Franciscan Spirit Blog

Seven Days with the Psalms: Crosses on the Highway

I’ve never forgotten the beauty of the bold white crosses on the highway.

One of the most life-altering displays of faith I’ve ever beheld occurred on US-84-285 outside Santa Fe, New Mexico, on Good Friday twenty years ago on a family vacation. It set in motion my awareness of seekers as I counted hundreds, maybe thousands, of Catholics from Indian, White, and Hispanic cultures walking north together, praying and reflecting, over twenty-six miles to El Santuario de Chimayo, a sacred church with healing dirt.

Some started this annual pilgrimage from closer towns, but the striking image was the procession of halos of black hair and the white wooden crosses tilted on their backs. Regular people carrying crosses that looked made of pieces of painted snow fence. In the endless expanse of cerulean sky, I was transformed by their outward declaration of their following of Christ.

Later, I found the lines of Psalm 119:45, “For all time and forever, I will walk freely in an open space, because I cherish your precepts.”

I don’t walk that freely. I think of myself as careful about revealing my beliefs, though it’s no secret I value my relationship to God. I wear a silver Celtic cross on a chain around my neck that I never remove. A tattoo of a Renaissance image of Mary cradling infant Jesus covers my upper left arm. But this isn’t so much a declaration of faith as it is evidence I am afraid of people; the truth is, I put symbols on myself because I refuse to go into the world unprotected and unadorned.

I’m endlessly drawn to those who declare their love of God in front of others. It takes mettle. When I first joined a Franciscan  Church, I was (and still am) enthralled with the coarse brown robes and rope belts the friars and priests wear to honor St. Francis of Assisi, the Italian medieval saint who lived almost a thousand years ago. For that matter, I also love watching the communion line, though of course, that’s less of a risk, being in a church, not wandering out in the world. I love the slow shuffle toward the chalice, the way some don’t bother to fold their hands in prayer but just awkwardly let their long arms dangle and hang. I love how everyone receives their share, blessing themselves as the wafers melt in their mouths. It almost seems unreal to me, at times, that so many believe. It never fails to touch me when, at the end of Mass, the priest kisses the altar.

I carry what I believe inside me, not on my back. When I’m walking into my school, one arm loaded with books and lunch swinging from my other hand, you can’t see the prayers swirling in my head as I buzz myself through the door: I am surrounded by pure holy light.

Writing this, now, I know these beliefs are moving from the internal. I am letting the words be seen, like fallen oak leaves under ice in winter, quiet and anonymous. Writing about faith is like melting ice, softening the barrier, and when that happens, the water is fresh and birds appear to drink and wash and swim. I love spring. Can I be more like spring in the world? Can I speak not just about love, but what lives within love?

Wisdom from the Psalms

Psalm 119 falls in the exact center of the Bible, and is one of the most intriguing psalms.

“For all time and forever, I will walk freely in an open space, because I cherish your precepts” (45)

Reflecting on your life, who or what helps you to keep following a faithful path? What particular congregation, epiphany, devotion, sacrament, practice, or teacher would you say has been “a lamp for my feet” (105)?

What Was Lost | Franciscan Media

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