from Science and Health. A highlighter and book have been offered to everyone there—about 25 adults. These are eagerly accepted. Later, in comparing notes, Ann and I find we both noticed several people raptly reading on several pages beyond the portions they'd been asked to mark.
The hard and often tragic events of Eugene's life ring true to the audience. When invited to comment or ask questions, two women speak out, telling of their own heartbreaks and struggles as children in families damaged by alcoholism. This kind of sharing surprises Amber, who tells me after the meeting that we have just witnessed a groundbreaking event. Sharing deep feelings in public, she says, is not "the way" in her community.
Tears flow freely around the circle that morning. But hugs, hope, and encouragement flow freely, too, along with promises of prayer for healing. After the meeting, Amber asks for another box of Science and Healths.
The demand from the Apache reservation for spiritual healing ideas has been running high. A Christian Science radio lecture drew 20 calls from tribal members and led to an onsite workshop where all the available textbooks (67) and magazines were quickly taken, and where one Christian Scientist who attended remarked, "You could just feel the receptivity in the air." After the workshop, Amber told Ann that while a number of denominations were represented on her reservation, the Christian Scientists were the first ones to really bring them hope.
Ann has found that her work on the reservations has enlarged her spiritual scope, making her prayers "much bigger." She calls her new involvement "such a joy."
The next day, Beverly returns me to the airport. In my heart I keep the beautiful examples of spiritual sharing I've seen and heard about, and, in my travel bag, my own miniature Apache burden basket.
The basket now hangs in my living room. When I jingle it, I recall Jesusita's and David's plea that we remember to pray for people on the reservations; Eugene's extraordinary triumph over addiction; Amber's obvious joy in welcoming us to her group's meeting; and Beverly's and Ann's selfless sharing—their "living through giving." It never fails to remind me that I have seen evidence that people of diverse races and societies can share, on an unshakably true basis, a culture in common—God's unifying spiritual culture.