An American Diary from Mexico – Episode 9

Dancing Down The Aisle
By Cherie Magnus


I would believe only in a God that knows how to dance. ~Friedrich Nietzsche

I dance down the aisle of Saint Paul’s Anglican Church in San Miguel twice a month, carrying my cross. Like most people, I’ve always had a cross to bear, except for that brief perfect time of my marriage. And now I have a literal one. I’m a Crucifer.

The cross I carry is very beautiful, made of stained glass and Tiffany jewels. And I do dance with it, the processional step-pause of a wedding, and always in time to the hymn being sung. I wear a white alb, usually my San Miguel cocktail huaraches and a small ruby and silver cross made by a local jeweler.

It is such a blessing for me to serve in this way. I feel proud and humble and thankful. The Mexican people are accustomed to physically participating in their religion on a daily basis, unlike the Protestant gringo and Northern European. I’ve felt so envious of all the processions and the full-blown, emotional festivals I’ve witnessed here, longing to be a part of them. In my own quiet gringa way I’ve built altars in my apartment, and lately in the business offices of my busy Mexican friends. I’m always in the streets for the processions on feast days, I walked all night the 17 kilometers from Atotonilco at Easter time, and I’ve gone alone late at midnight to the Panteon on Day of the Dead, wishing I could join a family celebration on the grave of a loved one.

What an exquisite and moving tradition to have a special day to honor one’s dead with remembrances and fiestas. It is so healthy for the living to remember their loved ones and to contemplate their own mortality in a personal way. My husband’s grave in France is a plot leased for only twenty more years, my mother is buried in an old graveyard in downtown Los Angeles, my father’s burial place is in the Valley with my grandfather’s, and my grandmother’s ashes were scattered at sea before she allowed me or my children to be notified of her death. No one visits, and certainly no one parties on their graves, bringing their favorite foods and drink and flowers to lure their spirits back for that night, unless it’s a Mexican family’s overflow. But now I’ve learned how to lure their spirits back to me once a year.

Here in Mexico religion is everywhere, and I am thankful I have one too. Maybe I’m not a Catholic, but it doesn’t matter. I understand the sufferings of Jesus, and his mother, Our Lady of Sorrows. I pray to the same God, and the complicated legends and stories that Mexicans grow up with now enrich my faith too. I’m moved to touch the old beloved images the people kiss and adore even though it is not in my culture as a Lutheran, but I am blessed just the same. All the thousands of saints and the Hosts of Heaven and the Orishas of Cuba look after me too, and I’m thankful I at last found out about them.

Last Easter season I made the midnight pilgrimage from Atononilco, a beautiful old church (called the Sistine Chapel of Mexico) in a village 17 km from San Miguel., an annual tradition for over 250 years–carrying a sacred image to San Miguel for the Easter season. About 6,000 people walk along in silence behind El Senor de la Columna in the light of torches, with rockets going off at the head of the procession to announce our arrival. Then at six on Sunday morning, when we entered San Miguel on Independencia, thousands more people lined the decorated streets in welcome, offering the pilgrims hot food and drink. We stopped there to unveil the images, and then continued on to the church of San Juan de Dios, walking through the mint and manzanilla and elaborate designs in colored sawdust covering the cobblestones, our footsteps scattering in an instant the beautiful patterns incorporating Catholic and indigenous designs that took all the previous day and night to make.

My personal cross has been heavy at times, with all the illness, death and loss of the past decade. But I’ve always had help in carrying it, and now to lead the procession to worship in a beautiful little church in Mexico is my blessing and reward.

About this author: With degrees in English, Dance, and Library Science from UCLA, Cherie has published many articles in professional journals and magazines. Her solo travels to Europe and Latin America have inspired several pieces published in Skirt!, PassionFruit, Moxie, JourneyWoman, Dancing USA, GoNomad, Open Spaces, Porthole, The Cusco Weekly, the-vu, and various online magazines. She was the dance critic for the Cerritos News in Orange County, California before moving to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. She is currently at work on a novel situated in France, when she’s not out dancing. Follow her blog at http://tangocherie.blogspot.com/

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