A Different Christmas Midnight Celebration

A Different Christmas Midnight Celebration

San Estévan del Rei, Pueblo of Acoma. 2018

Dale and +Hubert Sanchez invited me to join in the 2018 Christmas Eve celebration at San Estévan del Rei at the Pueblo of Acoma. When I arrived on that very cold and moonless part of the night, I found myself sitting on the rock stoop in front of their home waiting for anyone to arrive.

Sitting there in the cold for a while, I was confronted with focusing either on the uncomfortable cold or on the marvelous shades of darkness enveloping me. I decided to focus on the darkness.

Their house is on the west end of the butte, not far from the back end of the old San Estévan church compound. A few luminarias lit the street level, but darkness dominated. “Would this darkness, quiet and solitariness be similar to that of the auspicious night of waiting in Bethlehem of Judea which we honor this night?” was my thought.

As my eyes focused to the darkness, I began to distinguish the dark night sky from the dark of the stone-cold northern wall and parapet of the church. A quote from Elie Wiesel came to mind, “Even in darkness there is light!” And what a calming and warming light it was. The sense of the cold diminished.

Dale arrived and we went to the church entrance for the midnight indigenous rituals of Christmas Eve. The Pueblo spiritual leaders, confident the hour was upon us, opened the church doors. The tower-bells rang! The procession began!

As we entered the church a dance group responding to the heart-beat of their drum was entering as well. Drumbeat, chant, dance stepping in and around as we walked toward where the baby, swaddled in cloth, awaited all who would come.

As we processed, a second drumbeat could be felt; a second Keresan Chant could be heard. A 2nd dance group entered in step with their drums voice – while the first one continued. “How can they distinguish which drum and chant is ‘theirs?’” thought I. When the third drumbeat was felt, and chant heard (elk dancers were they this time), my Nothnagel/Mueller mis-sensibilities kicked in! “This can’t be! It is not going to work!” How can the quiet peace and focused contemplation of this night survive the din!

But as the darkness of the night quelled my eyes’ blindness to perceive sky distinct from structure and marvel eased my sense of cold, so did the people’s faith and prayer in dance, drum and chant call my cacophonous fears to calm. As I reached the altar and made my cornmeal offering to the Prince of Peace, our Light in the Dark Night, I turned and was struck by the beauty of deer, buffalo and elk dancers weaving their dance-prayers with the procession of gift bearers.

Peace was visible in the darkness of this night. Come, Emmanuel! Be our Light!

Warmth exuded from the sincerity of Faith. Enlighten the steps of our hearts’ dance!

Order was embraced in our acting differently yet as one. Make straight our paths to you!

– friar Charles McCarthy OFM Conv.