The hot smell of melty wax was mingled with the familiar christmas aroma of half dried pine needles. "remove your hats please" the man at the front door whispered in Tzotziel as we stepped up into the sanctuary, absent mindedly handing him our tickets. The smell of pine came from the slender soft needles blaketing the shiney tile floor we crept hesitantly across. The smell of wax whafting in every direction from the hundreds, no, thousands of burning candels lit before the saints at the instruction of the Shamans. The smell. It's what I remeber most.
On the long slow way up toward the front of the huge room, we kept our hands to ourselves and our cameras hidden. Pictures could steal part of the soul. All around us we saw dedication and desperation. Small groups, of tribal mexican natives littered the space. Crouching on the floor, they melted the ends of hundreds of tiny, thin candels and stuck them upright onto the floor in front of them. Shamans breathed prayers and waved incense and gifts over fathers and babies and grandmas. Each tiny congregation mumbled prayers of healing and petition in near silent whispers. We, obvioius tourists, shuffled from entracne to alter and back again, wide-eye, disbelieving and an honest bit frightened. None of us, as far as I know, have ever seen and animal sacrifice before today, or heard the whispered words of an Animistic prayer recited over and over, not to our God, but to someone, somewhere, expected to save the dying grandmother or cure the sick baby if only the correct amount of candels are burned for the correct amount of time, the proper number of chickens layed expectantly before the alter.
Our Mexican lunch following the experience was anything but silent ...or certain. We decided that we couldn't possibly know what God thought of what was happening in the Tribal Center this morning but what we did know is that we saw fear, and spiritual oppresion in these people and perhaps more trust and dedication than any Western Seminary student has ever known. What is it about these peole, Christian or Animistic, that gives them such trust and devotion? When we cannot drag ourselves to chapel more than once a week to worship the Living God, the Mexican tribal people spend days and nights, travel miles and thousands of feet in altitude for their beliefs.