I got up early this morning, anxious about all the work that needs to be done today, the many responsibilities that go into earning my living. I nearly skipped my morning reading—but I picked up a short article from the American Indian Quarterly titled “People of the Corn,” thinking that it would be a connection to the Samhain spirituality Meg Llewellyn described yesterday, and that I could skim through it quickly. That quick skim lingered with me as I began my work today, and now I find it’s opened up inside me with a challenge for my day.
To be Hopi, write the authors of the article (Dennis Wall and Virgil Masayesva) is to embrace a spirit of peace and cooperation that is founded in the commitment to care for the Earth and all of its inhabitants—to live within “the sacred balance.” The Hopi life, is a “life of reverence . . . a way of humility and simplicity,” forged by the scared bond between themselves and the land that sustains them. Corn is the embodiment of the deep spiritual reality of their lives.
Relying on corn for a living in the high desert of northern Arizona is not easy. Hopi farmers’ dependence on precipitation and runoff water requires “a near miraculous level of faith,” along with hard work, prayer, and deep humility. But corn has kept them whole, physically and spiritually, for nearly a millennium.
Hopi farmers believe that singing to the corn plants is a way to integrate themselves with photosynthesis, that their songs give life to the plants. “It’s all tied together,” a Hopi man told Wall and Masayesva. “When you first plant your seeds, you take very good care of them, and when the plants come up, you go and sing to the plants, and the plants dance in rhythm to the song.”
The corn itself represents an endless cycle: a lineage of seed and harvest that reaches back for centuries. Before the seeds leave the home, the woman blesses them with prayer and a symbolic washing. She talks to the seeds, wishing them good fortune, and tells them that she looks forward to seeing them again when they return at harvest. Then, in the autumn, when the man brings the harvested corn into the house, the woman again welcomes them and praises them for their growth and fulfillment.
So what does this say to me today, as I face a host of professional anxieties? Well, most of all I am inspired by the hope that infuses the Hopi way of life—a practical, hardworking hope that is expressed in song and prayer and a commitment to something outside themselves. Their reliance on corn is not controlling or egocentric. Instead, it involves a total giving of themselves. They let the corn do its job, and they do theirs. They are like the best of parents who care totally for their children and then release them to go out into the world and live their lives, welcoming them back with love.
So as I go about my work today, I feel challenged to give myself to this work of mine in a similar way, “taking very good care of it” and then trusting it to grow, rooted in a long lineage of similar work. The work is hard, but I lift it up in prayer. I will love it the way I love my adult children, wholeheartedly, giving myself to the best of my ability but without demands. And then I will welcome home the fruit of my efforts, with gratitude and prayer.
And today, maybe I will sing to my work. Maybe the work I do will even dance in rhythm to the song.
Ellyn Sanna is Executive Editor of Anamchara Books and author of numerous books on spirituality including All Shall Be Well: A Modern-Language Version of the Revelation of Julian of Norwich.