His eyes widened, mouth opened and
inspired words flowed forth. "It's the most sacred place I've ever
been. The energy is overwhelming. Really heavy stuff."
These statements were
not easy to ignore, especially coming from my uncle, a man on a
perpetual quest for the source. And sure enough, the
hippie-turned-nomad-turned-windsurf junkie had found a chunk of
that source in northern New Mexico. The prospect sent Rachael and
me and our neo-hippie ideals scrambling for the door and launched
our journey to the Santuario de Chimayo.
Up to that point, my
relationship with faith and the source had always been pretty
ambiguous. My childhood questions about religion were usually
answered casually. "We're Episcopalian," my mom would calmly tell
me with a smile and a pat on the head.
My dad, never one for
easy answers and a regular companion on some of my uncle's early
vision quests, took a different approach. He'd take me aside, bend
close and whisper, "We're not really Episcopalian. It's more about
taking a hard look around and figuring things out on your
At that point, it
clicked. If we were Episcopalians, we were Episcopalians who lacked
any formal church experience. I mean any. There had been no Sunday
school or Easter service. In fact, my only direct Christian
experience was a taste of the blood and body of Christ at a random
midnight mass. I was there seeking a different kind of communion,
merely playing along with an attractive Catholic girl after
overindulging at a Christmas Eve party.
Still, my upbringing had
its moments of profound spirituality, mostly associated with those
hard looks around. They revolved around sunrises over Ballard Peak
in Telluride, visits to ruins that included afternoon sojourns in
kivas, trips over and under natural bridges, and contemplative
spells in the narrow confines of Bear Creek and Cornet Creek
Still, things seemed a
little too cloudy.
Then almost as if in
reply, that sacred spot of my uncle's materialized. And like the
early spiritual advice from my dad, formal direction to that sacred
spot was also pretty loose. "Oh, you'll find it, just look around,"
And as promised, we
stumbled on it a few moments after rolling into the dusty town of
Chimayo. We killed the engine, got out of the truck and looked over
a weathered Catholic church, the Santuario de Chimayo.
Like his basic
directions, my uncle told us little about the sanctuary. He said
only that legend told that the church had been built after a farmer
unearthed a crucifix on the site. What made this cross unique was
that the soil had never been tilled, never touched or moved by the
hand of man.
The building's rich
adobe skin and distinct architecture seemed a fitting tribute to
such a find. Leaving the lonely street, we stepped into the totally
empty place of worship.
Once inside, we seized
on my uncle's only concrete piece of advice. "The church is nothing
really, pretty standard all over New Mexico. But go up to the altar
and look to your left." After 40 steps past pews and across the
sandy floor, a look to the left revealed an undersized entry to a
Lowering my head and
shoulders to get through that opening, I stepped down into that
room prostrate and immediately felt the weight that cosmic
heaviness that my uncle had mentioned. The temperature shot up, a
hum hung in the air and it felt as though I was being gently forced
down to the floor. For several long moments, I viewed the room
through closed eyes. When they opened, I was floored.
The room was no more
than a rectangular wooden longhouse attached to the side of the
church. Its walls flickered with the shine of candlelight and were
papered with notes and pictures. Crutches, splints and bandages of
all kinds were hung rag-tag all over the room.
This was a place of
healing, an end for pilgrimages of all kinds. And of all things,
the magic was in the soil. A simple hole in the floor held the
boon, blessed soil, free for the taking.
Apparently, the soil was
fairly all-purpose. Notes told of people eating the dirt, rubbing
it into twisted limbs and taking it with them to ward off
misfortune on the next leg of the path. The results were all the
same the sickness was left behind. This was the same holy soil
covering the farmer's crucifix, the same foundation of the
santuario, Chimayo and all of New Mexico and Colorado and the world
Appealing though it was,
I felt most comfortable leaving it for others. The sensation and
power of that small room had been healing enough. Leaving the
church and stepping back onto the street, the weight started to
fade. But a strong but simple message remained. Glancing at the
ground beneath my feet, my dad's early advice rang out. "It's more
about taking a hard look around."