Buona Pasqua

The photo doesn’t seem right. In my memory my green suit and that brocade sofa didn’t exist in the same time, but apparently they did. This is us ready for church, physically, anyway.

My grandmother, the beautiful woman at one end of the sofa, was terrified the first time she went to church with my mom and us. She’d spent part of her childhood — after her mother died of diabetes — living with aunts in Alabama. She was sure any Baptist was a holy-roller and was relieved to learn that American Baptists were pretty quiet over all.

My grandmother’s religion was a mystery to my mom. That Swedish woman had grown up Lutheran and married an Irish Catholic. My mom believed that my grandmother’s faith was confused or, worse, compromised. For a while my grandmother (who lived in Billings) attended the Unitarian Church about which my mother was ambivalent.

The first mass I attended was in Portland, OR, in the fantastic rose garden up on a mountain somewhere. It was beautiful. Yes, I was a little apprehensive that the Whore of Babylon might pop up at some point, but time, travel and experience killed those delusions.

The proselytizing of others always bothered me. I think there are few things more personal than one’s faith. So whether this is a special day for you or not, I hope your day is lovely and tranquil.

The Calendar Persists

Another beautiful day in the neighborhood. Sun shining, bees buzzing, butterflies looking for love. “What Bear?”

“You said something about snow.”

“I’m not in charge, little one. Anyway if it snows it won’t be until Sunday.” I don’t know how to tell her they’ve reduced the “odds” in the meteorological crapshoot that is weather forecasting. I guess I’ll just kind of let the thing drop and see what happens.

“But it will snow?”

“I think it might, but I’m not sure.”

“I don’t understand anything you just said.” She walks off.

And that, right there, explains why some people run for office and win. They come out with definitive promises that things will happen. I won’t do that to Bear unless I really do KNOW something. She is capable of disappointment. She realizes that what’s happening is not what she wants, hangs her head and goes to lie down in one of her cool spots. Cool in matters of temperature and because she’s there. 😉

The picture on my Grandma’s wall

I don’t have much to say (“Whoa, no, you don’t mean it!!!”) but I shall persist, undaunted like the brave soldier that I am (what???).

I learned this morning that today is “Good Friday.” Then I realized that yesterday was my ONE Holy Day in the Christian calendar. I don’t know if it’s my holy day because of the cheap paper print of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane my grandma had on her living room wall or the sudden perception (satori?) I had long ago that maybe Jesus didn’t want to fulfill the prophecy. Maybe he really liked his life here on Earth and would have preferred to stay in the beautiful garden. In my mind/interpretation he was scared, sad and very aware of the beauty of the Earth, because, dammit, we like it here.

My Easter service for years was a hike on Maundy Thursday, intentionally, with the idea of paying attention. But yesterday I just took Bear for a walk and didn’t think for a moment about the Christian calendar. Calendars are arbitrary anyway.

West Frisco Creek Trail

I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks—who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going à la Sainte Terre,” to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea. But I prefer the first, which, indeed, is the most probable derivation. For every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this Holy Land from the hands of the Infidels. Henry David Thoreau, “Walking.”


Church of the Blue Heron, the Eagle, the River, the Mountains and the Meadowlark

I was raised in the American Baptist church but life carried me into a different faith, one that was correctly identified by a little boy as “Panentheism.”

It was nice to have a word for it.

Still, I know my Bible very well which is lucky since, so far, all the novels I’ve written are about Christianity one way or another. I like the Bible very much and Jesus’ story is inspiring and sad. The saddest day of all is this one in the Christian calendar, a day called Maundy Thursday. It’s the day when Jesus had dinner with his pals and then went up to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, knowing he would be betrayed by one of his friends. He knew his destiny (we all know our destiny, but some people are unfortunate as was Jesus to know WHEN and HOW).

It is my favorite part of the Bible because, like Jesus, I wouldn’t want to leave this beautiful garden. So, on Maundy Thursday I usually make a point to spend time in the Garden to think about things, about the numerous “cups” that don’t pass by us in our lives, and how humans so often have the courage to accept the cup however unwillingly or however much they feel unworthy of the charge put upon them.

Today when I went out with Bear I had forgotten what day it was in the Christian Calendar. But, as I stood looking at the pastel shades of REAL spring (not daffodils, tulips, etc.) I remembered. Already by then I’d watched a bald eagle swoop and dive for prey and then allow himself to be carried aloft and away on the wings of the wind, a beautiful thing to see. I’d seen a blue heron take advantage of a lull in the spring winds to float from a tree down to the river. I’d noticed the blue and golden swallows are back, diving for bugs whenever they have the chance. When I arrived, I immediately heard the song of the meadowlark. The Sangre de Cristos are still white spires and the river is full and fast.

So, Jesus, I’m sorry for what you went through and for what we all go through. I understand how you felt that night in that lovely place, waiting for the shoe to fall. Thank you for your story and how it reminds me to spend at least one day of the year being as present as possible in this marvelous world. I’m sorry I ultimately couldn’t accept all that about salvation, sin and one religious denomination over another. It just always seemed to contradict this complicated wonder in which I live. I’m totally cool with what other people believe, though. I think the point — as you said — is that we love one another.

El Santuario

I live in a very strange — very atypical — part of America. Back in the early 70s I came down here with my first husband and we ended up wandering through the small villages in the mountains between Santa Fe and Taos. I was enthralled by the adobe churches, the stories and by the first Indian ruins I’d ever seen. I thought the whole thing was beautiful — inside and out. The religion — Catholic but with a difference — seemed mysterious, almost mystical in its superstition.

On top of the list of mystery, mysticicsm and superstition was the Sanctuary at Chimayo. You can read all about it here. In this beautiful little church is a room with a hole. In the hole is dirt that is reputed to heal people. The outer part of this room, kind of a foyer, is covered with canes, crutches, braces, all kind of things that people didn’t need any more after their visit to the hole, after taking out some dirt and rubbing it on their body where there was illness or they were crippled. This struck me hard at the time because I’d lost my dad only the year before to MS, and everyone had said, “Only a miracle could save him.” I wished there’d been a miracle.

For the past week a man named David Arellano has been working at my house cutting down a desperately overgrown lilac hedge between my drive way and my neighbor’s. He’s the local handyman and, it turns out, he and his son are the people who remodeled this house before I saw it, bought it and moved in. We’ve talked a lot about the work he did and how much I like it, how I felt at home as soon as I saw it.

I am broke right now. I literally have something like $50. I told him this when he came to see if I had work (my neighbor sent him over). He’s doing the work anyway on the faith that I will pay him when I can. This is part and parcel of this place.

Today he asked what I was doing for Easter, and I said, “Nothing special.” He said he wanted to go on the walk to the “santuario” but he didn’t have any way to do it this year, no money, too many problems, no time.

“You should see it,” he said, “thousands of people, some of them are carrying crosses, it’s wonderful.” (You can read about the pilgrimage here)

It nudged a dim and far away memory that I couldn’t bring into clear focus.

“You know about the Santuario?”

“No,” I said.

“You should go. You would love it.”

The memory tried and tried to resolve itself, but couldn’t.

We started talking about faith and Easter. He said it bothered him a lot that people sell things, rosaries and other things, outside the Santuario. “The Bible is against this.”

I thought of the great cathedral in Padua to St. Anthony, and how I’d had the same thought when I was there, but I went ahead and bought something for Denis Joseph Francis Callahan.

I told David that my Easter celebration is the Thursday before, that is, today. That I feel very close to the moment when Jesus was in a beautiful garden and wanted to stay here on earth and prayed to that effect. David wanted to get back to the vendors and money lenders in the temple. I just said, “I don’t think anything can be done about it. It’s been around so long. People don’t even see it that way.”

I felt bad that I couldn’t pay him until the second of April. Maybe if I could, he could go to the Santuario. I said so. He said, “No, no I know about that. You don’t need to feel guilty. I know how it is.”

The memory kept nudging me. I came in the house and googled “Easter pilgrimage northern New Mexico.”

There it was. As I read, I remembered everything. I remembered back in the 70s learning about people walking — sometimes all the way from Northern Mexico — to be at the little church at Chimayo, New Mexico during Easter week. I remembered what I had first learned of the Penitente Brotherhood. I remembered how, when I was 22, it at all seemed to have taken place a long time ago — but now, with my medievalist points of reference it seems too recent to even attract my attention even though IT itself is very medieval and VERY alive today.

And David was right. I DID love it. Once more, I can’t believe I live here, I will end my life here. It’s just too good and too mysterious to be true.

But as “Maundy Thursday” is my “Easter,” and I every year I take a hike on this day, Bear and I headed out to the slough. It was a soft early spring afternoon, perfect to believe that great metaphor of Jesus not wanting to die because the world is so beautiful.