Posts Tagged ‘saints’

Our Lady of Guadalupe Tree, carving of the Virgen de Guadalupe in a
cottonwood in Albuquerque, taken with my mother-in-law’s iPhone,
October 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

healing from inside
the heart of a cottonwood
nuestra señora

The story goes that in 1970 a parishioner of the 300-year-old San Felipe de Neri, Albuquerque’s oldest Catholic parish, carved the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe into the open wound of an ancient dying cottonwood. The Virgen saved the tree’s life.

Hundreds of people, many tourists, pass the cottonwood each day—it stands behind the church, which is in Old Town—without ever knowing that Nuestra Señora is hidden inside.

I took my mother-in-law, Celia, to see the tree one day in October of last year. We had just visited another sacred spot, a hidden chapel, also dedicated to the Virgen de Guadalupe, to pray for Celia’s recovery. She is a private woman, and this is the first time I’ve divulged on red Ravine that for the past four years she has been fighting a deadly form of lung cancer called Small Cell Carcinoma. 

Celia completed the latest round of chemotherapy in November, and last week she got a clean bill of health. I’ve been holding on to this photo since our visit last year; I wanted to post it today as a way of thanking the saints and the universe for Celia’s remission.

Today many people I know confront challenges. Illness, job loss, matters of the heart and spirit. For all of you and all of us, may the Virgen de Guadalupe bring solace and healing.

The cottonwood’s scar is closing, and soon the carving will be locked inside. I’ve been told that the carver’s son is seeking a way to remove the carving without harming the tree. I wonder if the best course would be to allow the Virgen to become the tree, as she is already.

-related to posts haiku 2 (one-a-day), Mary In Minnesota (haiku for yb), Virgin Mary Sightings, and The Virgin Mary Appears On A Bug.

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Jésucristo, retablo of Jesus Christ by Tesuque artist Juanito
, photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

Where to begin? There are so many authoritative sources on the origins of the retablo that I dread trying to give a historical overview. Truth is, I don’t want to. I’ll make a deal, though. At the end of this post, I’ll provide a list of the books that will do exactly that — give anyone who’s interested everything there is to know about retablos.

I’d rather talk about the power of the retablo for Hispanic Catholics in New Mexico. Oh, and here I should clarify — retablos are not unique to my state. They came with the Spaniards during the conquest of the “New World,” then flourished during the colonization of indigenous peoples throughout what was then known as “New Spain.” But the making of devotional art in general — and the retablo, in particular — has thrived for centuries in New Mexico, passed on from generation to generation.

Well, there I go. I guess I can’t get away from at least giving a layperson’s understanding of the retablo. Devout Catholics (and devout believers in saints) in this part of the world use them both as art and for altars in our homes. We pray to them for anything and everything. The retablos depict Jesus, Mary, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, and many saints.

Through the centuries certain attributes persist in each depiction of a particular saint. For example, Santa Verónica. According to legend, she was so moved by the sight of Jesus on his way to Calvary that she pushed her way through the crowds to wipe the sweat and blood from his face. The towel she used was imprinted with his image, and so any time Saint Veronica is painted, she is shown with a cloth bearing Christ’s face.

Certain saints are intermediaries for certain needs. San Yisidro is the saint of the crops; he figures prominently in the Rio Grande Valley. Santo Niño de Atocha is the patron for freeing prisoners. He is believed to have power to perform miraculous rescues for any person in danger, especially from violent acts and for travelers. Mater Dolorosa is invoked for pain and sorrow.

There are patrons for most ailments — Santa Lucía for blindness and clarity; Santa Librata for help with burdensome husbands or unwanted suitors; Santa Ana for the old and mothers, both (it just dawned on me, she’d be ideal for old mothers like myself); San Antonio de Padua to find lost objects, including husbands for unmarried women. The list is endless.


For Valentine’s Day in 1998, when I was seven months pregnant with my youngest daughter, Jim came home from running errands. He had for me a retablo he’d bought from a folk artist who’d set up shop on a vacant lot in our then-neighborhood of Albuquerque’s barrio Griegos. The retablo was new but made to look old.

“That’s why I bought it,” Jim said. He told me the artist had lots of pieces to choose from but that this was the only one that looked ancient. The saint was male, holding a staff in one hand and a three-crowned object in the other and wearing a red robe and golden cape.

The name of the saint wasn’t written on the back of the wooden board, as on most of our retablos, but we found in barely discernable lettering near the figure’s robe this notation: San Ramón Nonatus.

Neither of us had heard of San Ramón Nonatus, so I went to my bookshelves and pulled down a book on saints. (Jim had gotten into the habit of giving me for most birthdays or holidays a new book on saints.) On page 131 of Mexican Folk Retablos by Gloria Fraser Giffords, I found the entry (this saint is also known as San Ramón Nonato). Here is what I read out loud to Jim:

His last name Nonatus — “not born” — commemorates his caesarean birth at the time of his mother’s death. For this reason, he is the patron of midwives and women giving birth.

I looked up from the book. Jim’s mouth was open. Being the types to faint at the sight of blood and the smell of hospitals, we had already decided to birth our baby at home, attended by a midwife. This wasn’t our first home birth, but because I’d been thinking about the challenges of labor with my first child (especially the pain) I had become anxious about this upcoming birth.

As it turns out, when the due date arrived, the umbilical cord was wrapped tightly around my babe’s neck. Our midwife guided me through pushing such that she could gently lift the cord around Em’s head between contractions. Em came out more purple than most newborns, but she was big and healthy and so very alive. She was perfect.


I have over the years given up my faith in the institution of the Catholic Church, much like one finds that a particularly strong yearning has over time finally and quietly faded to nothing. I don’t mean to offend practicing Catholics; my father, some of my siblings, several nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends all attend mass each Sunday. Being who I am — pragmatic and at times challenging of authority — I simply reject the notion that celibate men can understand my particular troubles.

But I have faith in the personajes — Mary, Jesus, and the saints — of my Catholic upbringing. Perhaps that is why I surround myself with these images. So that every day when I wake up, I am reminded of the miracles and protections they provide in this world. And that I know, always, that everything will be OK.

Garden of Eden, retablo by Juanito Jimenez, photo © 2008
by ybonesy. All rights reserved.


Books I’d Recommend if You Want to Learn More:

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We moved into the new house yesterday. I’ve been unloading all my saints and folk art. I’m not sure where to put everything, so I’m sticking things wherever I find a decent spot for them, just to get them out of the way.

I put one of my carved wood statues from Guatemala in a perfect-sized shelf in our bedroom. The shelf has cubbies for several statues. I was thinking maybe I’d put all my collection in that area.

This particular one I got a long time ago at an auction. I liked how big her eyes were, like maybe you’d just walked in and caught her off guard. Here’s a not very clear picture of her:

Santa Scarita

This morning when I got up, I noticed she had moved. I fell fast asleep while Jim read in bed. I guess he got to thinking she was a little spooky. Maybe she reminded him of those portraits like my grandma used to have where the eyes followed you all around the room. Maybe Jim started to feel like my wooden saint was staring at him.

Here’s what she looked like when I saw her this morning:

Santa Scarita’s Back

I guess I’m going to have to reconsider where she goes exactly. Or, maybe she can stay in the bedroom with us and spend daytime watching over the room and nighttime staring at the wall. We’ll see.

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I read the edge in ybonesy’s piece, Who Stole My Saint? What I like is that she didn’t shy away from what she wanted to say. She spoke her truth.

Writing breaks us open, wears us out. Most good things do both. Shadow. Dark. Light off the dent in a muddy golf ball. I liked her edge.

No one wants to talk about the hard stuff; they’re afraid they’ll say the wrong thing. Politically correct stops us from talking. PC sugarcoats the glaring truth. We need to talk.

I’m reminded of a recovery meeting a few years ago. Someone made a reference to race when they spoke on one of the Steps. I nearly fell off my chair. I fidgeted and looked around. I was noticeably uncomfortable. What were racial comments doing in a recovery meeting?

After the meeting, I was walking out to my car with an African American woman I had connected with in small group. She had been honest and warm. I felt an opening. So I took a risk and asked if she had been offended at the speaker’s reference. I swallowed hard, waiting for her answer, and squelched a sudden obtrusive thought to apologize for the whole white race.

We talked in the parking lot for only 10 minutes. But those 10 minutes really counted. Good, direct conversation. She said she’d reacted to the comment. But then stopped for a moment and looked at the speaker’s intention. She knew they were trying to use a powerful analogy to get their point across about recovery. But what hurt was the fact that there was no follow through. The speaker threw the comment out there and left it hanging in the room.

There is no cross talk in recovery when someone speaks. And little back and forth conversation. Unless you are well-versed in the 12 Traditions, it’s hard to know what to say in an awkward moment.

As we started to wrap up the conversation and head to our cars, I told her I grew up in the South and had to do a lot of personal work to unlearn what I’d been taught as a child. We talked about experiences with racism in the South. But especially in the North, in self-declared liberal climates, where prejudice is more underground, dangerous, and silent.

I knew that was true. A few summers ago, two baseball cap wearing punks in a Ford pickup pulled up next to Liz’s Saturn on Highway 55, rolled down their windows, spit at us, and yelled, “Get off the road, fuckin’ dykes!” All we were doing was talking and laughing in the front seat. No “L” was tattooed on our foreheads. We weren’t kissing or wearing purple. We didn’t have Human Rights Campaign or rainbow stickers on the rear bumper. We were just talking. And laughing.

There’s a lot of hate out there. Plenty to go around. We need to start talking if we’re ever going to heal the past.

There have been many conquests in this country, too many to count. No one is above it all. No one culture. No one race. I spent a long time early in my life blaming it on the whites. Blaming it on men. Blaming it on my family. Blaming it on me. But I’ve learned – change happens at the individual level. You can’t cover things up with blanket blame. Talking things out might have made a difference. But I know from experience, I was angry and that’s all I could see.

When people are angry, it’s hard to have a conversation. It’s hard to change things. Even if you want to. It’s hard to forgive others. First, we have to suck it up and forgive ourselves. When other people hate us so fiercely, after a time, we start to hate ourselves. We have to forgive ourselves for that hate.

I started a conversation with the woman in recovery. Ybonesy started a conversation in the blog. That’s what needs to happen. If we’ve got some edge, good. But we will have to deal with responses from our families. And our friends. It could get touchy. Better to get it over with now, rather than when my first book comes out.

What I want to say to ybonesy is that I was one of those New Agers that stormed New Mexico. I went with my partner in 1987 during the Harmonic Convergence. It was a big deal. Many Native Americans participated that summer. They told us it was written in some of their history that a new age would come; a time when they’d have to teach whites how not to destroy the earth – and every being on it.

The New Age movement changed me. It gave me a place to find my anchor. It was a white movement. Whites trying to find ground. I never related to Christian religion. It had no place for gays and lesbians. But with some indigenous cultures, people who were different were sometimes the most revered. And nature was integrated into day to day living.

I am Pagan mostly. Wicca based. Female goddess based. It’s rooted in nature, the turn of a season. But I believe in a Higher Power, a Greater Universe, Jung’s collective unconscious. I believe Jesus was one of the prophets, just like Buddha. I pray in Recovery. I subscribe to the basic tenets of Buddhism. I sit, I write, I practice. I don’t fit into mainstream religion. But I’m a spiritual being.

We are all spiritual beings. And that’s what a mystic like Saint Teresa would tell you if she were standing here today.

What *did* I get out of the New Age? A lot. I learned about every culture and how each worked with nature and Spirit. I looked for common ground in my own roots. I learned compassion. I forgave myself. I brought what I learned back home.

I tried not to trounce on anyone else along the way. I was curious. I wanted to know other cultures. I’m not as romantic anymore. I know that a lion in the desert is going to attack and eat a wildebeest. Something has to die. In order for something new to be born.

There was a New Age way before the 1980’s. It involved Mabel Dodge, D. H. Lawrence, Dorothy Brett, Georgia O’Keeffe, Willa Cather, and all the whites that came to New Mexico in the 1920’s. It was going on in Europe at the same time – Hemingway, Stein, Fitzgerald, countless artists and writers. It was a great time to be gay or lesbian in France. There was a freedom there. Baldwin knew it. He moved to Europe.

Psychology came out of that time, relating the way we think and live to our spiritual lives. People like William James and Carl Jung were mystical pioneers who changed the face of psychology, forerunners of therapy as we know it. James and Jung consulted for Bill W., Dr. Bob, and Bill’s wife, Lois, the founders of AA and Al-Anon that have gone on to help thousands of people. The connections weren’t accidents.

Whole cultures changed because people were hungry. They opened up and talked to each other. They went to smoky bars and restaurants in Paris, met in drawing rooms next to the fire at Mabel’s, and lived on high desert ranches like Kiowa and Ghost Ranch. They shared knowledge, fought about ideas, weren’t afraid to paint forbidden paintings, and have the hard conversations that bust things open. They also spent a lot of time alone.

The 80’s wasn’t the first new age. It won’t be the last. It’s only been 20 years. It’s too soon for us to know what we learned from it. Maybe it was whacked out and crazy, the way 60’s counterculture was whacked out and crazy. Some took it to the extreme, were offensive to other cultures, profited from it. Frauds. Unauthentic warriors. Crystal eaters.

But we needed something to break open. Because white culture as a whole needed to wake up. We needed to understand as a country where we came from. And take a good hard look at where we were going. Countries are born, mature, age, and have a spiritual life, the same way people do. And America is just a babe.

The New Age is over. Or middle-aged at best. Like ybonesy said, plugging into Catholic saints – it might be a leftover New Age thing. But Catholicism came from Judaism, didn’t it?  Many of the mystics broke off with their own brand of religion. Their own New Age. Agree or disagree, we are all connected. Whether we want to be or not.

Being a writer is not so much about comfort. As it is about truth. We can each only write our own truths. Different cultures have different truths, different histories. And a straight woman is never going to know what it was like to grow up lesbian. Or a straight man know what it’s like to grow up gay.  But shouldn’t we still ask the hard questions? To hide those things in our writing would be a sin.

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

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It was a Friday morning in late July, 2004, when I left for Taos. And it was my birthday. I spent the whole day travelling. I blasted Joni Mitchell out of the Alpine as I drove down I-35 through southern Minnesota, tipped my hat to the Hawkeyes in northern Iowa, and bowed to the sandhill cranes as I hurtled across the Platte River plains of eastern Nebraska.

I travelled all day Saturday, too. shooting under a vibrant sunrise near the Hampton Inn in Kearney, Nebraska. And I sat paralyzed as metronomic wipers slapped time to a vengeful thunderstorm south of Denver. Blinding sheets of rain pelted the pavement so hard I had to stop under an overpass until the turbulence died down.

The storm made me late to meet Wordraw.

I remember sitting in the Camry behind torrents of streaming water, fanning my breath away from the steamy glass. Since I was stuck, it seemed like a good time to call Wordraw. But instead of a soothing connection, his deep voice was barely audible, buried under crackle and static –

“Hello, this is Wordraw….crakcakcak, ssssshhh, or leave your number and I’ll call you back as tickkkpoptic soon as I can.”


I lost service after the 10th word and stared helplessly at the phone. It was worthless. I threw it in my leather bag, then turned to wipe the window clear with my sleeve. Cars slowed to a crawl, nearly hitting each other as they vied for position to get off the road. Hail the size of melons hit the highway in a fury and pingponged 6 inches off the macadam.

Aroused, the Over and Underworld gods exploded in electric tension between thunderous cracks. I jumped high off the seat. It was time for a rumble.

I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t scared.

Storms on the passes in Colorado put the fear of god in me. They strike in every season. And seem more violent than the disturbances I remember in the 70’s when I lived in western Montana at the geological point where five valleys collide. Or the swollen summer sky that broke open in 1992, flooding our campsite (swallowing my Eureka dome tent) near an arroyo in New Mexico.

The No. 9 cloud is the culprit, the fluffy cumulonimbus.

People speculate that the saying “walking on cloud 9” may have originated from the National Weather Service’s fanciful and popular No. 9 cloud. I rather like to think the phrase was inspired by the Beatle’s Revolution #9. Or the Norman Whitfield penned, Grammy winning 1969 rendering of the Temptation’s Cloud 9.

You can’t grow up in the hometown of James Brown, Godfather of Soul, and not be inspired by late 60’s funkadelic. I can hear the backbeat now – “Cloud 9! – ba boom ba ba boomp ba boomp ba boomp boomp ba”.

Music to my ears.

When I arrived at Taos Plaza late Saturday, I didn’t know it was Fiesta. It was dark. I took the back way in and found my way to the La Fonda’s pock marked parking lot and chain-link fence. The Taos De La Fonda Hotel is the only hotel in the Plaza. That night it was packed with restless people and rust-less vintage cars.

In Minnesota, auto bodies are eaten away by ice-busting winter chemicals and salt. The corrosive action melts through paint like battery acid. You don’t often see Minnesotans driving models older than 10 years. That’s what I love about going to places like New Mexico and Montana. You’re more likely to see a 1962 VW bug, ‘72 AMC Gremlin, or Ford Pinto than you are a Lexus or BMW.

I turned the corner to park in a tight muddy spot by the cable wire barrier, muttering to myself, “How in the hell will I ever find Wordraw?” The next minute, there he stood, big as life, tapping his knuckles against my window, wearing a brassy shit-eatin’ grin. He had seen me coming.

That night after dinner, Wordraw and I sat on his twin bed by an open window in a tiny room above Taos Plaza, peeked out from behind the curtains, listened, and watched as hundreds of people shouted, cheered, and danced along the covered sidewalks under the cottonwoods. They seemed happy. In fact, jubilant. All of Taos was there.

Friday, July 23rd, had been the beginning of Fiesta.

Las Fiestas de Taos is a celebration of the Patron Saints, Anne (Santa Ana), a model of virtue and grandmother to the Messiah, and Santiago, the man who rose from fisherman to warrior. Mother and Father. They are holy days. And it’s a community celebration for all cultures, of the people, by the people. That’s what I read in an article in The Taos News by Larry Torres. The Saturday I arrived was the second day, the day designated to celebrate Saint Anne and the children.

On Sunday, after walking around Fiesta in the Plaza, Wordraw and I visited the D.H. Lawrence collection of “forbidden paintings” on display by permission only in a small temperature regulated room in the back of the La Fonda. If I remember correctly, that was the same trip we visited the 160 acre D.H. Lawrence Ranch on Lobo Mountain, formerly Kiowa ranch. Mabel Dodge gave Lawrence the 8,600 foot perch for a song.

More like a story.

I heard from a historian that Mabel gifted the ranch to Lawrence and his wife, Frieda, for free. But then Frieda didn’t want to be beholden to Mabel. So she gave Mabel Sons and Lovers as payment for Kiowa. And Mabel later gave the manuscript to a friend in New York as payment to her psychiatrist.

This is what happens to writing. You create it. You let it go. You never know where your writing is going to end up.

The Bonewriters met that fateful weekend in the dining room at Mabel Dodge. There was a birthday cake. I huffed and I puffed and I blew out 3 fat candles. I remember how embarrassed I was. And how excited. Both, at the same time. I knew it was going to be no ordinary writing retreat. And it wasn’t.

Ybonesy came up to me the last day and asked if I wanted to write across the miles, from South to Midwest. Wordraw and I ended up looking at New Mexico real estate outside of Questa where the estimated population in 2003 was 1,927. The 3 of us went swimming with other writers in the Rio Grande. When we sat in silence, I could hear the Fiesta drums pounding from the Plaza into the Zendo where we wrote, hungry, beating skins flying through summer air, down my fast writing pen, and on to the page.

The next 4 days, I wrote in the spaces between reverberating squeals of laughter and pounding toms – present, listening. I didn’t understand what I was listening to. Or for. Only that it had been passed down for generations. It was tradition. A time for celebration. The music was free. You only had to stop what you were doing and pay attention. All you had to do was listen.

Wednesday, December 13th, 2006

-related to post, WRITING TOPIC – TAOS

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