February/March 2008 Volume 49Welcome to this bi-monthly edition of our newsletter! You will find these columns contained in our February/March issue:
Carla Woody, Founder
Metaphors for Life
Where the Veil Thins
by Carla Woody
Twelve years ago, I went to the Maya highlands in the Chiapas region of Mexico and was fascinated by the cathedral in San Juan Chamula, even writing about it in my first book.
“…I had the privilege of observing the Tzotzil Mayans worshipping in the Catholic church on the main square. There were no pews. Instead, people were sitting alone or in small groups on the floor of the cathedral with hundreds of candles lit in front of them, standing in their own wax. The candles ranged from birthday candle size to foot long tapers, depending on the nature of the prayer. When candles burned down, a boy would come to scrape the candle wax from the floor to ready the space for the next person. The walls were lined with painted statues of saints contained in glass cases. A shaman was chanting for the small child held by the young mother sitting on the floor next to her in front of a shrine. Although carrying out rituals in the Catholic church, the Mayans, simply genuine in their devotion were making offerings in the form of candles, incense and Coca-Cola…”*
From where I am now I recognize that what I sought to relay then in no way does justice to the space, people, and what lives there. I even say that what I wrote was from observation, which presupposes distance. Almost, but not quite a report, even though intended otherwise. Coming from a different place, after all this time, has allowed me chances of immersion, usually delivered spontaneously in the moments between thought or movement. If I’m truly blessed, they’re shared experiences.
Last year, after our Maya Mysteries group had gone home, I stayed in Chiapas for a while. My good friends from Australia, Paul and Phoebe, also remained, traveling with me to the highlands. Entering the cathedral in San Juan Chamula this time, I felt an overwhelming sense of the sacred dwelling there. The saints in their glass boxes looking directly out to the people. Pine boughs and multitudes of candles everywhere, providing the only light, descending in tiers from the front altar, spilling out onto the floor nearly to the front entrance. The sound of people praying, seeking intercession, chanting from their place on the floor, or talking directly to a saint, filled the air without interruption. A bruja passed a live chicken through the energy field of her patient to take away the negativity.
And suddenly, everything in my visual field began to shift, taking on a surreal quality. The fire from all the candles elongated, until I merely saw shimmering light, while the drone of voices deepened to something else, moving into the foreground from the background, giving me the very strong hint that this place is a portal.
That memory so lived within me throughout last year, that when Alonso and I brought this year’s Maya Mysteries group there just a couple of weeks ago I wondered what would unfold.**
We came during festival season and there was a lot of activity outside, aside from the marketplace. Fireworks going off to dispel negative energy while a processional of village officials prepared to enter the church. Before they did, our group slipped inside. And I have to admit I was disappointed to see that the main floor was mostly cleared of candles and people except along the sidelines, to make way for the processional.
We stood for a while taking in the atmosphere and Alonso began quietly relaying stories as way toward explanation of culture and tradition, just one of his gifts that helps create connection.
After a while, Julianna, a close friend as well as group member, and I broke away and went to stand close to a small line of people waiting patiently near a shrine with a clothed figure laying prone inside a glass casket. A very old man, greatly stooped, with a hand on the glass spoke steadily, but quietly to the saint inside. Similar sounds of prayer ensued around us. Candles were lit, albeit in much fewer numbers than I’ve seen before. And suddenly my heart warmed, opened and could only have been glowing if anyone cared to notice. Julianna and I looked at each other then. There were tears in her eyes, not of sadness, but depth of joy.
We stood there sharing the moment until I went back to the group, who were still talking with hushed voices, asking questions, and invited them to find their place, with no words. There was something there for them.
Alonso, passing by Julianna, noticed her emotion and she remarked to him that spirit is very fluid in the space we’re in. He responded, “In this place, the membrane that separates people from the spirit world disappears. Here we are able to feel the presence and the effect of how spirit moves through us.”
In this syncretistic form of Catholic church there’s no need of priests or even few accoutrements of ritual, although they are there. What’s resident is just that. Resident.
Stop. Rest the mind. Be still and silent in places where the veil thins and find what waits patiently for you, devoid of words.
*Excerpted from Calling Our Spirits Home: Gateways to Full Consciousness by Carla Woody, 2000.
**2009 offerings for Spiritual Travel to Mexico: Entering the Maya Mysteries are now in the planning process.
© 2008 Carla Woody. All rights reserved.Carla Woody is the author of the book Standing Stark: The Willingness to Engage and Calling Our Spirits Home: Gateways to Full Consciousness and founder of Kenosis, an organization supporting human potential and global consciousness. Carla has long been leading people toward mind/body/spirit wholeness using integrative healing methods blended with world spiritual traditions. She may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone (928) 778-1058.