Epiphany in Crestone

Last week Ganga Das and I drove up to Cre­stone, Col­orado, to cel­e­brate Epiphany with our Carmelite friends, Fr. Dave and Tessa, at their remote her­mitage in the San Luis val­ley. Check out their web­site for a glimpse of the impor­tant work they’re doing with the Desert Foun­da­tion in an effort to breathe con­tem­pla­tive wis­dom into the strife-ridden rela­tion­ship between the Chil­dren of Abra­ham: http://www.desertfound.org/ Epiphany is the cel­e­bra­tion of the star­tling incar­na­tion of divin­ity into human­ity, rep­re­sented by the vis­i­ta­tion of three wise men from the east—symbolic of all the ancient wis­dom cul­tures of the world—to the new­born Christ child. I like to imag­ine that the baby Jesus stands for all of us, called to infuse every aspect of our lives with the sacred and embrace all of cre­ation as unut­ter­ably holy. But then I also believe that when Christ says in the Gospel of John that he is “the way, the truth and the light” he means that we are also, and that when he says “no one shall come to the Father except through me” he means no one comes home to God except through love. I can’t help but see all true mys­ti­cal teach­ings as uni­ver­sal, and uni­ver­sally lib­er­at­ing. In the after­word of my new book, GOD OF LOVE (to be released in April), I chal­lenge my read­ers to stretch beyond their spir­i­tual com­fort zones and check out a reli­gious tra­di­tion dif­fer­ent from their own. I encour­age them to expe­ri­ence a rit­ual from another faith, open their hearts, and let in the love in which the prac­tice is rooted. So cel­e­brat­ing Epiphany with our Catholic friends was another oppor­tu­nity for me to put my money where my mouth is. Ganga Das and I had just been through a fam­ily cri­sis, and we were reel­ing a bit as we drove the 150 miles from our home in north­ern New Mex­ico, and made our way up the moun­tain and crossed San Isabel Creek to join our her­mit friends in the woods of south­ern Col­orado. As usual, Fr. Dave and Tessa met us with all the exu­ber­ant hos­pi­tal­ity with which Father Abra­ham greeted the angels dis­guised as trav­el­ers out­side his tent in the Sinai Desert nearly 3,000 years ago. Tessa and Fr. Dave escorted us to Tessa’s Hogan where we would be stay­ing, and then left us alone to unpack. A small herd of mule deer wan­dered into the meadow where the Hogan is nes­tled and watched us through the vast west-facing win­dows. After we had set­tled in and the sun began to set in a glo­ri­ous explo­sion of color, the two monks returned laden with trays and gob­lets over­flow­ing with juniper boughs, can­dles, choco­late coins, and aro­matic spices. They set up an altar beside the crack­ling piñon fire, handed us each a copy of a beau­ti­ful Epiphany liturgy they had crafted weav­ing poetry and song, and led us in a rit­ual cel­e­brat­ing the mys­tery of the sacred poured into the ordi­nary. After­wards, Fr. Dave wrote the names of the three kings in Ara­bic with blue chalk over the lin­tel of Tessa’s door­way, where it would remain until next Epiphany. Then we packed it all up and ambled back through the woods to Tessa’s casita, where Fr. Dave cel­e­brated Mass for us. I was given the great honor of read­ing the Hebrew Scrip­ture (in Eng­lish) from the Prophet Isa­iah. When Fr. Dave lifted the chal­ice, embed­ded with opals from Tessa’s late mother’s col­lec­tion and the fire in the stones blazed in the can­dle light, my eyes filled with tears and I gave thanks for what­ever it is in my life that has allowed me to so deeply drink from the most sacred wells of many spir­i­tual tra­di­tions. After Mass, Tessa served us French Onion Soup and crusty bread with but­ter, and we popped open a bot­tle of cham­pagne to cel­e­brate all that we have col­lec­tively endured over the past year, and the promise of peace to come. Next, we made our way back to Fr. Dave’s her­mitage for din­ner. Tessa had spread lay­ers of brightly col­ored cloth on the floor, cov­ered with sparkling stars, more golden choco­late coins, cin­na­mon sticks and can­dles, and then began to serve us a Mid­dle East­ern feast: two kinds of hum­mus, pita bread, a half-dozen vari­eties of olives, home-canned arti­choke hearts, plat­ters of raw veg­gies arrayed like star-bursts. And good red wine. For dessert we had dried apri­cots and dates, and slabs of dark choco­late. Fr. Dave and Tessa are all about the glory of the incar­na­tion and prais­ing the place where form and the form­less­ness meet. All night the full moon poured itself across the latilla ceil­ing and log walls of the Hogan, and Ganga Das and I hardly slept. In the morn­ing, I felt infused with a still­ness I had not expe­ri­enced in a long time. After break­fast (yes, more gor­geous food—scrambled eggs with leeks and pep­pers, and a Christ­mas bread baked by a friend of the monks—“We’re feed­ers,” Tessa shrugged), we four went walk­ing up a for­est trail in the per­fect blue-sky deep-winter day. Then, with­out any other means to thank our friends for the gift of the holy they shared with us, we took pic­tures of Tessa in the new hard hat Fr. Dave gave her for Christ­mas, as she held up a log and he bran­dished the chain saw they use to put in their long win­ter sup­ply of fire­wood (they live entirely off the grid). We drove home to Taos, the drained cup of our souls replenished.

16 comments

  1. tara lupo says:

    Ahhh, such restora­tive love and nour­ish­ment from your beloved com­mu­nity. Tessa and Fr. Dave were just the angels you needed. Blessed be!

  2. Rachel Schneiderma says:

    I felt that restora­tion, too, Mirabai, as if my weary feet were washed clean at the oasis. You share your heart and soul so vividly, allow­ing the love and joy in the rit­ual you had with your dear friends — fel­low stew­ards of the desert and its teach­ings — to touch me as if I were there. Thank you once again for your open­ness, your desire to share your rev­e­la­tions, exal­ta­tion, pro­found sad­ness and glo­ri­ous healing.Through you, as well, I’m learn­ing about The Desert Foun­da­tion. Bless you, Ganga Das, Tessa and Fr. Dave, your whole cir­cle of friends and fam­ily of whom I feel a part, for they bless us all through your writing.

    Love and peace to you on this birth­day cel­e­bra­tion and remem­brance of Dr. Mar­tin Luther King.

  3. Donna Erickson Couch says:

    Hello Mirabai,
    Pegge Erken­eff (Ber­necker) for­warded me the lumi­nous pic­tures of Fr. Dave and Tessa that you took on your visit to Cre­stone. It seems as though we have many mutual friends and inter­ests. Tessa and I just shared a women’s retreat in Cal­i­for­nia and cel­e­brated many years of know­ing one another. I can­not tell you how much I enjoyed read­ing your post about the Epiphany cel­e­bra­tion. Ah! Such won­der­ful, sim­ple, mag­nif­i­cent joy! My delight in the pho­tos and think­ing of all of you together for Epiphany con­tibues to feed me. Thank you, thank you. You have all touched my soul in ways I can­not express in words. My hope is that some­day we will all meet and break bread together. Blessed and grateful…Donna Erick­son Couch

  4. Pegge says:

    Ahhh Mirabai, with your evoca­tive story-telling, I was there, am there. A thank you fills my heart and soul this night. Deep appre­ci­a­tion, Pegge
    And the opals in that chalice–I recall the flash of fire, more than once, it rings true in mem­ory, through time.

    • mirabaistarr says:

      Oh Pegge, how won­der­ful that you know exactly who and what I am speak­ing about here! That flash­ing fire as the chal­ice is lifted! Those dear monks with their deep quiet and their wild love of life! Warm hugs to you, sis­ter of my soul.

  5. Catherine Naylor says:

    Like so many on this list, I too was there. What a crowd we were. When we reached the state of sati­ety, we slept. Then woke back in our own home, filled with love with­out mea­sure. Gra­cias for the trip to Cre­stone, Mirabai.

    Cather­ine Naylor

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