Holy! Holy! Holy! Everything is Holy! (traditional form)
Down to the chorus that sang like Gal Costa, down the hills of resorts left only to whisper by lamplight, down with the sun to the sea sank a haze of dark purple settling on fourteen wooden crosses placed along the beach; a string-tied path of paper bags, a wind of salt, a growing darkness, a growing crowd. On the sea wall waited a line of down jackets watching the wayfarers gather around the first cross, cups and cut bottles in hand and eager to protect flames from the sea wind, an amalgam of children and grandparents and new loves and old ones buried in parkas, carried in the arms of others, and waiting, silently hoping the sun would set and the ceremony begin.
We are condemned to death
Most churches in Chile carry out the traditional semana santa procession; 14 stations, not 14 passages from the bible, 14 moments of reflection on the faith present and the faith absent in our community, our world, and our hearts. In Reñaca ––the place that enjoys a summer of company promotions, endless alcohol consumption, and a beach packed with towels so carefully placed they are guarded more than city parking–– people gathered; one could not say where the others are from, nor where their faith nor obligation would take them next, but for one night they were all willing to share a dark beach.
A burden carried
As the sun takes its remaining light from Chile the task of illumination is ceded to the crowd; candles flare up, tiki torches blaze, the first story of Jesus’ end is told by an individual no one can see. People whisper of the new Pope, the era of South America, the world finally looking at what they have on their shoulders ––several kilograms of parka, two extra layers, a child, a promise.
We all fall once
I was not raised catholic, and in a somewhat rare fashion for American pseudo-catholics I was not baptized, but that does not make these ceremonies alienating; there is a certain light in the eyes of people who feel it is their obligation to join with strangers on a beach one fall night. If anything they are happy to learn even heathens are celebrating, and that if not the procession, maybe the camaraderie will win me over.
The anonymous speakers remind us constantly of our mothers, the women to whom we should be grateful, the women who provide life on earth, the women who fix that life food and dress it and teach it to be good life, the women who have not changed an inherent mother-ness bestowed by a supernatural “he”. I get confused at the message, should my homage be directed at the femininity I am supposed to take for granted or the masculinity that evidently created it?
Carrying the cross
The chorus begins again at the close of each biblical passage with songs that don’t so much as guide the crowd but let them know something is still out there. Paper bags filled with sand light the path, and while we all know Jesus never walked this beach in Reñaca many feel content knowing they are undertaking a small pilgrimage in his memory.
Someone near me quietly remarks, “no one need hide their face, we are all family”. But what is less disingenuous about this idea than that of wearing a mask? What are they hiding from themselves with the axiom, “we are all good catholic neighbors”?
Can I find the ceremony beautiful and still hear the word tyranny ring in the echos of someone giving voice to religion? If I were writing a memoir of my life I like to think that my spirituality would come in the acknowledgements; chapter titles give too much control to ideology, an epigraph is too obvious, and footnotes are insidious.
The Women of Jerusalem
Absent from the biblical passages is an earnest acknowledgement of the equality of women; reverence is sometimes oppression’s tricky cousin, a valuation that permits coordination elsewhere. The pastor at the end makes no mention of women, is their place in the church the pages of the bible? reproductive rights, opportunity, and a more existential discussion on identity may not be the typical Easter dinner discussions but how long can the church continue to tell us of its ancient female heroes when it strives to stop the fostering of modern ones?
Clothes are taken away
As the crowd moves down the stations of the beach I have the urge to jump in the water; it is not the holy spirit rising in me, compelling me to undergo the baptism I never had, it’s just the calm feeling that comes from being in a body of water. I am the only one not in a heavy coat, the only one with shorts and no shoes, the only one constantly receiving looks for his attire. Being comfortable with this weather is an odd thing for many Chileans to confront, a day at the beach swimming usually ends in several people asking me how I can stand the cold or how I am crazy enough to even dip my feet. Some things are a matter of conditioning.
Crucifixion, death, and entombment
The fourteenth cross is draped in white, lit from the base, and visible from the beginning; we all knew it was our final destination and yet most all looked at it was awe upon arrival. There are certain things we need to affix our surprise to in order for the whole thing to work ––not Catholicism, not the cross, not the beach parade, just a general it. On the pastor’s word the crowd raises its hands in the air, a series of flames thrust upward revealing a collective fire larger than any could observe from the thick of the crowd. It is warm on the beach in Reñaca, if there is one thing I don’t understand, it’s the coats.