Thomas Cole: The Voyage of Life

A series of four paintings at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.  A beautiful, inspirational set of paintings that depict the stages of life – from infancy to old age

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The Window to Miracles

New Mexico was, to me, one of those states on the southern border, somewhere between Texas and California.  At least until a chance visit to Santa Fe.  The air fare was low and the accomodations was free, so what the heck, why not.  When I got there, I could not believe how beautiful the city was.  And the Tex Mex or Mexican or whatever food that was there was incredible (except for the Chinese food, but even that may have improved by now).  One of the greatest surprises in all my travels.  Even now, I can see myself living in this town, semi arid, nestled in the mountains.  The people are friendly.  The arts are alive.  And Santa Fe is just plain old beautiful.

And yet, the trip to New Mexico will be remembered for an even more unexpected interlude.  A visit to the town of Chimayo.  It is one of the few towns that dot the road from Santa Fe to Taos, New Mexico.  At least that’s what it was on the map.  And so, before driving to Taos, I did a little research on the High Road to Taos.  I read some mention of a church in a small town that people from all over the world visited, in search of miraculous cures to all sorts of afflictions.  Curious, I decided to drop by and visit the church.  At the very least, it is an old, historic church in the mountains.  It was a good photographic opportunity.

I ran into a man who was friendly and was more than happy to tell me about this special place.  His name has been forgotten now, but his story is still in my head.  It turns out he is a four time cancer survivor.  When he first got cancer, his chances for survival was not good.  Guided by faith, he went to Chimayo, took some of the soil from a room in the church (it is freely given to all who visit), and took it home with him to Chicago.  He applied the soil like a balm over the afflicted area.  And miracle of miracles, or so he told me, his cancer was cured.  His cancer would recur three more times, in different parts of his body.  Each time, he went back to Chimayo, took some soil, and each time he was cured.  I asked him if he was there seeking another cure.  No, he said.  He was just there to give thanks for the gifts that were given him.  A life to be lead, a life that he was able to use for some good, and the grace to be healed of his afflictions.

I was dumbfounded.  I always associated miracles with Fatima.  Or Medjugorje.  Or Lourdes.  Chimayo is a beautiful but unassuming town nestled in the mountains, on a road between two major tourist destinations in New Mexico.  And yet, it is this town that I always think of when I think of New Mexico.  There is something there, a feeling there, that I can’t explain.  It’s not something metaphysical.  It is this feeling of peace and joy that emanates from this small church.   People may visit Chimayo in hopes of a miraculous cure to some sort of physical ailment.  To me, though, it gave something else.

When I entered the church in the middle of mass, it was mostly locals attending the mass.  After the mass, someone told me something that has stayed with me forever.  It was a message that was surprising and uplifting.  Even now, I recall the events of those few minutes spent in that church in Chimayo, of that quiet conversation.  Grace can come in many ways.  You don’t have to ask.  Somehow,  it just comes to you.

There are special places that leave you with an inner peace.  A feeling that stays with you for your entire life.  To me, one of those places is this church in the New Mexico mountains, in the town of Chimayo.  The window pictured above is in the room that contains the miraculous soil.  I can only say that what I remember most from that visit is not the window, not the church, not the town, not the mountains.  It was that quiet conversation, wholly unexpected.  In that moment, I felt forever blessed.

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A Christmas Message

For many, today is a special day.  A day to be with family.  To share stories.  To laugh, to eat, to be merry.  And that is all good.  To those who follow Christ, this is the day when God fulfilled his promise and gave us His Son.  Announced by angels, the child of God came not to condemn.  Or to belittle.  Or to oppress.  Or to destroy.  The Son of God was born from the womb of a woman, the new Eve, who willingly obeyed the Father who created us all.   Mary’s faith and obedience allowed God to became truly one with us.  To know the love of a human mother, singularly blessed.  To be raised by an adoptive father, if you will, who taught his son what it means to work hard, to be dutiful, to be faithful.  It was a life not rich in material things, but it was a life rich in spirit, in faith, in humility, in love.

Today, we yearn for great things.  For ourselves.  For our country.  We often think that we alone have the answers.  That our way is the only way, our needs the only things that matter.  We must have the loudest voice, the biggest house, the biggest bank account.  We have an incessant need to glorify ourselves, often at the expense of others.

Two thousand years ago, that was not the message that the Creator gave to His creation.  God did not boast.  He did not bully.  He did not seek attention.  He did not punish.  No, through His Son Jesus Christ, He showed the world that we are all one with God.  We are all children of God.  Jew and gentile alike.  Christ did not carry arms nor did he extol others to oppress or to punish.  He lived a life of humility, of obedience, of subservience.  Our Creator became our brother.  He taught us that we are no longer alone.  That no one is alone.  He taught us to give ourselves to each other.  To respect each other.  To treat each other with dignity, as we are all brothers and sisters in the sight of the Almighty.  He taught us that it is through the giving of one’s self that we are made whole.

Let the gift of God, and the sacrifice of the Son, live in your hearts forever.  When you see someone in the corner needing help, look not in derision.  Share what you have.  Use the talents that were given  to you.  Not to accumulate wealth.  Nor intimidate the weak.

Each of us is unique, with gifts uniquely are own.  To be used, in our own way, to serve all of God’s creation.  Be a friend.  God knows no borders.  God sees color everywhere and rejoices in diversity.  With love, everything is possible.  Even people who do not share our faith are our brothers and sisters.  Treat them as you would have God treat you.  With respect.  With kindness.  With understanding.  If you believe that God created all of us with a purpose, then how can you look at someone with a disability, or someone with a different pigmentation, or someone with a different set preferences with disdain?  Each of us can teach the other.  Each of use can learn from one another.

Jesus came to cleanse us of our sins.  An act of forgiveness.  An act of sacrifice.  A gift, from our Creator, showing us the way to a life of happiness and peace.  Share what you have.  Forgive others and ask to be forgiven.  For in forgiveness, love will come.

Let a flower bloom in your heart.  Be the seed that grows into a tree that gives comfort to all.  Let God’s love, ever present, live within you.   And so I end with prayers, from different points of view.

For those who do not believe in the Almighty, live long and prosper.  Remember to share in your prosperity.

May the God of Abraham, the God of Moses, creator of the Universe, bless you.  May your life be fruitful.

May Allah grant you and your family good health and prosperity.

May Jesus, our savior, Son of God, instill upon your heart the beauty and wonder of God’s love.  Share with others what you have and in so doing, share eternity with all of God’s creation.  Let there be peace.  Let there be joy.  Let there be love.