In the last days of this year’s August, the world’s energetic disposition became stronger. Some would even say stranger.

For me, it became clearer. I mean a personal, scintillating clarity. I am becoming someone other than my working title, “Massage Therapist.”

This kind of personal clarity works startlingly well at my age when so often my eyes want to glass over at the repetitive conversation, the total lack of discourse.

I walked the “up” route one day. I had my dictation unit with me & I recorded my thoughts as I walked. I was lost in the new-minted daylight that moved all around me in a dance of its own making. I made a left where I usually make a right, hardly believing I was taking on another hill, this one in town.

As I reached the crest, I recorded, “A poem is like a communion wafer, moments on the tongue, drenched in Divinity that needs to be told.” This portentous but predictive thought trailed off as I reached the top of the hill. Standing to just the other side was a slender man in a long robe. He stood with his hands behind his back, looking at our Union Church (built 1892) with the fiscal help of our [then] local madam. (It was not to occur to me until I reached home that this was Sunday morning.)

Sometimes here on the backroads of New Mexico, a pilgrim will pass through town. One rainswept day, I saw a man pulling a red, white & blue crucifix with a wheel mounted on the bottom, head down, striding along the shoulder of Highway 152. In the roads near Chimayo, it is not uncommon to see bare-chested men flogging their backs with whips. Or men with thick knee pads “kneeling” their way along the road to the small miracle Church.

In the moment of starting downhill, finding & turning off my recorder, focusing on this man’s profile, I lost all rational thought. I took him to be a holy man passing through, leaning over a wrought iron fence to study an old Episcopal Church. When he turned to face me, I realized in a rush: “he’s dressed in the vestments of a priest.”

He walked forward to greet me, hand outstretched, a mild face overtaken by glasses. He remarked how nice it was that the weather had cooled & he was comfortable in the ceremonial layers. He mentioned he comes up to Hillsboro on Sunday to say mass at the old church. I admired his dedication as the only way to achieve a goal. We discussed what volunteers bring to lives. I lifted my index finger mysteriously & played him the poem just recited. He asked if I wrote it (a common question tho one would think too obvious to be anything but a conversational gambit.) I nodded, smiled, as free & open in conversation & aspect as I have ever felt in my life.

There was somehow a purity in this introduction, a sharing of what is divine to each of us.

As parishioners came up the hill, I impulsively grabbed the hand so recently shaken & kissed the back of it before saying goodbye & walking on.


La Iglesia de la Virgen de Guadalupe

My summer project to earn pocket money is cleaning Our Lady of Guadalupe, a tiny church which happens to be next door to my house. (My house is more cheerful, being called “The Ladies with the Spitcurls.”)

It has been quite a trip back in time to handle all the articles of ritual I noticed as a child but was never permitted to touch. The names float up from some interior reliquary of memory: ciborium, chasuble, dalmatic, stole, corporal, chalice. The Liturgical Year floats through my mind as I uncover accessories in purple, green, red, white.

This church is a replacement building constructed in 1973. The original was flooded. Adobe does not do well in flood … the building was lost & rebuilt facing east. These days, a priest comes on first Sundays to say Mass & the street fills with new cars & old people.

I have washed & polished the pews, cleaned the medieval torture-kneelers. I have carried the ceramic statues into the kitchen, placed them in the sink & given them Dawn bubble baths. Stations of the Cross plaques are wiped & carefully rehung.

I am now aware of the total lack of joy the Church brought to my life. The “Laughing Jesus” didn’t exist until fairly recent history, although in my opinion, He must have been an Olympic raconteur to have made such a great impression on so many. I think it is one of Catholocism’s great psyops that He never cracked a smile. But, then, none of the statues look happy. Their expressions are pensive, sorrowful, unhappy, pinched. At the risk of total irreverence, I must say they all look like a dose of stewed prunes might help set up a sunnier outlook.

It’s challenging to clean all the folds & wrinkles in their robes & veils. St. Francis has managed to bop me three times on the head while I was wiping him down – those extended arms are lethal. Baby Jesus (cradled in two out of three statues) was truly divine as not one of His representations is wearing a diaper.

Today I bumped a processional crucifix on a long stick. The plastic figurine slipped feet up, head down. I thought how appropriate this was, given the current state of affairs as the world uncovers overwhelming evidence of paedophilia within the Roman Catholic Church. It put me in mind of flying the flag upside down as a signal of distress.

Everyone in my family was a practicing Catholic until graduation day. Then we all beat feet out of church, shook off any residual holy water & headed for the beach. I was extremely lucky to find the Unity Movement in my life – a joy-filled, affirmative shout of individual power & personal divinity extolling humans as the sources & engineers of grace in motion, living in wellness for the highest good.

The days of a nearby convent of bustling nuns to clean up after the congregation are long gone. It falls upon me, a local cynic offered up for an hourly wage. Only my innate & residual respect calls me to honor these representations of what was once a thriving industry. A time ago, the church was a world to me: an arcane,  mysterious, dark place full of echoing silence, redolent with incense & candle wax.

Once again, the language surfaces from that same deep well: confirmation, communion, intercession, rosary, Eucharist, confession, purgatory, limbo, hell & finally heaven. All for the bargain-basement rate of $12/hour!

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