Category Archives: Philosophy

When Jesus Comes to New Mexico: Good Friday in Chimayó

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Each year during Holy Week, especially on Good Friday, Jesus of Nazareth comes to Chimayó (chee-my-Ó), New Mexico, about 24 miles north of Santa Fe, in the form of approximately 30,000 pilgrims who re-enact Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion by walking, sometimes hundreds of miles, sometimes from as far away as Mexico and Louisiana, to visit the historic landmark Chapel.

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At the Catholic chapel — officially named the Santuario de Nuestro Señor de Esquipulas, but more commonly known as El Santuario de Chimayó — 

pilgrims often carry crosses as a symbol of Jesus’ Passion and sacrifice.

The Chapel offers guidance for pilgrims on their spiritual journey, advising them to “offer God [their] hunger, thirst, tiredness, pain,” much as Jesus suffered before his Crucifixion.

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Roads are blocked off and sometimes closed to make room for the pilgrims, many of whom walk for days to reach Chimayó by noon, so that they can be there between 12-3 — the hours when Catholics and Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth suffered and died on the cross.

The chapel provides a map of routes for the pilgrims once they are closer to Chimayó, with advice and instructions on how to make their pilgrimage more spiritual.

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Pilgrims who do not carry large crosses often have smaller ones, many of which are homemade, which they frequently leave on the fence (above) surrounding the open-air “chapel” (below) behind El Santuario.

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Seeing all those crosses is very moving, no matter what your personal religious views. Visitors of all faiths and beliefs can feel the spiritual energy of the pilgrims who have traveled great distances to leave their offerings and gifts.

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El Santuario del Chimayó has gained a reputation as a healing site. It is sometimes called the “Lourdes of America.”

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The faithful believe that the “Little Well” of dirt from a back room of the church — from the land behind the Chapel, which was considered sacred by the Native Americans as well as by early Spanish settlers — can heal physical and spiritual ills, and it attracts close to 300,000 visitors a year.

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Visitors and pilgrims may take some of the healing dirt with them (when we visited a decade ago, after we moved West, there was no charge for the healing dirt).

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The room (above) leading to the “Little Well” of healing dirt is filled with crutches, walkers, statues, crosses, and other offerings. santuario-de-chimayo-4

The crutches and walkers have been left by pilgrims and visitors who return to El Santuario, as evidence that they were healed by the holy dirt.

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Written prayers and supplications for healing are often left with photos of the sick persons, or the toys and shoes of afflicted children.

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No matter an individual’s religious beliefs or background, one cannot help but feel compassion and some sort of hope upon seeing those simple offerings and tangible evidence of other pilgrims devout “prayers.”

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There is also an outside grotto of children’s shoes and rosaries — offerings from some of those who have made the journey.

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Some are left as “prayers,” while others are left as expressions of gratitude for healing.

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Though, of course, visitors may take some of the healing dirt, they are asked not to steal any of the rosaries, photos, and other offerings left by pilgrims. (Rosaries can be purchased in the gift shop.)

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The interior of the Chapel itself is beautiful, peaceful, and inspirational.

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Visitors can spend time there, even when Mass is being conducted, as long as they are quiet and respectful of others’ religious beliefs.

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The front altar is comprised of some of the most beautiful artwork I have every seen, and because El Santuario is an historic landmark, it is well preserved.

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Unfortunately, if you’re not already in Chimayó or even New Mexico today, you will probably not be able to make it to El Santuario because of the crowd of pilgrims.

You can visit at any time of the year, however, as we did.

We found it more peaceful and moving when we went at a quieter time of the year, since it allowed us to be more introspective.

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On Hairballs and the Writing Life

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I meant to get a lot of writing done today. I hadn’t necessarily intended to do a blog, especially after I spent the entire morning doing the state taxes for our businesses (mine’s writing, of course), but I wanted to get some work done on that 15th Anniversary Edition of one of my books that I’m revising. Which was supposed to be published in December 2015.

Missed that deadline by being Mommy to a doggie that had to get an emergency tooth extraction, to one of our kitties who was diagnosed with uncontrolled diabetes and who had to be hospitalized (who’s now in remission), to another kittie who has FORLS — a dental disease found in 20% of Rescue cats which causes their teeth to break and expose the root — requiring two emergency tooth extractions, and to another kittie who has Stomatitis, an auto-immune disease in which the cat is allergic to the natural bacteria on its own teeth, causing its tongue, gums, palate, and throat to get inflamed and swollen, leaving the cat in great pain and unable to eat or drink. The only possible cure: complete extraction of all her teeth. But she still occasionally gets lesions on her lips, allergic lesions, which cause her great pain and prevent her from eating. So she has to get NSAIDs every third day, and get blood work every three months to make sure her kidneys are functioning properly.

As if that weren’t enough to keep Mommy from having any writing time over the last few months, the dreaded HAIRBALL Season has begun.

If you have cats, you know what I’m talking about. That horrid time of year when the weather begins to warm and cats’ hair begins to shed. Only it usually ends up in their mouths and digestive tracts from grooming before it gets a chance to be swept up by your vacuum. Last week, it was 50-60F every day. Shed-city.

And before we knew what was happening, Hairball Disaster Zone.

IMG_0576_1024 2Sascha is leading in this race to cover the house with slimy, disgusting, smelly hairballs. She’s hurled 7 of them just in the past few days, 4 of them this morning and this afternoon. None of them has been less than 5 inches long, and each is as wet as a dripping beach towel. I’m thinking of giving up washing the blanket I put on the couch to protect it. Water is a more precious commodity in the desert than a couch, even if it does get stained. Meanwhile, Sascha, who doesn’t think much of the hairball gel, is giving me the Evil Eye and the Arched Back from the top of the highest Cat Tree in the house.

Eli’s become a real pro at this Hairball Game. He can drag out a Hairball, leaving little gnarly puddles of food and… well… imagine it… all around the room in a circle before he finally coughs up one humongous hairball. His must be at least 6 inches long and 3 inches in diameter. It wouldn’t be so bad if he did it all in one place, like Sascha, but he prefers to try to cover as much ground as possible while discharging the hairball and all its accompanying contents. He’s only done 3 today, but when you have to clean the entire carpet in the room each time he hurls one, it makes it seem like so much more.

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Ling seems to be annoyed that the LongHairs are getting all the attention, so she dropped 3 in an hour today. And even though she likes the taste of the hairball gel, she made us chase her for half an hour before letting us get some into her. Then she stalked away and promptly ejected another gnarly mess.

Trixie just gave us the Evil Eye To The Max when we tried to approach her with the tube of hairball gel: I believe she feels she has “done her time” — for life — after being subjected to Blood Glucose tests, which require ear-pricking, and insulin shots for the past 2.5 months. Don’t tell her she might come out of remission: she might run away and join the circus.

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Sophie is totally simpatico with Trixie on the hairball thing, even if she does like the taste of the gel if she’s in the mood. Neither of them were in the mood today. And both of them like to expel their hairballs on the top of things like my computer keyboard, my desk, the book I’m currently reading, my iPad (cover closed, thank god).

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Baxter likes the gel, but not all the commotion. After depositing his slippery hairball gifts on the kitchen chairs today, he jumped up onto the top of the cupboards. I guess he thought it might be fun to see us climbing on chairs and ladders to try to catch him. We eventually surrendered to his High Ground, though I’m sure there’s a pile of hairballs up there by now.

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Shooter Tov — THE Alpha male in this household — not to be outdone by his little brother Baxter, who sometimes gets the privilege of playing Alpha Male if Shooter’s taking a nap, watched Baxter cover the cushions on the kitchen chairs, watched Mommy and Daddy sponge-sponge-sponge-ing them off, and then climbed onto the kitchen table and decorated it with a hairball that would rival any canvas of Jackson Pollock’s.

So, there.

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The only person who has NOT expelled a hairball today is Sadie-Doggie, but she’s been following the cats around as they do them because she loves the hairball gel and insists on getting some each time one of them does. Mommy’s trying to write and Sadie’s begging for more gel. I can just hear her asking, What does a dog have to do to get some yummy-yum-yum hairball gel around here? Cough up a hairball?

And I’ve just been told that Shooter is attempting to deposit a slimy gift in my bag, which I accidentally left sitting on the kitchen chair while I went to clean up Sascha’s latest offering.

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Ahh, the life of a Mommy.

I had to write this blog today to remind myself that I am actually also a writer.

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Spooky, Mysterious, and Symbolic: X-Files 2016, episodes 4 & 5

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Warning: Spoilers
Spooky & Mysterious

images-12After its brief departure into silliness and bad storytelling in episode 3, when Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Mulder (David Duchovny) met the Were-Monster, The X-Files returned to form for episodes 4 — “Home Again” — and 5 — “Babylon.” There was the show’s signature humor in each episode, but handled in a much more sophisticated and subtle way than with the antics of the Were-Monster-Lizard episode. Also, the shows were spooky and mysterious, leading viewers to question many things moral and philosophical as our two fave agents investigated their latest cases.

Home Again

images-11In episode 4, Scully had personal issues to handle as well as professional ones. Her mother had a severe heart-attack and was in a coma. Though Scully went immediately to be with her, her mother kept asking for “Charlie,” who was apparently the youngest sibling of the three — Bill, Dana, and Charlie — and the one who’d had no contact with the rest of the family for years.

images-21Despite working a spooky case, Mulder showed up at the hospital, giving Scully as much moral support as he could. Though he was unable to answer her questions about why her mother wanted Charlie, and not Dana or Bill, or why her mother was wearing a quarter around her neck, with a date whose significance Scully could not guess, Mulder was still there for his partner and the mother of his child.

The theme of mothers and children has been constant through this season, and episode 4 expanded it to a moral and philosophical level by including a case involving a city’s homeless, and the “Trashman” who was killing wealthy people who wanted to get rid of the homeless.

images-26Despite many of the victims’ previous protestations to the contrary, they really wanted to get rid of the homeless: some for financial gain, some just for supposedly moral reasons (“to protect the schoolchildren from the homeless”). But the Trashman didn’t care about his victims’ reasons for wanting to dispose of the human “trash.” He just tore them apart and put them in the trash truck.

the-x-files-season-10-episode-4-review-scullyEventually Scully and Mulder found their way to an artist’s “studio,”

images-23where a homeless man admitted to “creating” the sculpture of the “Band-Aid Man,”

images-24who, with the artist’s energy, thoughts, and will, had become alive — to protect the homeless.

images-18Graffiti appeared depicting the Trashman after each crime, but even though Mulder saw it from the crime scene window, it was gone by the time he got outside.

images-25It also disappeared from the piece of wall that two collectors wanted to sell for profit.

Unknown-4Trashman killed them, too.

He and his artist-creator were trying to protect the homeless, who were like the moral children of those who were more financially comfortable.

Scully and Mulder’s investigation was philosophically wrapped around the moral responsibility of biological parents and children, woven in the story of Scully’s dying mother and her “quest” for Charlie.

images-22Just before Scully’s mother died, she regained consciousness, looked at Mulder, and called him “William” — the name of her husband, son, and grandson — saying that she had a grandson by that name. Scully was devastated, not only by her mother’s death, but by what she saw as a condemnation of her giving away her own son Will.

images-16As Mulder held her, Scully asked why her mother would have said something like that. He didn’t know the answer.

images-19Later, having disposed of her mother’s ashes, Scully told Mulder that she thought her mother had mentioned her grandson because Scully and Mulder had a moral responsibility to find out what had happened to him. Despite the fact that they had given him up “to protect him,” she now felt they had to make sure that he was safe.

images-29It was spooky and sad. Its moral and philosophical overtones were excellently blended into the investigation which drove the main storyline.

And the love and connection between Scully and Mulder is obviously still there.

images-30As Thomas Wolfe wrote, “You can’t go home again,” but you still have a responsibility to those who are your “children.”

Babylon

images-14The storyline of “Babylon” could have been taken right from contemporary headlines over the past ten years: suicide bombers of the Muslim faith kill in the name of Allah.

Only one of them doesn’t die. He’s in a hospital in a coma, with most of his head blown apart.

images-10Though no one even knows his name, they want to question him in an attempt to find other sleeper cells of lone wolf terrorists. And even as the FBI is looking, a man is making bombs and instructing his fellows on exactly when to detonate them.

images-31The show has some humorous moments, especially the agents Miller and Einstein, mirrors of Mulder and Scully, respectively.

images-28Miller, Mulder, and Scully wanted to question the comatose bomber, but Einstein (above, 2nd from R) thought the idea was crazy. With a little wrangling, Scully got hooked up with Miller, explaining that her own experience in a coma let her know that the comatose can hear and can sometimes communicate.

Meanwhile, Mulder got with Einstein and got into a philosophical discussion with her on whether thought and words can form energy, create action, change behavior. She disagreed with his main points, but agreed to go with him to question the comatose bomber. She also agreed to provide Mulder with “magic mushrooms” so that he could “expand his consciousness” in order to communicate in an extraordinary way with the comatose man.

images-8And then the humor kicked in. Mulder, supposedly tripping on ‘shrooms, take a magical mystery tour of Texas, where the bombing had occurred, complete with line-dancing to “Achy-Breaky Heart,”

6081ea21d2a48cec40ace41183db8a6bff14ac79the three Lone Gunmen, who now look like this,

x-files-02instead of like this,

Unknown-6and a mysterious boat ride, possibly led by Charon, the Ferryman for the Dead in Greek mythology, repeatedly calling out “Row” while, in the back of the boat, in an attitude similar to Michelangelo’s Pietà, the comatose bomber was being held by his mother (as he would later be held by her in the hospital).

images-32As Mulder approached the pair “in the boat,” the bomber whispered something.

Later, at the hospital, after the bomber had died, without speaking, Mulder related the words he’d “whispered” in the dream-trip. They were Arabic for Babylon Hotel/Motel, which is where they found the other group preparing for an attack.

images-1It ended with Scully and Mulder walking across the field at his home, holding hands, discussing such philosophical things as Why is the Old Testament God so angry and vengeful? and Is that angry God the same as the angry God of the Koran who orders that infidels be killed? And since Agent Miller, who is fluent in Arabic, first thought Mulder was repeating “Babel,” as in the “Tower of…” Scully and Mulder also discussed that, ending the show with a poignant exploration of humans’ inability to communicate with each other on any meaningful level.

images-3Next week is the finale to this 6-episode mini-series (season 10, they’re calling it) of The X-Files, and this household is going to be devastated. Except for the blip that was episode 3, this show has been stunning, intriguing, captivating, while at the same time being humorous, and exploring some of the most philosophical and moral questions man faces.

Without answering them.

Catch up on Fox if you’ve missed any of the episodes.

Enjoy Mulder’s “Country Madness” while on his ‘shroom trip, if you weren’t watching last night: he imitates Travolta’s character from Pulp Fiction’s dancing contest.

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Waiting for Godot at the USPO

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paa212000046The United States Post Office (USPO) changed its name during the recent Great Recession to the United States Postal Service (USPS), for reasons which were never made clear to the public. But I can tell you that, instead of improving its Service with the name change, it has most seriously declined. To the point of absurdity. Make that Absurdity, as in where nothing in the world makes sense except to the uninvolved observer. And sometimes, not even to that person.

Yesterday, I had to mail two books to the UK, and I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t really know how much of the UK address is necessary for any object to reach its destination there. Furthermore, the USPS, still exactly like the USPO despite the change of name, has never updated its Customs Forms — though they’re intended only for International Mail — to include any other country besides the US and Canada. Still, I had to make a go of it: I had promised to mail some friends the books as gifts.

Books and addresses in hand, I gathered the materials I was told I would need, then went to a counter in the center of the room to fill everything out. There was rather a long line, and I didn’t want any other customers to have to wait behind me while I was trying to fill out the long Customs form. After I filled out both, I took my place in line again and went to the counter.

“Oh, no, you filled out the wrong Customs form,” said the Postal clerk who had given it to me himself. “You filled out the Long Form.”

“There’s more than one Customs Form?”

“You should have filled out the short one,” he said, sliding four of them across the counter to me.

“I have to fill out two for each package?”

“One.”

“You gave me four. I only have two packages.”

“In case you make a mistake,” he said.

I took a deep breath. I let it out slowly and silently. Once again, I stepped to the side to fill in the forms. The Short Customs Form seemed identical to the Long Customs Form. One was simply on a larger piece of paper. Both had duplicates. Both requested the City, State/Province, and Country of Delivery, along with the Postal Code. Dutifully, I filled out the second set of required forms, now printing smaller and squeezing in the Postal Code into an area that couldn’t even hold 5 spaces, let alone 6, 7, or the 9 that’s required in the US’ Zip + 4, which was required for my address. I put the original forms into my bag, wanting the addresses to remain private, put the books in the boxes, and returned to the counter.

“You can’t use those boxes.”

“You gave them to me.”

“Those aren’t for International Mail.”

I pointed to the red printing on the box as I read it aloud: For International Mail Attach Customs Form in Place of Address Sticker.

“Nope. You have to use this,” said the clerk, handing me two cardboard envelopes.

“I’m mailing books.”

“I know.”

“Those are envelopes.”

“They’re cardboard.”

“They’re envelopes.”

“They’re for International Mail. You can step over to that empty counter. Here, these are the Address Forms for International Mail.”

“What about the Customs Forms?”

“Did you fill out the Short or the Long Forms?”

“Both, actually. Which do you need?”

“Where are the packages going?”

“The UK.”

“Short. But you have to fill out these Address Forms to put onto the cardboard envelopes.”

By the time I unpacked the books from the boxes, put them into the envelopes, filled out yet another — even smaller — Address Form for each, I was sure I’d put the books into the wrong envelopes. I checked several times, but am still quite convinced that the books will end up in the incorrect places, and their recipients — who are expecting the books — will wonder why on earth I sent them some other books with cards to someone else. Meanwhile, almost 20 minutes after I first reached the USPO counter, I returned.

“International?” said the clerk, as if I had not been there three times already. “To what country?”

“The UK.”

“Where’s that? New Zealand?”

“No. The UK.”

“T-h-e-U-K,” he said aloud as he typed. “Sorry. No The UK.”

“Did you try entering just UK?”

“U-K. Nope. No UK either.”

Though I had written Great Britain on the Customs Form next to UK — as well as on the Address Label — and he was looking at one or both of them as he typed, I said it aloud. He typed it in, then stared at me most solemnly.

“G-r-e-a-t-B-r-i-t-i-a-n. Nope. Nothing.”

“You spelled it wrong.”

“Are you sure?”

“You could read it off the Customs Form,” I said. “Or off the Address Label.”

He glanced down once more, typing one letter before looking down at the next, again saying each one as he typed it in.

“Nope. No Great Britain. Where are these books going?”

“To the UK.”

“We don’t have a UK.”

“To Great Britain.”

“Don’t have one of those either.”

I stared at him in silence while I thanked Buddha for giving me the opportunity to practice patience with the USPO-USPS clerk who apparently did not have to be either literate or very intelligent to earn his rather substantial salary.

“England,” I finally said. “Do you need me to spell it?”

He thought a moment before he began his laborious, one-finger, dictation-typing.

England and Ireland $24.97 popped up on the small screen facing me on the counter. Ouch, I thought when I saw the price. Still, the books were gifts. And the clerk had finally managed to find the correct country of destination. I attempted to smile.

“You found it.”

“Which one?” he said.

“Which one… what?”

“Which country is it going to: England or Ireland?”

“They’re the same price.”

“But I have to type in which country it’s going to.”

“England,” I said.

He typed in England once again. He told me the price, which was still showing England and Ireland $24.97 in front of me. He grabbed the next package.

“Going to the same place?”

“Not to the same city,” I said, “but to the same country.”

“And that is?”

“England.”

I would like to tell you that he did not type it in again, that he just hit a Repeat button or something similar, that he did not make me listen to him spell out E-n-g-l-a-n-d as he typed in each letter, but I’m afraid that he repeated the performance. While I began to suspect that Godot might arrive before I managed to get the books sent out, the USPO clerk looked at the city I’d written on the second address label.

“Oh, London. That’s London, England?”

Somehow, I didn’t get the feeling that this particular postal clerk had ever heard of London, OH or London, KY or of any other London that might be located in the US. Actually, I was surprised he’d heard of London at all. Somehow, though, after 40 minutes with him, I wasn’t surprised that he’d asked me, once again, if it was in England. I submitted to fate and nodded.

England and Ireland $24.97 appeared a second time.

“Which one?” he said. “England?”

In Absurdist comedies, none of the characters ever laughs. Not in Beckett’s famous Waiting for Godot nor in Stoppard’s hysterical re-telling of Hamlet — told from the perspective of two minor characters in Shakespeare’s play — Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. The audience might laugh, but the characters do not. The major characters in those works know that their lives don’t make sense, that their lives don’t make sense though everyone else’s seems to, that the Universe itself doesn’t make sense — at least, no sense that they can ever grasp — and that, additionally, everyone else seems to understand all the things they themselves can’t figure out, but the major characters do not laugh.

I can assure you, I wasn’t laughing either.

The problem was, neither was the USPO-USPS clerk.

Yet the USPS wonders why it’s bankrupt and has had to close so many of its offices.

I wanted to thank Buddha again for this extended opportunity to practice patience with my fellow man, but I admit, rather ruefully, that I am not yet spiritually enlightened: instead, I was using every ounce of energy in my body not to reach the short distance over the counter, grab the clerk by the hair, and slam his face into the metal scale, gleefully imagining the broken nose that would result. The only thing that stopped me was the vague idea that assaulting an employee of the USPO-USPS might be a federal crime.

“I’ve never had anyone send anything to England,” he said as he apparently searched for the button to total my cost for postage, Customs, and insurance on the two packages. “Will you be sending packages there often?”

“No,” I said, meaning not from this particular branch of the USPO. “No, I will not.”

“Too bad,” he sighed. “Just when I learned how to find England.”

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