Chimayo, New Mexico

In September, I once again heard the call to another pilgrimage.  I rebooked a canceled trip from last year to the Land of Enchantment—New Mexico.  My parents loved New Mexico and would make an annual trip to Taos.  I visited Santa Fe and Chaco Canyon in 2018, but since then my dear friend and fellow pilgrim, Val, moved to Santa Fe and now the southwest will be on my regular pilgrim path. And for good reason, it is magnificent and healing to my soul.  I love living in green and lush Tennessee but the open desert and big sky are always awe inspiring. 

I chose to visit New Mexico around the autumnal equinox. There is a power to this time of year as the seasons change and my heart and mind start to move from the outward activity of summer to the inward time of autumn and winter.  Honoring the movement of our sun and the changing of the seasons helps me to find the rhythm of my own life.  My daily life has shifted as the busy projects of the year are finished. I came to New Mexico to pray for my next season of life.

Val and I started our week together at the Ojo Caliente hot springs. Nothing like a long soak in mineral hot springs to unwind and breath the fresh western air.  I love water and a final round of pool time felt like a good finale to summer.  During the week we also had lunch with a friend in Taos and toured the little town.  We visited the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe and walked around the Basilica of St. Frances which was closed except for Mass.  We finished the week with a glamping trip to Chaco Canyon. I’ve already written about going to Chaco Canyon for spring equinox so I will link to that blogpost

After a delightful Sunday brunch with good conversation, lots of coffee and breakfast burrito, Val and I head northeast out of Santa Fe to the little town of Chimayo. The drive went through empty and alien land that had its own unique beauty in stark contrast to the gentle green oasis of the Sanctuario of Chimayo.  Nestled among trees and grass and a small babbling brook is an old chapel and surrounding gardens full of shrines for healing and prayer.  There is an origin story of a mysterious cross that would reappear which then became a place of miracles.  An American version of Lourdes in France, people started to come to the Santuario for the healing earth, dirt that had miraculous properties. 

We arrived just as the outdoor Mass was ending and we wove our way through the dispersing crowds to the chapel on the side of the hill, a beautiful Spanish colonial church.  We went inside the small chapel filled with candles, saints and a colorful painted altar.  I took a seat on an old wooden bench and whispered my prayers and my gratitude.  The chapel was full of other seekers, some in tears as they prayed for their suffering and for those they love.  Unfortunately, the spell was broken as a woman in front of me answered her ringing cell phone.  But I had said what I needed to say and quietly slipped into a small room with a low ceiling to the left of the altar.   As I adjusted to the low light, I could see dozens of crutches and hundreds of photographs lining the walls, evidence of healing and those who need prayers. There was a tiny door to an even tinier room for the holy earth.  I wasn’t ready to go in that room yet. 

Val and I headed toward the nearby saint shops full of rosaries, statues and books.  I bought two small containers.  When we finished shopping, I walked back to the side of the chapel to the rooms with the photos and the sacred earth.  I waited a few minutes as two women, one obviously very ill, took their time to gather the earth and ask for healing.  Then it was my turn to crouch low through the small door into that holy room.  I took out my two containers and used a small spade to fill them with the fine red dirt from a hole in the center of the room.  Every year, thousands of people come to this same tiny, plain room to gather the soil to release the sorrow and pain of life and ask for hope and healing. The power of all these pilgrims is palpable and a reminder that the holy comes in the small, everyday moments that are met with gratitude and faith.

We finished our tour around the grounds; I particularly liked the seven stone arches that represented the seven days of creation.  Many of the statues had flowers, rosaries and other objects as tokens of appreciation and anticipation.  We did not linger long and were soon heading back to Santa Fe on the winding road through the desert. But the little oasis of healing and the short moments in the chapel will be with me for a lifetime.  The little containers of healing earth are now in my library here as reminders of hope and the healing power of earth and sky in the land of enchantment.

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