Home ANS Feature Diné Biítah: Among the People

Diné Biítah: Among the People

by Brian Nixon

By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service

Window rock AZALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – June 16, 2015) — There are hidden treasures in New Mexico. And I’m not talking about the treasure chest—worth two million dollars—buried by art dealer, Forrest Fenn, as reported by ABC News[1]. No. The treasure I’m speaking is of a cultural and scenic variety.

I recently drove the Diné Biítah route on the Navajo Reservation[2]. Surprisingly, this was my first time doing so. I’ve cracked almost every portion of the Land of Enchantment (the New Mexico state motto), but for some reason I missed this gem of a road.

The Diné Biítah—otherwise known as Highway 12—is a road that borders New Mexico and Arizona, weaving between the two states. It begins at the Navajo capitol in Window Rock and continues north to Canyon de Chelly National Monument. Geographically, the road is a scenic wonderland of mountains (the Chuska), high desert plateaus, valleys, forests, lakes, and marvelous rock formations. According to Navajo literature, it is “one of the longest continually inhabited landscapes of North America.”

ChuskaMountainswithNavajoHoganIt is in this region that three of the great Navajo chiefs—Narbona (1766-1849), Manuelito (1818-1893), and Barboncito (1820-1871) lived and flourished. The region holds both cultural and religious significance for the Navajo people.

Yet it was the name—Diné Biítah—that struck me as much as anything. The phrase simply means “among the people.” The phrase is derived from the word, Diné (the name the Navajo refer to themselves; defined as “the people”).

As I was driving Highway 12 with my family I began to ponder the significance or the words. For the Navajo, “the people” holds great meaning. Individualism is not high on the priority list. Rather, Navajo are partial toward family and extended relatives (clans), with special emphasis placed on “the people’s” relationship toward one another and the land. When Navajo introduce themselves to other Navajo, they will begin by stating their clan names and family members.

In addition to the importance of the family unit, the Navajo’s also place great significance on harmony and beauty. One of the goals of the Navajo is to “walk in beauty,” a harmonious interplay between people, nature, and the universe. This quest for beauty can be seen in the closing prayer of the Blessing Way ceremony. It states,

“In beauty I walk

With beauty before me I walk

With beauty behind me I walk

With beauty above me I walk

With beauty around me I walk

It has become beauty again”

FormationsbytheChuskaMountainsFurthermore, the Navajo seek hozho—harmony and balance in life. Together, harmony and beauty constitute the fabric of life for the Navajo people.

As I was thinking about these things on the road we were driving, the thought occurred to me: the same truths esteemed by the Navajo relate to Christ.

Like the name of the road I drove—Diné Biítah, so, too, in Christ, God walked “among the people,” becoming one of us (see John 1:14) through the incarnation.Like the Navajo’s quest for harmony and peace, in Christ we have peace with God (Romans 5:1). And because of Christ, we are to live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16 NIV).And like the Navajo pursuit of beauty, in Christ God makes all things beautiful. As the writer of Ecclesiastes states, “He has made everything beautiful” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). In Christ we walk in beauty.

To help us understand the relationship between God and beauty, I turn to pastor John Piper. In a sermon illustration[3], he likens beauty to another place of natural wonder not too far away from Canyon de Chelly, the Grand Canyon. John Piper helps us understand the relationship of beauty and Christ.

“Suppose that you were standing by the Grand Canyon at sunset with two other people. You become deeply moved and utter the words, ‘This is beautiful; this is glorious.’ The person beside you says, ‘Beautiful? It’s just a big, ugly ditch.’ And the third person says, ‘I guess I hear what both of you are saying. And I think those are equally valid statements.’ And it is true that unless there is a higher aesthetic court of appeal than man, those two judgments are equally valid. But even people who say they believe in such humanistic relativism don’t like it when their own judgments about truth and beauty are treated as mere personal idiosyncrasies. The reason for this, I think, is that there is in every person a God-given sense that beauty must have meaning that is larger and more permanent than personal quirks. This urge for ultimate meaning is evidence of our creation in the image of God.

“Therefore, I will assume that there is a personal Creator as we try to understand beauty and our hunger for it. If there is a personal God who has created all things and has given everything its form and its purpose, then beauty must be defined in relation to God. Try to picture the impossible: what it was like before the creation of anything. Once there was only God and nothing else. He never had a beginning, and therefore what he is was not shaped or determined by anything outside himself. He simply has always been what he is (Exodus 3:14; Hebrews 13:8).

“Therefore, if the beauty we behold on earth has its root and origin in God, there must have been beauty in God from all eternity.

“What, then, is the beauty of God? In one sense this is a hard question, and in another sense it is very easy. It is hard because there is no pattern of beauty of which we can say, ‘God is like that, and so God is beautiful.’ If there were a pattern by which we could measure God, it would be God. No, God himself is the absolutely original pattern of all other beauty. Therefore, the answer is simple: Beauty is what God is. His wisdom is beautiful wisdom, his power is beautiful power, his justice is beautiful justice, and his love is beautiful love.”

I like Piper’s ending: “beautiful love.” Because of Christ, we have this type of experience with God, one rooted in beauty and love. Or as the Navajo would remind us: harmony and beauty. God, in Christ, makes beautiful things. So lets learn to recognize them, thanking God that He is the giver of all things beautiful.

And because God is with us—Diné Biítah: among the people—we can relish in His beauty as expressed in nature, in people, and most importantly, in His Son who walked among us. These truths are treasures worth seeking; roads that leads to reality.

[1] http://abcnews.go.com/Business/mexico-millionaire-lures-treasure-hunters-hidden-chest/story?id=30642375

[2] http://www.navajoscenicroads.com/

[3] http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/jesus-is-precious-because-we-yearn-for-beauty

Photo captions: 1) Window Rock, Navajo Nation. 2) Chuska Mountains with Sheep and Navajo hogan (home). 3) Rock formations on Highway 12. 4) Brian Nixon.

Brian NixonAbout the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). As a published author, editor, radio host, recording artist, and visual artist, Brian spends his free time with his three children and wife, painting, writing music, reading, and visiting art museums. To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.

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