A Lamp unto Our Path

Wherever you go in New Mexico, you’ll find Spanish place names exalting God and things divine. The country’s oldest capital city, Santa Fe means Holy Faith. The Santa Cruz River is Spanish for Holy Cross River; the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Blood of Christ Mountains.

Photo by Marion Amberg

You’ll also find a litany of villages named for saints, including San Ysidro (Saint Isidore the Farmer), Santa Teresa (Saint Teresa of Avila), Santa Rosa (Saint Rose of Lima), and San Miguel (Saint Michael the Archangel). The town of Belén means Bethlehem.

Perhaps the most intriguing Spanish name of all was bestowed upon the yucca: Lampara de Dios (Lamp of God). When the yucca — New Mexico’s state flower — blooms in late spring and early summer, the white blossoms collectively resemble an old-fashioned lamp. Some say the plant’s sword-shaped leaves represent God’s Word (a two-edged sword), the white flowers his light unto our path.

Copyright © 2021 Marion Amberg

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Many Steps of Faith: The Good Friday Walk to Chimayo

“Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus tells us. And every Lent, tens of thousands of faithful do just that: They pick up their crosses and make the Good Friday pilgrimage on foot to El Santuario de Chimayo, a centuries-old adobe church in Chimayo, New Mexico. Some pilgrims walk from nearby villages. Pilgrims in Albuquerque begin their 100-mile journey on Palm Sunday in order to arrive on Good Friday. Wherever there’s a road — north, south, east, west — people start walking.

Like a giant Communion host, the paschal moon lights up the sky on Holy Thursday night, a lamp unto pilgrims’ feet beginning the thirty-mile journey from Santa Fe. Bundled up in coats and hats, the walkers are a microcosm of the Church in the American Southwest: Indians, Hispanics, and Anglos, all walking together on the road to Calvary. A few pilgrims carry life-sized wooden crosses, a heavy penance as the miles go by — miles filled with heartwarming stories of sacrifice and faith.

“Why are you making this pilgrimage?” a reporter asks an elderly woman, her walking stick covered with photos of family. “I’m praying with my feet, begging God to bring my kids and grandkids back to church,” she replies. “It’s in the journey — not the destination — that God hears us.”

Pilgrims getting a head start on the Good Friday walk. (Photo by author)

Walk. Walk. Walk. A steady stream of Rosaries are prayed in English and Spanish: “Our Father, Who art in heaven … Padre nuestro, que estás en el cielo.” From a distance, the procession of flashlights looks like fireflies. Walk. Walk. Walk. As the hours pass, more Rosaries saturate the crisp air.