Friday, September 01, 2017

jesus lends a hand -- or two

The moment I heard them, I knew I was late.

I was sitting at my computer answering some correspondence when I was interrupted by Whoosh -- Pow! Whoosh - Pow!

There is no mistaking that combination. Cohetes. Those cannon-throated sky rockets that accompany each of our local Catholic processions.

And I knew exactly what was happening. This time.

Earlier in the day, I had encountered an odd crucifix form on my walk home. I had seen it before in the downtown church in Barra -- the one dedicated to San Antonio de Padua that we discussed recently in on the road to san antonio.

Obviously, the figure is not San Antonio. It is a depiction of the Messiah. But the image is unique because of the position of the arms. Rather than being nailed to the cross, they hang limp at Jesus' sides.

There is a story there. Actually, there are several versions of the story. Each one having a certain patina that has accrued over years of telling. After all, successful hagiography morphs to meet the needs of any given time.

But I will stick with what I believe are the basics. And that tale goes like this.

The year was 1971. 1 September to be exact. Exactly forty-six years from today.

A hurricane by the name of Lily was headed straight for Barra de Navidad. It was obvious the storm would demolish a good portion of the town if it maintained its path.

So, the residents of Barra did what came natural to people of faith. They gathered in the church and prayed for deliverance from the storm. The sailors on Jonah's ship could not have prayed more fervently.

And then it happened. A miracle. A standard crucifix of Jesus on the cross stood above the altar. For no apparent reason, each of his arms fell to his sides. And the storm abated. Just like Mark 4:39. "
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, 'Quiet! Be still!' Then the wind died down and it was completely calm."

Ever since, the congregants celebrate Jesus of the Cyclone on this day -- as a day of deliverance and remembrance.

As Ben Franklin once said in recounting one of his tales, "Now, I do not know how scientific that tale is ... ." But it is an article of faith in these parts.

When I saw the litter with the crucifix sitting on my street in front of a dress shop, I stopped to ask when the procession would take place. I know the owner. She participates in most of the local processions.

Initially, she said seven. Then, she added 6:45 SHARP. Quite precise.

When I heard the cohetes streaking through the sky, I glanced at the clock. I was as late as Alice's white rabbit. I grabbed my camera and added about a thousand very healthy paces to my daily score.

Of course, when I arrived, I was not late at all. I had forgotten which country I was in. Most of the dance company members were just arriving at 7:15.

The procession was exactly as Mexican processions have probably been for decades -- if not centuries.

A young girl led off with a cross. (If you can keep Woody Allen's similar routine in Bananas at arm's length, you are a better person than I.)

Then came the dance company in their faux Indian outfits. With their distinctive drum beat.

Followed by the litter with the Jesus of the fallen arms.

As the procession made its way through town, the weight of the litter proved to be too much for the four original carriers. But other men volunteered to assist. At the end, there were a total of seven. Simon of Cyrene came to mind -- except for the volunteering part.

A singer-guitarist sat in the bed of a white pickup that also served as the sound system for the priest.

The singer led the following faithful in upbeat choruses that had enough hand waving to please a Pentacostalist's heart. Well, this Pentacostalist.

Then another pickup. This one with the de rigeur religious tableaux.

And no procession would be complete without the brassy town band.

I am not certain how the dancers could concentrate on their drums and the faithful on their choruses and the band on their music when all three were playing at different beats and over the top of one another. I suppose in the same way that an orchestra is able to keep different tempos running simultaneously in a Philip Glass piece.

The whole kit and kaboodle ended up at the church where the litter was put in its rightful place and the band and dancers offered their talents at the altar to the slack-armed crucifix on the wall in the same sense of reverence as Anatole France's juggler in "Our Lady's Juggler" -- a short story I highly recommend for those who believe offerings are constrained by convention.

When I told a northern friend that I was going to write about this local legend, she asked: "But you don't really believe it is true, do you?"

I thought for a moment, and responded: "I do not know if it is factual, but I have no doubt it is true."

Facts can sometimes cloud our vision of the truths that surround us. My neighbors are celebrating an event where they placed their fate in the hands of God. And that is where it still is. If not, there would have been no procession.

And I would not have been just in time to tell you this tale.

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