Monday, May 4, 2009

San Xavier Mission - Journal Entry 1

An hallucination, it must be -- such a sight, in such a place? A desert mirage, a desert miracle. No wonder it was called a Mission -- imagine, 300 years ago, a lone rider, or a group of dirty dusty men moving cattle, or a family in a wagon crossing an expanse of nothing but brown sand and pale sage cacti for days, rationing water all along the journey -- coming upon this building? Receiving all the water craved, beds, perhaps medical attention, and certainly balm for their hearts. Conversation, again, with another human voicing a tender message. Fanciful view, I suppose, but look at the image! It doesn't seem to embody the violence, the raw bluntness of life in the West back when it was built. It tells of its own 3-foot thick walls offering cool respite from a relentless sun, of corridors of silence to still a nervous soul or restless foot, at least for a night. It welcomes, it smiles, it says PEACE. Paz. The pavement fell away the closer I got, and so did the sense of present time. There, the glistening white Mission amid parched desert acreage and mountain ranges surrounding it, the ranges lending sweeps of odd blue-violet shadows overhead, up into the air (how?) and across the sand and cacti. This the gated archway beckoning me inside. I hesitated, of course, and took up my camera, shooting pictures while gauging my internal readiness for the sanctity of the inner Mission courtyards and church itself. My spirituality is so immediate in the approach -- the wide low mountains, the sea of dusty sand gusting in puffs around eclectic cacti studs here and there, the magnificent architecture of the Mission and my camera-at-hand to capture it in my preferred manner. But the acts of the inner workings? The singing, the words, the prayers, the deeply reverent manner of the elderly ones there? The tiniest, most fragile elderly people I've ever seen, barely as tall as my chest, frail, bent, using canes or the arms of younger loved ones, but going going going to that chapel, stretching gnarled backs, then arms, to reach the Holy Water container up on the wall ... eyes closed as they crossed themselves. Eyes watery with emotion as they moved their eyes carefully and more carefully around the walls and inside carved domes. Hands gentle as birth when they touched the relics on the side altars and lit their candles. Does that kind of spirituality only come with that age? I can recognize it, but I don't experience it personally. My spirituality ... did I know when I took some of these pictures that I'd see myself, this part of myself, in them? No. I'm the cactus, prickly, standing back, looking but gathered to myself. The sounds thrown by the bells, the shadows cast by the bell tower, I lean into those, grow under them and because of them, but I guard my proximity and surrender, also. I shoot photos of carved doorways like this, like those at Notre Dame, at Saint Catherine of Siena, but only in appreciation of the artist's work. I don't understand or want to understand all that symbology clustered in one spot so densely. I find spirituality in open spaces, quiet simple spaces, calm approachable buildings and art on human scales. I finally sat down, looked outward, over, upward. I did it! I drove here myself! Directionally challenged as I am, got lost BAD at the beginning though I did -- imagine my pride, sitting here, HERE, at my point of destination, and gazing through my lens at such a view. A scene I would shoot, have shot, anywhere in the world I encounter it -- bell towers. Italy, Paris, Tucson, and certainly England when I go there. How I wanted to hear them sound, resonate through that wide unencumbered sea of sand, over the heads and voices of those singing from within the main chapel. Here is representation of my spiritual garden -- plants odd & tenuous, but reaching. Strangely shaped and casting unfamiliar silhouettes. Prickly. Defensively armed, tender within, tenderly rooted and gathered. Difficult to identify, or label. Present in silent observation. Serene woman - is this Mary? And who or what is the angel? cherub? man? supporting her from beneath? I want to go back and shoot this in color.

3 comments:

Holly said...

Our Lady of Guatalope...and she is the Divine Feminine to the desert people. And you, you are not the cactus...you are the cactus flower..the site of which makes people sigh, "oh," for they spring awake in the night and last only a day so it is hard to understand that such beauty is there at all.

beth said...

a spiritual experience without a doubt !!

cinner said...

Beautiful beautiful photos and what an experience for you. Can't wait to see what you take in England.