Fourteen years ago this month, my parents fulfilled a promise to my grandmother. If she recovered from another serious hospital stay, and she could recoup her strength, we would take her to El Santuario de Chimayo. For those who have yet to make the pilgrimage and for those that have not even heard about it, the village of Chimayo is home to a church that holds a well of holy dirt. People travel from all over the world because they believe by rubbing the holy dirt on the area of your body that ails you, you can be healed. Some drive, some bike and some even walk. They walk for miles, even hundreds of miles. The walls of the rooms of the church are lined with photos of those that have made the pilgrimage to find healing as well as crutches from those who were healed and were no longer in need of them. The church is surrounded by gift shops in which you can buy candles to lift a prayer and small containers to take the dirt home.
My father did not expect miracle cures from the holy dirt, but he was a dutiful son and a man of faith as well. Be believed in the power of the place. He found healing in the
surrounding Sangre de Cristo mountains, where he felt closer to God. From the creek that ran behind the church to the fresh air in his lungs, he felt the Holy Spirit more outside the walls of the church than within it. (He also found spiritual healing in the snacks and the chile you can purchase from the local growers and merchants. I am my father’s daughter.)
Since that trip, I have lost both my grandparents and my father. I’m older, but don’t feel wiser. I feel beaten and tired. My job has caused so much stress on my body and my mind, not to mention all the new chronic illnesses I have accumulated over the years. My husband, also plagued with physical ailments, had never made the short journey to Chimayo. Because this had been a pilgrimage of utmost importance to my family, I decided to carry on the tradition.
My husband and I tasted powdered and crushed chile out of pistachio shells, we took pictures and talked with other tourists. When it was time to enter the church it was eerily quiet as pilgrims lifted their prayers. I sat in a pew and prayed. My husband and I went into the little room off to the side of the altar to collect our holy dirt. Do I believe that this dirt from this well can heal my body? No. I do believe in the power of faith, and the powerful way our minds can heal our bodies, but I did not transfer this belief to dirt. Did I rub the holy dirt on my body?
When I pressed the dirt to my husband’s forehead and his neck, for a split second I prayed with every cell in my body that it would actually work. I prayed for a miracle.
When we walked next door to the Santo Nino Chapel, we looked into the prayer room that again was filled with pictures of those seeking healing, but this time it was all small children. Trinkets and booties were everywhere, representing the lives of those that came out of great faith to find comfort, peace, healing…a miracle. I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to all of these children. Did they get better? Did they find their miracle?
I traveled to this place to find my own healing. I wanted to breathe the mountain air and find some peace of mind. I wanted stress relief. What I came away with was another perception of this place. To me, the miracle wasn’t in the dirt or in the holy water. It wasn’t even in the air. It was in the love that led to the journey. Each one of the people in those pictures was loved so much by someone that they made the journey to this remote little village in the middle of nowhere to lift prayers and retrieve a miracle for them. I felt that love with my grandmother and our fulfilled promise to take her to El Santuario, I felt that love when I saw that smile on Dad’s face as he helped her avoid every stone that might make her trip. I felt that love when I pressed the dirt to my husband’s pain.
My grandmother gave me more than a tradition. She gave me an act of love that I can now share with my husband. We all hurt. We all can break. But not all of us are loved by someone who will take your hurt to the highest power no matter the distance and make a plea on your behalf.
When you find that…that is your miracle.