If I had a blog, today I would write about El Santuario de Chimayo.
On the third day of our trip to Santa Fe, our path turned north, toward Taos. Right from the start we knew the stars were aligning to make this a very interesting day. During our lunch break in the town of Espanola, a photograph on the wall caught my eye. The woman in the picture looked exactly like my Aunt Elaine. I had Mom take a look and she agreed. We both knew it meant something, but at that moment, it was a question without an answer – or an answer without a question. Either way, it was clearly a day to pay attention.
Our original plan was to take the High Road to Taos, do some rock-hunting in the desert, and spend a couple of nights on the road before heading back to Santa Fe, but then we saw the sign to El Santuario de Chimayo. The name gave it away as a church, but that was all we knew as we drove into the tiny parking lot beside the little adobe chapel. There was a walkway behind the santuario with plaques telling the story of Chimayo as a place of miracles. We wanted to know more.
At Chimayo, not only do you sit in the holy stillness of the sanctuary, where the silence is broken only by the bells that ring our “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” at Chimayo you find healing. Next to the chapel is a cave-like ante-room with a stone well in the center. This is not a well that provides water. Instead, it contains el pocito, or Holy Earth. Many people have been healed of illness and injury after being anointed with el pocito and the proof lies in the hundreds of abandoned crutches hanging in the next room. Visitors are encouraged to take a handful of soil, rub it on the site of their own injuries (physical or emotional) and pray for healing. Mom and I each shared in this sacrament and not for the first time that day, we both shed silent tears.
We sat beneath the trees outside the chapel, lost in thought, as a storm broke over the mountains. The rain came down in sheets and we hurried into the bookstore to take shelter. We browsed every corner of the little shop, collecting small gifts to take home to our family; reminders of this lovely place. As the rain moved east, we went to the cashier and in a single instant, our reverie shattered like a pane of glass. Mom’s wallet was gone.
We spent the next hour scouring the store, the chapel, the restrooms, and the grounds. Everyone came to our aid, even 92 year-old Father Roca lent a hand, but clearly, the wallet was gone for good. Hot, tired, and frustrated, we left our contact information with the manager of the bookstore, but we didn’t have much hope that we’d see the wallet again.
As we drove toward Taos, we tried to piece together what had happened. There we were, connecting to God in a profound and mystical way, setting aside our worries and making ourselves vulnerable to The Spirit, and then we were robbed. Not only did Mom lose her cash and credit cards, but the silver guitar pick she’d bought from the Navajo woman on our first day in Santa Fe was also in the wallet. We looked for meaning, but at that moment, any good signs were few and far between.
We were silent for a long time. We had driven up, out of the desert, into the mountains and the lush forest and slender aspen-maids soothed our battered spirits. Mom was the one to speak first. She wanted to tell me about her prayer. There in the chapel, she prayed for courage when the bad times come. She asked to be strong, focused, and faithful not only in the good times, but in the bad times as well. If nothing else, this was an opportunity for her (and for me) to use that courage and stay strong. There are wrongdoers everywhere and no amount of faith can protect us from the slings and arrows of “The World.” All we can do is strengthen our belief that there is a power for good out there and if we trust in its divinity, we will have the resources we need to make it to safer shores. I agreed wholeheartedly.
Just then, as we rounded a sharp curve, we saw the one who would guide us back to hope. Standing next to the road was a great, brown bear. He rose up on his hind legs and looked right into my soul. It was Arthur, the bear who had come to me in dreams for many years, the one who held me and comforted me in my darkest hours, and guided me through many trials. Here in the desert mountains, my spirit-bear became real.
I slowed the car and he held my gaze for a long time, before dropping to all-fours and casually walking back into the woods. Mom and I were both crying. What other response can one give when in the presence of a god?
After our encounter with Arthur, we decided to go back to Santa Fe. Taos was a long ways off and neither of us felt like shopping or gourmet food. We wanted some quiet time to think about our day and Santa Fe felt like home. We got a room at the El Dorado Hotel and gratefully put up our feet for the evening. Mom had gone to take a shower when her cell phone rang. It was my Aunt Elaine. After seeing “her” picture at noon, I was so flabbergasted I almost dropped the phone. Clearly the Powers-That-Be weren’t done with this day yet.
Aunt Elaine had called because she had received a phone call from a woman who said she had found a wallet belonging to Holly Atkinson. Aunt Elaine’s phone number was in the wallet, so the woman called her in hopes she could contact Mom.
“Where is she?” I asked.
“She said she’s two blocks from a hotel called the El Dorado.”
Two blocks away. If we’d gone to Taos, we’d have been a hundred miles from there.
“What is the woman’s name?” I asked.
“Liberty,” said Aunt Elaine.
At that point I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I did both. I told Aunt Elaine our story, laughed and cried some more, then copied down Liberty’s phone number. Mom called her, and in a short while, Liberty dropped off the wallet at the front desk of our hotel. Mom offered her a reward, but Liberty refused, in fact, she said she was just passing through and was in a rush, so she’d just leave the wallet and go. We never met the woman who was the crowning glory of our day. The next morning we made a donation to the Cathedral of St. Francis in Liberty’s name.
So much of life is veiled in shadow. We want to believe in signs and synchronicities. We want to think there is a Divine Being who cares for us, who knows us as individuals and loves us as a parent loves a child, but most of the time we must make do with blind faith. I don’t know why the veil was lifted that day at Chimayo. Perhaps it was the spirit that lives in the earth of that sacred place. Perhaps we stepped into a “Thin Place, ” where worlds brush against each other like leaves in the wind. I don’t have all the answers about that day, but I do know this: Whenever I am lost in inner darkness, when it feels as if heaven and earth have abandoned me, I will remember Chimayo and I will have faith to hold on until the next bend in the road.