“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you…”II Timothy 1:5
When I was a child, I often visited my So’o (grandmother), Ethel, at her home in Flagstaff, Arizona. She and my Kwa’a (grandfather), Lloyd, lived in a small three bedroom house on the east side of town, not far from historic Route 66.
Over the years I have reminisced with my siblings about those visits, laughing as we recount stories of us scurrying past So’o for the kitchen upon entering her home. Never do I recall a time when So’o did not have in her refrigerator Wonder Bread, Oscar Mayer Bologna, and Sunny Delight.
While happy to feed us, she realized that Christians also needed spiritual nourishment, and believed that her grandchildren could not live on Wonder Bread alone.
For So’o, that nourishment came from the Bible and spiritual songs, all things she learned to appreciate as a young woman at the Ganado Mission School, a Mennonite Indian school in Ganado, Arizona.
Visiting her home, I remember seeing So’o sitting at her piano, playing and singing Christian hymns in the Hopi language. One of the hymns that she played was “Amazing Grace” by John Newton, a song she sang with much heart and affection:
Nu-o-kwa Je-sus hah-layh-pi, Nuy mok-put ta-tay-na, Qa-ha-qam hi-mu i-nuh-pe, Na-hi-yon-e-way-o.
Translated in Hopi by Pastor Otto Lomavitu, the hymn speaks of mankind’s lost and sinful spiritual state, and God’s “amazing grace” of salvation through Jesus Christ.
“‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,” the hymn goes on to say in English, “And grace my fears relieved; How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.”
Having been introduced to Christianity at an early age, So’o knew the importance of the Bible and Christian songs, and she wanted her family to treasure both.
One year for Christmas, So’o gave me a rare 1st edition copy of the Hopi hymnal Lomatuawh-Tatawi: Hopi Gospel Songs for Church and Street Services in Hopi-land (1972). In the inside cover, she wrote:
“To Matthew…Learn to read Hopi and sing these songs…”
Now in her 90s, So’o no longer plays the piano, but her Christian faith remains strong.
“So’o, Um hin sa ki?” a question I ask when I first see her. She responds by telling me about the “Good Lord” and His many provisions, and assures me that she is always praying for me and my family.
So’o’s Christian faith is my faith, her hymns are my hymns. And her Christian example means more to me than anything else. “I have always cherished your faith in the Bible and love for Jesus,” I once told her in a typed letter, “the best grandmother a grandson could ever wish or hope for.”