The full-blown heavy

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 own."

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 canyons.

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," he said.

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 dark antechamber.

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 beyond.

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."

Will Sands




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