Religion is like sausage and law-making: sometimes it’s better to be in the dark.
I am wandering through Catholicism in Oaxaca with a quizzical expression most of the time. My stupidity gives me a certain innocent experience: I have no idea what’s going on, and so my encounters with the supplicants, the celebrants, the churches, the reliquary, leave me with more questions than answers. But what interesting questions.
Why do the big cathedrals have all these side chapels lining the sides of the big central cathedral area? (I had the same question in Italy.) I never see anyone in them. Is this where you go to have a funeral for your mother when there will only be six of you? And if there is a reliquary in the side chapel, does it have bones from a saint, or is that just a plaster thing without real flesh and blood remains? And why is Jesus, in a side chapel of the magnificent Santo Domingo Cathedral, lying on his side, covered with a red velvet blanket, with his arms over his head tied in restraints, looking, with his hip in a shapely profile, like a come-thither sado-masochistic Jesus?
I love Jesus, personally. I talk to him regularly. I have never imagined him lying on his side under a red velvet blanket. But somehow, this comforts the Catholics of Oaxaca, so who am I to be critical? It is better to marvel at Jesus reclining there, and wonder at what it all means.
We have been wondering about the regular explosions we hear at night, and in the morning too. Like fireworks, but without the rewarding flash of light and color shooting skyward. Our collectivo driver who delivered us to Monte Alban explained it all for us. The BANG is a loud firework with no flash. It’s meant to let people know that something special is happening somewhere and you better get yourself there. So on Tuesday, it was the celebration for a special virgin (this happened to be our daughter Annie’s birthday, and there is no connection) who performed healing miracles. As it happens, the church celebrating her is on the old road to Monte Alban, and there were BANGS going off everywhere, and a fiesta, and of course, food. There is always food.
We are sure to get more BANGS in the weeks ahead. December 12 is the birthday of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, who is the biggest most bad-assed Mary in all of Mexico. Today, as we wandered through the Centro, BANG, BANG, very near by, and sure enough around the next corner was a wonderful parade of musicians and dancers and giant paper mache figures (a huge 20-foot high chef? Maybe that was the only one they could rent) coming our way, carrying remembrances of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe.
BANG BANG! Pay attention! Something amazing is just around the corner from you. Say your prayers. Love your saints. Buy a frosty cajate nieve from a sidewalk vendor and let the cold caramel flow like baptismal water down your throat. God is good.