Some people undoubtedly walk to place themselves more literally in Christ’s steps. Some probably walk for tradition alone. (Though I’d be surprised if that’s why they keep walking; it’s a lot of work!) I’m sure some people walk for clarity, for contemplation, for prayer. I walked because I’m leaving New Mexico this year, and the holy walk to Chimayó is one of the most New Mexican things I know.
I also walked because my best friend, Damien Flores, wanted to walk, and I wanted to walk with him. His grandma died last summer, and among his many other reasons, he wanted to honor her. We parked on the Nambé reservation, and walked ten miles, up and downhill.
We prayed as we stretched, by his car, that someone would give us a ride back.
From the first steps, this wasn’t like walking. Maybe it was the concentration of, well, concentration, from all other other walkers. Some people had started in Santa Fe that morning, or the night before, traveling 25 miles. Many people started with us. Many more started after us. Even when Damien and I talked about important things—like that I’m leaving in November, and I’ll miss him, and New Mexico, fiercely—talking felt redundant. We were here. We were together. We were walking. His god was with us.
The blisters came around mile six, but they only hurt like distractions. “Spirit over matter,” Damien said, and I forgot them. We’re both used to plowing through pain, and it felt like a righteous pain. Damien climbed the hills like he was built for them, while I, the cycle-commuter, fell behind, sometimes a hundred feet back. Around mile eight, I handed him the backpack with our water and food. He may have been Jesus right then, unburdening me in my climb of need.
It’s not rational. It’s not even physical—which is why no one cares if you drove right up to the church parking lot. It’s the going that matters. The communion and reflection and relating to your god. Damien’s god was kind to me Friday. His god ushered me into a house I walk by every day. I felt invited in to sleep.
The line to enter for mass was predictably hundreds of Catholics long. So we did the natural thing—the thing any five-year-old knows instinctively. We touched the church. We kicked off our shoes and cooled our feet in the stream. We groaned as we made small movements, and ate fruit and nuts.
And lo, as we limped up the hill from the Santuario, a couple men from Nambé offered us a ride in their black truck bed. Here, then, was our answer. And ten miles evaporated, a dream now, a story, safe.
I made many pictures on the road to Chimayó, but my eye for stories is weak. I decided I’m going to concentrate on storytelling—what I’d rather call “storyshowing”—for a while. I’m hardly done with intimate architecture, but this is more important, and it will easily incorporate those skills. Like all physical communion, the holy walk delivers what you need. When my next opportunity comes, I’ll be ready to give it all of me—body, spirit, and the curious between where I make my art.