For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
— Gospel of Matthew 6:21
There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled.
There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled.
You feel it, don't you?
— Rumi (1207-1273)
The search for God
Is a very intimate enterprise
It is at the core
Of every longing in the human heart.
— Joan Chittister (b. 1936)
"The first thing all human beings hear in the womb is their mother's heartbeat. The metaphor of a journey to the center of the heart offers many insights into the nature of pilgrimage in general and the inward journey of the pilgrim in particular. One pilgrimage site that speaks to the journey to the center of the heart is found in the small village of Chimayo, located in the mountains of northern New Mexico. 'If you are a stranger, if you are weary from the struggles in life, whether you have a handicap, whether you have a broken heart, follow the long mountain road, find a home in Chimayo.'
"For two centuries Native American and Latino/a pilgrims have made the pilgrimage to El Santuario de Chimayo, some from hundreds of miles away, in search of healing and restoration. As the pilgrims come, some in visible pain, some on crutches, and others with photos of loved ones, votive candles, or notes of gratitude, they walk through a part of the shrine called el pocito, or 'the little well,' which contains adobe-colored clay considered to have curative powers. At the shrine, pilgrims scoop samples of the clay (known to some as 'blessed earth') to take home with them. In fact, pilgrims take so many cups of clay with them to cover their heads, hearts, and knees that shrine officials have to replenish the well periodically with replacement clay that has been blessed. Along the walls of the shrine are testimonies to the healing that has occurred in this holy place. The walls are lined with images of the saints, including la Virgen de Guadalupe, patron of the Americas. 'People discover that there is something special here when they come with an open heart and mind,' says Jim Suntum, a priest at the shrine. 'There is a kind of peace that is available here that you can't find anywhere else.'
"Approximately 300,000 pilgrims visit the shrine at Chimayo every year, causing some to call it the 'Lourdes of America.' As the story goes, on Good Friday in 1810 a local friar was outside performing penances when he saw a great light streaming from a hillside near the Santa Cruz River. The friar began to dig on the spot and eventually discovered a crucifix with a black Christ. Three times the village priest attempted to install the crucifix in the town church, but three times it miraculously returned to the sacred space where it was discovered. Then a church was built on the hillside, but by 1816 it needed to be replaced by a larger shrine to accommodate the large numbers of pilgrims who came there. Next door to the Chimayo chapel is another shrine, Santo Nino de Atocha, built in 1856 and dedicated to prayers for sick children, especially infants. Here, too, pilgrims leave testimonies — photos, clothing, toys, personal notes — seeking healing and expressing gratitude for blessings received. According to Jerome Martinez y Alire of the St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe, the tradition of pilgrimage at Chimayo expanded greatly after World War II. Many young men from New Mexico were sent to the Philippines during the war because of their familiarity with the Spanish language, and ultimately, they were among the many troops and civilians forced on the Bataan Death March. Many prayed that if they survived to return home, they would walk from Albuquerque to Chimayo (approximately the one hundred miles of the Bataan Death March) in thanksgiving for their deliverance.
"The Chimayo pilgrimage tradition remains strong today. Many of the pilgrims who travel there are not necessarily of the same religious tradition, and they are often not totally committed to the pilgrimage tradition or necessarily believe in miraculous healing. But they go on pilgrimage because they feel a longing in their hearts, and they are searching for something — perhaps divine love or inner peace, relief from a broken heart, or a more meaningful life — and they gain solace from belonging to a group of pilgrims along the way.
"During the week before Easter each year, faith communities from across the state of New Mexico participate as part of a pilgrimage for peace. As one pilgrim observed, 'I must tell you that I had always thought that pilgrimages were fraught with sacrifice and tribulation but instead it was absolutely one of the most uplifting experiences of my life. Picture, if you can, walking through the New Mexican countryside along narrow winding mountain roads . . . silently praying for peace. And I am sure that if even for one moment only . . . God heard us. . . .' Other pilgrims have been known to take the blessed earth home, hoping the miracles would extend to sacred spaces outside of Chimayo. Religion scholar Stephen Prothero writes of a visit to Chimayo when he was still in graduate school. Prothero, too, took some of the sacred earth home with him and kept it through the years and several moves. His experiences at the shrine taught him about the difference between pilgrimage and tourism, and the importance of the inward journey: 'When, like the priest with the crucifix, I insisted on displacing the soil, on stuffing it away for future use in the privacy of my Cambridge apartment, I confirmed my status as tourist. Local folks, I suspect, know better.'
"Pilgrimage, then, involves not only all five senses, but also the heart. The Talmud says, 'God wants the heart.' It is the heart that holds the body together. In antiquity, conventional wisdom believed that it was the heart that was the center of human intelligence and the seat of the soul. Augustine of Hippo wrote that the heart is a metaphor for our deepest and truest selves, and he frequently uses the image as a way to explain his own journey to God: 'You have made us and directed us to yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.'
" 'When we stop to become aware of the heart, we come to the mystery of life,' writes Mary C. Earle. Another writer on spirituality, Christine Valters Paintner, writes, 'The heart is the place of receptivity, integration, and meaning-making. It is where thinking, feeling, intuition and wisdom come together. In this process we are called to nothing short of transformation.' Painter notes that it is the 'heart chakra' that is responsible for our ability to listen deeply to our inner sound in a way that leads to spiritual awakening. In yogic belief, ultimate reality emanates from this primal vibration within the heart, penetrating all matter and throughout creation. 'This universal sound of the pulse of life and creation is manifested within us as the sound of our own heart beating. For thousands of years, this primal beat has been expressed by the beat of the drum.'
"African American mystic and theologian Howard Thurman once said that 'the longest journey is between the heart and the head.' As an educator he disparaged the modern tendency to separate the heart from the intellect. The heart is a source of nourishment for every cell of the body. In the body the heart is responsive to the needs of the whole: to pain and injury; to passion and beauty; to physical needs and to the external environment. In times of crisis, our hearts send extra support to parts of the body most affected and sometimes beat even harder in anger and in sorrow. It is also the heart that receives into itself depleted blood for replenishment. The heart is always connected and interdependent, always in relationship with other organs, and always part of a system. Ideally, the circulatory system is well organized, but at times the heart has to be adaptive and respond to unexpected events. According to Russian author Boris Vysheslavtsev, 'The heart is the center not only of the consciousness but of the unconscious, not only of the soul but of the spirit, not only of the spirit but of the body, not only of the comprehensible but of the incomprehensible; in one word it is the absolute center.'
"The sacred art of pilgrimage involves both an inward and outward journey. 'We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey,' wrote French philosopher and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The pilgrim strives to hold both the inward and outward journey together, sometimes in tension, but always focused on the search for meaning, for the Divine. 'Pilgrimage concerns the body as much as the mind and spirit; it bridges the concrete reality of physical life and the elusive abstraction of the holy,' writes spiritual author Shirley du Boulay in The Road to Canterbury. What most distinguishes the sacred art of pilgrimage from a tourist trip or hiking expedition, as beneficial as these are, is the characteristic inward journey, a turning of one's heart to the Divine, with the expectation of transformation on every level of being along the way. Benedict of Nursia, the founder of Western monasticism and author of the Benedictine Rule, used to advise his monks and nuns to 'listen with the ear of their heart.' In other words, the pilgrim's first yearning is in the heart, deeply and inwardly, sometimes for years before the outward journey begins.
"Pilgrims go on sacred journeys seeking nourishment and replenishment for every part of themselves. Even in relative solitude a pilgrim is always in relationship — with the self, with the Divine, with the natural environment, and with those they leave behind. Vaclav Havel, the great Czech leader and playwright, was motivated from his heart to do good for his people and the world. 'The salvation of the human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart,' he wrote. The Latin root of the word courage is cor, which refers to the heart, also a symbol of love. In a similar way, to go on a journey as a pilgrim, to overcome the fear of the unknown, takes considerable courage. It is the heart that calls the pilgrim to go on the journey and to have the strength and courage to face what lies ahead. Dag Hammarskjold, secretary general of the United Nations, once wrote in his journal Markings, 'The longest journey is the journey inward. . . . Wrestling with painful realities and injustices, and resisting the urge to be satisfied with the way our life is, or the way the world is, is at the heart of spiritual growth.' "