Generosity

maria2 by you.

There’s a new exhibit of Native American art at our local art museum. We went last week and spent hours gazing at art in all sorts of media–watercolor, pencil, ink, pottery, textiles. At some pieces, we laughed out loud; at others we giggled nervously, and at others we gasped with delight. It was a feast for the eyes and soul, a reminder of just how much we need these thumbprints of the human spirit.

maria1 by you.A young friend of ours, a senior at university and a Native American herself, works at this art museum and has learned a lot through her classes and work. I love being around people like her because I learn from what they’ve learned; and I love to learn. At a display of pottery made by Pueblo Indian Maria Martinez, she told us a story about Maria she’d learned in art class.

Maria specialized in making black-on-black pottery similar to that made by the ancient Pueblo peoples. As Maria became better known, demand for her work increased. Each piece fetched a nice price, so soon other Pueblo Indians began to replicate Maria’s work and sell the pottery to tourists and maria4 by you.art collectors.

When the white folks figured out what was going on, they began to demand that Maria sign her pottery, which she did. The other women would then bring their pottery to Maria to have their pots signed, so that all could share in the bounty produced by Maria’s name.

Standing there in the museum’s chilly air, looking at Maria’s flawless work, I wondered at her. How different a spirit she had than is typical among white folks, indeed among any folks these days or any day who seek to hold on to what they think is theirs, to possess and be possessed by, to hoard what there is not enough of. I was reminded of Nobel Prize winner N. Scott Momaday’s concern that the “removal of the spiritual matrix of the traditional life, the theft of the sacred” would eventually ruin not only Native American culture, but America as a nation. One effect of the loss of a spiritual True North, he said, was that people would lose traditional cultural principles such as those the Plains Indians lived by: bravery, fortitude, generosity, and virtue.

maria3 by you.Momaday, like Martinez, knew that doing one’s art well required more than the courage, resolve, and fortitude to merely practice one’s art with regularity. “Writing is a way of expressing your spirit,” he said, “so there’s much more to it than the question of material success. You are out to save your soul after all, and be the best thing that you can be in your whole being.”

maria5 by you.“I would like to live my life according to those four things. I would like to do it in my writing, as well as in my other activities. That’s what I believe. I tell students, writing is the expression of your spirit, but you must live by certain ideals, and they must inform not only your writing, but the way in which you  have breakfast with your mate, as well.”

As Momaday said and Martinez exemplified, it is not enough to simply become  our best selves, to live our best selves; generosity is required. Virtue must be applied, for “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).

Our trip to the museum to wallow in art reminded me to keep a loose hold on my own spirit, on what I call my work, “my writing.”

It, like my very life, is not really my own.

10 responses

  1. This is very interesting. I am very fascinated that the artist would share her name with others. That is really difficult for me to get my mind around. Sadly, I am naturally stingy, so this idea gives me a lot to think about- it challenges me.
    Wow!

    • It does give one a lot to think about, doesn’t it? Hearing the story profoundly moved me because hers was such an act of transcendent generosity.

  2. Hi Eve,

    That post was perfect, especially the Momaday quote. I’ve forgotten about the spirit of my writing, only been distracted by money concerns lately…

    Thanks! Lisa

    • Lisa, you’re welcome. I doubt there’s one of us who isn’t regularly distracted by our material needs. We still have to pay the bills (darn!). But it’s good to be able to keep our higher selves in the cradle of our hearts as our lower selves dig the ditches.

  3. Sometimes I think we’re just vessels or conduits. I had a friend back in California who studied the Werbeck-Svardstrom vocal method — she described it truly as getting out of the way so that the music could come through. I imagine any personal ego forces would be a big block to that.

    • Heni, thanks for mentioning the Webeck-Svardstrom method; I added a link to a short but informative page about the method for anyone else interested. I just finished listening to a lecture by Peter Kreeft in which he comments that music is the universal language–and one of the proofs of God.

  4. Come see me at bonnievonnie.wordpress.com. I find that in the same way I used to become so focused on my sewing that I didn’t eat (or tend to my infant child), it has taken hours to do the little i have done and I am starving and need to prepare for the day tomorrow…ugh!

    • Vonnie, I came, I saw, I commented! And I’ve added you to my blogroll.

      I hope regular readers of Third Eve will drop by BonnieVonnie’s new blog housewarming and join me in welcoming a dear old friend into the blogosphere as a writer.

  5. I was talking to a new friend who lives in Savanna, IL about there being 6 people between any given two people. I can’t recall the actual terminology stated from the book he was quoting. Of course, there are no people between you and I but this piece is just another illustration of the principle Michael was talking about.

    While I have never seen a piece of Ms. Martinez’s work, my last beau was very much a connoisseur of her work and has a few “signed” pieces. He told me the story of the signed and unsigned works. Small world isn’t it?

    Or is it another example of our universal connection to one another. We are already a “world order”, we just don’t know it. We are not only separated by continents, but like the Tower of Babel depicts, language, culture, religion, denomination, political affiliation, …

    Thank you for another reminder that what I have, the little that it may be, is meant to be shared. My mother, not long before her, in my book, untimely death, asked me when was I going to start giving back. At the time I was once again offended by the implication that I was stingy or selfish with my life. I said to her, “Mom, I am giving back. I am Prayer Adviser to the BA Christian Women’s Club, I am a discussion leader for Bible Study Fellowship, I serve on two PTA boards, I am a Team Mom on my daughter’s soccer team…I am giving until I have nothing left to give.”

    Over the years, I think I have come to understand what she meant by not giving back. I have been learning but not teaching. When I write a comment on a blog, or answer an email, or just send someone a note, and they write back how much they were moved or how much they appreciate what was said, it is a commentary to what my mother was telling me to do…give back of what you have learned. Of course I have done that with my children. I have done that with close friends. I have done that with family.

    Now I must be willing to do the same with a broader public. I must be willing to expand my tent posts. My spirit wants to speak what The Spirit has whispered in my ear. So I must “get thee to a bicycle shop and buy a bike”!

    • Vonnie, oh I wish I could locate an article I wrote about this very issue, the issue of “when are you going to give back?” I had a beloved reader ask me that very question last year, and I wrote about it. It was a provocative question at the time. Evocative as well.

      We all give something. I think what your mother must have meant, and what my reader meant, was what of our actual real, best selves are we giving? Momaday speaks to it, doesn’t he? And Maria Martinez’s selflessness somehow speaks to it. We grow a self and then we give it up completely. Jesus. Buddha. And so on.

      It’s part of the mystery and magic of the universe, of God’s synchronous events, that we are joined by these threads of reference. I smiled when I read about your friend’s connection to Maria Martinez.

      I tend to want to enlarge on what your mother said, or what you think she said: it’s about giving back of what we are, or have become, not only about what we’ve learned. We’re bigger than the sum of our parts. It’s the “each part contributing” thing that St. Paul wrote about, perhaps?

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