Letter from St Mark's House

St Mark's House

October/November 2017

Dear friends

We turned aside from the highway to Santa Fe to visit the little village of Chimayó, while holidaying in New Mexico last month. It is famous for the vibrant weaving of the Ortega family, who have maintained their craft tradition in the Spanish Colonial style for eight generations. It is also famous for its heirloom chili! Most of all, however, it is famous for the Santuario where 300,000 pilgrims are drawn each year to ‘el pocito’, the small pit of ‘holy dirt’ many people claim possesses remarkable healing powers when applied to the body. It is known as the ‘Lourdes of the Southwest’, although with dirt not water. Putting aside the credulous superstition or critical suspicion which surround such claims, the concept of ‘holy dirt’ gives pause for thought. It directly challenges our compartmentalisation of the world, and life, into sacred and secular. ‘Holy’ and ‘dirt’ would appear to be polar opposites.

The native tribes have, from time immemorial, considered their land sacred. The Jews, likewise, considered their promised land as a gift from God: ‘the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it,’ declares the psalmist (Psalm 24). Recognizing that a holy God created the world should move us to realize that it, too, is intended for God’s glory. It should make a difference to the way we observe and relate to nature. Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, ‘Earth’s crammed with heaven; and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees, takes off his shoes.’ All too often in the press of life we do not stop to wonder at what has been called the ‘strange glory of ordinary things’.

‘I have seen the golden summer light / Flicker in the trees
In the orchard where the long grass / Sways in the breeze.’

sings Fernando Ortega in ‘Chimayo’, as he reflects on the familiar beauty of his family home. We can share his appreciation of the glory of nature’s colours. 
‘But lately I have seen you fading 
As the world is changing / As the seasons fly.’

Those changes are not just seasonal but are, in part at least, due to our failure to affirm that the earth belongs to God who has entrusted it to us to take better care of it. ‘Holy dirt’ is an encouragement to see the ‘strange glory of ordinary things’; to see that the ‘secular’ can be infused with the ‘sacred’, to see that everything we do, on Sunday and on every day, from work, relationships and leisure, to eating and drinking, is to be done for the glory of God.

May God help us all to see that we are together

standing on ‘holy dirt’


Nick and Harriet