Leon J. Podles :: DIALOGUE

A Discussion on Faith and Culture

Leon J. Podles  :: DIALOGUE header image 2


March 25th, 2012 · 12 Comments

Scott Thybony writes about his journey around the Four Corners in search of a place that was once on a map: Burntwater. Within the story of that journey he tells the story of his other journeys, his search for the Hopi Sun Chief, his visit to a kiva during a kachina dance, his Good Friday pilgrimage from Santa Fe to Chimayo, his search for the spot in the Grand Canyon where his brother had died when the helicopter he was piloting was hit by a small plane.

Like the desert landscape, Burntwater deals with the elemental facts: love and suffering and survival and death. The desert is spirit haunted and is heartbreakingly beautiful – the beauty of the desert, like the beauty of life, will break your heart. Beauty is not for the weak; the most beautiful thing in the world is the Cross, the utter-self emptying of the Creator, who tasted death for all his creatures.

I don’t know the status of Thybony’s beliefs, but he senses that his life is being shaped so that it manifests hozho, the Navaho concept of beauty, but a beauty that incorporates suffering and death. I would call it Providence or the Holy Spirit, the sacred fire from which all reality springs and to which all returns. But the name is less important than the reality.

“Only later did I learn about the Navajo idea of beauty and how it moves through life like a wind. It’s not the beauty of surfaces alone, but an indwelling beauty that enfolds and completes, a life-restoring beauty. Only later did I learn about beauty and how it can be lost.”

The Hopi know that life is like this, the Navajo know it, the Penitentes know it – but so much of modern Christianity is sentimental and vacuous and superficial.

If you still need reading for Passion Week, I would recommend Burntwater.


Tags: Popular religion · Southwest · death

12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Oso Pious // Mar 26, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    I lived in the village of Oraibi or “Kykotsmovi” from 1973-75. I taught children how to read at Hopi Day School and I lived in a stone house in the village of Oraibi. I taught Thomas Banyacya’s (One of the esteemed Hopi elders and prophets) grandaughter, Trudi. I also joined the Penitentes or “Hermanos de La Luz” and was inducted by the Penitente ” Pope”, Hermano Juan Sandoval in Truchas/Chimayo New Mexico in 1968. I lived most of my adult life on the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni reservations and I wrote part of a book called “Our Friends, The Navajos”. Another excellent read for Lent would be “My Penitente Land” by Fray Angelico Chavez, whom I knew well. We can learn many things from our Native-American and Hispanic brothers and sisters. We are all part of the Earth and the Earth is part of us. Like Thomas Merton, whom I also met, we will someday come to know the “Christ of the burnt men!”

  • 2 Jacobo Chavez // Mar 26, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    Passion Week in New Mexico’s high mountain villages is a truly unique event. My grandfather and his cousins were members of the sacred Penitente Brotherhood. We have old photographs of them carrying their crosses and being whipped on Good Friday in Manzano and Chilili, NM. In Chimayo during Lent during the Viet-Nam War, the local hermanos put up a bloody shirt near the altar stained with their blood from Holy Week and kept it there until all their relatives and fellow hermanos returned safely from the Viet-Nam War. In Truchas, NM during that same time, the very first woman was allowed to be “crucified” and she considered it the highest honor of her life. She was the daughter of the local Penitente Hermano Mayordomo. She is proud of her scars to this day, just like the Lakota warriors who pierce their chests for their “Sun Dance rituals”.

  • 3 Oso Pious // Mar 27, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    Growing up in the Portuguese Azores, I was shocked to see the images of Jesus Christ on the local crucifixes. They were so realistic, with matted bloody hair and oozing and bloody wounds, that I got sick to my stomach just looking at them during Mass. Later in 1968 as a V.I.S.T.A. volunteer in Truchas/Chimayo, New Mexico I came to understand the deep faith and realistic suffering of the ones who carved these crucifixes. Each Penitente is so deeply in love with their suffering elder brother, Jesus the Nazarite, and it is expressed in their Holy Week Rituals and especially in this quote from Fray Angelico Chavez, a Penitente himself.
    “It is your love that moves me: if there were no heaven, I would love with love to spare; were there no hell, my love would still be there!”

  • 4 Jacobo Chavez // Mar 29, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    This Good Friday I will be walking to The Sanctuario de Chimayo from Estancia with a group of other pilgrims. One of them is a Iraq war veteran who will walk with me in case the wounds he received in his legs start to bother him. His sister has asked me to accompany him on this sacred journey to the shrine. In his physical condition, it will probably be his last pilgrimage before he dies. In New Mexico every Good Friday there are thousands of faithful “peregrinos” who will be walking along the highways that lead to Chimayo. For others who can’t walk that far, there is also another pilgrimage to the 3 crosses on Tome hill near Los Lunas, NM or to the top of Tortugas hill near Las Cruces NM. Navajo, Apache and Pueblo Indians also make annual pilgrimages to their sacred shrines. We will be accompanied by a guitarist and singing hymns as we go. The original Christ at Chimayo was known as “the Black Christ of Esquipulas” because of all the candles that were burned before his crucifix had blackened his body with their soot. In a sense you could say that his body was “burnt”.

  • 5 Oso Pious // Apr 4, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    I have been reading Burntwater and the author claims that the La Sal Mountains in Utah are the Navajo;s sacred mountain of the north. But, Mt. Hesperus or “Big Sheep” near Durando, CO. is the real Navajo sacred mountain of the north. I used to teach near Burntwater near Mesa de Los Lobos and Satan Pass. Another reason for the “burnt water” is that the site is near a wash coming from the Church Rock Uranium Mine which had a horrible spill of radioactive waste water in the 1970s that flowed all the way down to the Rio Puerco river in NM and Little Colorado River in AZ and then into the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead, and then onto the Gulf of Mexico. This accident was “hushed up” but it contaminated all of the tributaries that flowed from the tailings pond and into the Colorado River and thus “burned” the people and animals and plants who consumed the burnt water. I lived near that area and the hair was literally falling out of the horses and sheep and dogs that drank the water. A lot of cases of cancer followed and the water at my school was severelycontaminated and later resulted in the school’s closing!

  • 6 Oso Pious // Apr 5, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    When I was living and teaching at Oraibi in 1974, I would walk out to the end of the 3rd Hopi Mesa where a ruins of an old Franciscan Mission was standing. It had been struck by lightning several times and the Hopis just left it there as a reminder to anyone in their tribe who might aspire to become a Christian. On one of my walks I found the ancient symbol of the hand of Christ with stigmata crossing the hand of St. Francis also with stigmata and both beneath a cross shining with sun-like rays coming from behind it. I drew the symbol and asked the local Hopi Silversmith to make me a bolo tie using that symbol. He refused and said that he would be banned from the Hopi nation if he was ever caught making such a “despised symbol” because of what the Hopis had endured in the past from Franciscan missionaries, escecially at the (now abandoned) 4th mesa pueblo of Awatobi (San Buenaventura). I eventually prevailed upon him to make the bolo tie by promising him a lot of money and that I would never wear it anywhere near the Hopi reservation. When I looked at the symbol, the silversmith had carved the hand of Jesus as a feminine hand. He had either intuited the anima of Jesus or just thought that it was a woman’s hand. Reading the book “Burntwater” and especially the chapters on “Road Men” and the “Sun Chief” at Oraibi, I was moved to wear that long neglected and tarnished in-laid silver bolo on my pilgrimage to Chimayo this Good Friday. Several women have noticed the feminine hand with the stigmata and asked me about it. Finally at age 67, I has been able to accept my role as a ROAD MAN!

  • 7 Jacobo Chavez // Apr 5, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    Today I am walking to Chimayo with my penitente brothers (Hermanos) and sisters (Carmelitas). One has the Virgin of Guadalupe tatooed on his chest and he carries a “Chicotte” or whip. Another is the local “Santero” or Woodcarver and he carries a huge cross on his shoulder. Another Hermano named Lovato carries his guitar and sings hymns to keep up our spirit along the way. The road to Chimayo is over 100 miles from where we start. We may not arrive until Easter morning, depending on the weather and our physical endurance. I do not expect the “average” Catholic or Christian to comprehend what drives us to make this march every year during Holy Week. Perhaps it is something in our blood or DNA that impels us to walk to the Sanctuario and follow our Master and Elder Brother, Jesus the Nazarene, “Quien sabe?” All I know is that if I do not make this pilgrimage each year, I do not show my utmost gratitude for what my Lord and Savior did for me!

  • 8 Beth // Apr 6, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    God Bless you on your journey Jacobo.

  • 9 Jacobo Chavez // Apr 9, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    Thank you Beth and all of those who supported us and prayed with us on our pilgrimage. The rain is starting to fall now that Easter Monday is here. The flowers are blooming and there is HOPE for our future! Across the Rio Grande Valley from Chimayo lies Los Alamos where the Atom Bomb was invented and where new funding has made the atomic labs ready to invent ever more deadly things. Meanwhile, here at the Sanctuario de Chimayo we bear witness to waging peace and nonviolence. Namaste and May the Risen Christ be with you!

  • 10 Oso Pious // Apr 10, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    New Mexico’s Holy Week’s celebrations are certainly not sentimental, vacuous and superficial! Most of us can only stand so much of their vivid reality. For centuries the mountain people of Chimayo and Truchas lived their lives everyday in fear of hostile Indian attacks, poverty, plague and famine. Death and suffering were a common sight. In such a fierce environment, there was no time for long pious ceremonies and sermons! The Penitente rituals were enacted by the laity because very few priests were able to minister to these remote areas and the Franciscan friars had been recalled to Spain. It was better to suffer and die on the cross ( where your actions had meaning and merit) if you were liable to be captured or wounded or killed at any moment! To these heroic hispanic settlers, life was short, brutal and dangerous. They were given land titles to these mountain villages on the promise that they would defend the mountain passes, so that the rich “hidalgos” who lived in Santa Fe could live in relative security and serenity. Death and suffering were their constant companions and they identified with the Passion of their Savior.

  • 11 Jacobo Chavez // Apr 11, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    Father Michael O’Brien is the one who started the pilgrimages to Chimayo from the Estancia Valley in New Mexico in the 1960s. He was later diagnosed with cancer and died in his 40s. The annual pilgrimages were carried on since then and have grown in popularity every year! It is a fact that my Chavez ancestors protected the Abo Pass so that the Rio Grande Valley settlements of Belen, Los Lunas and Albuquerque were kept safe from hostile Indian attacks until the Apaches and Navajos were put on reservations in 1868. My ancestors were called “genizaros” because they were not pure-blooded Hispanics. Genizaros were mostly half-breeds and often were of part pueblo or plains Indian heritage. Chimayo was originally a Tewa Indian Pueblo with a sacred spring. These Indians migrated to the Hopi mesas and became the Hano-Tewas of 1st Mesa in Arizona. Spanish colonists from Santa Fe and La Canada took over their lands when DeVargas led the Reconquest in 1694 after the Pueblo Revolt in 1680.

  • 12 Oso Pious // Apr 16, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    All sacred places, times and shrines always remain the same! They are taken over by different cultures at different times, but the original sacred places remain. Near Chimayo, New Mexico is the ancient site named “La Puebla” which was the original Tewa pueblo with their sacred spring and whose inhabitants had to flee from Spanish Conquistadors to the Hopi’s 1st Mesa in Arizona to become today’s Hano-Tewa pueblo on Hopiland’s First Mesa. The hill of Tepeyac where Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Saint Juan Diego in Mexico was originally an Aztec pyramid to Tonantzin, the Aztec Mother Goddess. Thousands of pilgrims still make annual pilgrimages to these (and many similar) places!

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