Three hundred feet up in the air off the desert floor in the Hopi Territory of Arizona is a flat mesa; one of three mesas strung along the desert like three mystical stages. The wind whips over these ancient villages pitched precariously on these flat mountain tops and populated by less than 100 people. Black birds swoop and play in the air off the edge of the mesa as if taunting the watcher to jump and play with them. And by the road to the floor below, on the way out of the mesa village is this stone monument. Part of the Hopi religious tradition of observance, men and women place feathers in among the rocks of these monuments much the way we light candles in some churches as a memorial to a prayer or someplace flowers at the site of a car crash. The light flickers in a church to stand as a witness to the prayer said and the hope longed for. The flowers stand as a memorial to a life lived. And the feather moves in the wind as a memorial to the Hopi prayer to a god which lives far away on San Francisco Mountain but which visits in Spring. The Hopi believe their God(s) hear their prayers and we believe ours does too.
I expect the crusaders were young. I also expect the inquisitors were young too. It takes a lot of energy to hate and even more to hate on behalf of God.
As I get older I have less energy. I am less able to filter what I say and what seems true to me. As I age I find that lighting candles and placing feathers in stones is easier than debating in the counsels of the church – and more satisfying. When I was younger I was too sure of too much. Now I find that there is real and abiding peace in not being so sure of the small stuff. When we are looking at people to be sure they are doing the right thing and acting the right way there is not much energy left over to love them or, for that matter, even to see them.
What if Lent were less about right confession or right observance or right repentance or right worship and more about closing our eyes, stepping forward to each other and lightly touching each other’s cheeks in a gesture of loving acceptance, gentle kindness and intentional connection? I wonder if, on the way to Golgotha, someone lit their candle by stepping forward, catching Jesus’ eye and touching his face with a reassuring smile. What if we could do that on our journeys of pilgrimage through this life, commingled as it is with life and death, torture and resurrection, candles and feathers, cathedrals and mesas?