There are places on the face of this sweet, troubled planet, that I never thought I would visit. Being raised by a fairly pissed off, excommunicated, Italian Catholic Mother, the church and all of its offerings never really appealed to me. I learned as a young teenager the cause for my Mothers hostility and bitterness and, I must admit, I agreed with her.
When my Mother was at her most vulnerable, laid out on the floor by the discovery of her husbands adulterous affair with her best friend and subsequent divorce, the church turned its back on her. She was sent packing – the compassion and inclusivity of that which the church preached was sorely lacking when my Mother reached out to it for comfort. It has taken me many, many years to forgive the church for that. In some ways, I am a more compassionate person due to watching her struggle with the isolation and rejection she endured. Compassion resulting from emotional cruelty – strange bedfellows indeed.
When I was presented with the opportunity to visit Santuario de Chimayo, I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to go. Would my self righteous indignation for the way my Mother was treated flare up? Could I see my way through the enormous contrasts and contradictions within my own heart? I will tell you now that I couldn’t visit the entire site. However, I did visit the vestibule of the church which housed the blessed dirt room where people with all sorts of maladies, whether physical, emotional or spiritual embark on a pilgrimage to touch the sandy earth; holding, rubbing, praying, crying, hoping and finding peace within the walls of that sacred space.
While I was waiting on a bench just outside for my turn to touch the place that had brought so many healings, I witnessed a man and a woman – she was standing barefoot in the dirt and he had bent down on all fours, laying his hands on the earth so that she could lean on him. They stayed that way for quite some time. The intimate nature of the scene was incredibly poignant and I closed my eyes to give them privacy while turning my thoughts inward. I reflected on the support I have received from so many beautiful souls, just as she was receiving that sweetness from her husband.
Walking out, they sat back on the benches and closed their eyes to rest and reflect. A calling to touch this woman was undeniable. I resisted, thinking that I would be intruding into the sacredness of her experience; I resisted, not wanting to feel foolish; I resisted not knowing if it was my place. Through all of those doubts, I walked across the narrow room and kneeled before her. As she opened her eyes and saw me there, I gently placed both of her feet in my hands and began to gently massage them. To be of service, to stand in the light, that was all that was needed.
When I finished, she reached out to me and we embraced – both crying, both holding each other tightly for quite some time. In this moment, this very tender moment, I was able to let go of any lasting bitterness or resentment that I once carried for this way of loving God.
We all have a path to walk. Every single one of them is inordinately opulent, dark, troubled, joyful and as individual as we are. Only we can know which path will bring us into the light. The road to Mecca begins with a single step.