Our neighbors' unencumbered religious faith

Theologians, philosophers and mystics have spent centuries plumbing the mysteries of religious texts and what God may have meant when, from up above, He commanded, spoke or thundered to someone, down here below.

Strike up the band.

And every year I’m reminded that all that intellectual and spiritual firepower may have been wasted on the people in the small rural villages that surround our ranch. They just believe, and on certain dates and according to certain rituals, they act on their undiluted faith, no questions asked or complicated exegeses required. Sometimes I envy that kind of simple religious conviction.

The faith of our mothers.

Last Saturday, as they have done every year since we’ve lived at the ranch, a handful of people from La Biznaga, a village visible from our bedroom, gathered on the road carrying a shoulder-borne shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe or some other religious figure, and launched a daylong, nine- or ten-mile procession in honor St. Michael the Archangel to the main church in the center of San Miguel.

This feast is a trifecta that commemorates the end of Fiestas Patrias, the month-long Mexican independence celebrations, the feast day of San Miguel’s patron saint, and perhaps the end of summer too.

Rocket man. 

The weather was clammy, gray and windy this year, the same as other times I’ve witnessed this procession. Led by three or four take-charge matrons, it stepped off punctually at eight o’clock, to the sounds of prayers, hymns and the inevitable fireworks.

As it headed to town, people from the neighboring towns of Santa Juana, Sosnabar and Providencia, plus other faithful that seemed to come out of the bushes by the side of the road, joined the procession.

Some were on horseback and carried banners identifying their hometowns, and carried additional shrines covered with flowers. A older and disheveled fellow, who looked as if he had started the celebration the day before, clutched a handful of fireworks and walked along setting them off periodically to announce the approaching procession.

A mile into the procession, a brass band, its members dressed in bright red uniforms, appeared from nowhere and took the lead. Now  we had a real procession that would build up to hundreds of people when it reached San Miguel.

Mini cowboy

The band broke out in tunes with no discernible melodies, as do most bands in public celebrations around here. It wasn’t really music but a festive cacophony of bangs, snorts and toots played by guys who didn’t seem to care what fellow band members were playing.

One of several shrines or altars. 

Some in the procession may have been imploring God to help with some personal or family problem, as they repeated hymns and prayers intoned by a woman carrying a portable megaphone. Others just walked silently.

Naturally, Félix and his wife Ysela were in the procession and I asked him what he was praying for. “Nothing in particular, just protection, that we don’t have an earthquake like they had in Mexico City,” he said.

His faith is anything but complicated. His kids are baptized, will receive First Communion, be confirmed into the Catholic Church and eventually will get married by a priest, perhaps accompanied by one or two offspring born before the formality of church wedding.

Church attendance beyond that will be sporadic, when someone dies, someone else gets married or  baptized, and on special holidays.

Our man Félix. 

I asked Félix once what went on at an Palm Sunday celebration in the nearby town of Jalpa, and he said there were fireworks, music and a “guy dressed like God riding a donkey.”

And that’s close enough.

There is no point in explaining to Félix that the earthquake in Mexico City was not of God’s design or that the guy on the donkey represented Jesus, supposedly the Son of God, when He entered Jerusalem.

Félix’s faith doesn’t require such details yet it carries him as he comes to work, raises a family and remains a solidly decent guy who gets drunk once in awhile and then promises never to do it again.

His faith can be tested, though. He told me that last year he and a friend were ambling along in the procession, when the two old ladies carrying one of the mobile shrines unceremoniously handed it to them to carry the remaining five or six miles. Félix said his legs almost gave out toward the end.

I noticed this year he and his wife stayed a safe distance from any of the shrines and kept a low profile.

Now we’re rolling. 


For reasons I don’t understand, I’m getting a lot of bogus comments—spam—probably from a robot program. 

I welcome comments from one and all readers as long as they remain cordial, but from now on I also must ask that all comments include a name, even if it’s a made-up name, of the person submitting the comment, rather than “Anonymous” which I’m going to have to to delete. 



5 thoughts on “Our neighbors' unencumbered religious faith

  1. I'm not privy to God's thinking, but I refuse to believe She would cause innocent people to die in an earthquake or get killed by crazy shooters. What kind of God would do that? I'd rather blame human beings. What do you all think?


  2. Anonymous

    Ah, theodicy (“Why is there evil in the world?”; “Why do bad things happen to good people?”)The only even semi-reasonable answer, to me at least, is in the Book of Job—namely, that after all is said and done, we mere mortals cannot understand God or the rationale behind His/Her/Its actions. Not edifying, but the answer is that there is no answer that we can comprehend! The alternatives are even less acceptable: that God is “crying along with us” (our Free Will has rendered God impotent to help, or that God could help but chooses not to). Is that a Deity that you would want to worship?! Or, that God is sometimes a sadistic bastard, which is worse. Yup, I’ll go with the “we can’t understand “ option, personally.


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