My turn: Book shows similarities between New Mexico, Holy Land

Helena Rodriguez

During Advent, many people go to the Holy Land to get to the true reason for the Christmas season.

Nuevo Mejicanos don’t have to travel to feel like we’re in holy land. In his 1974 book, “My Penitente Land,” Fray Angelico Chavez, a Franciscan priest and writer commended by T.S. Eliot, compares New Mexico’s deserts and mountains to ancient Palestinian landscapes and beautifully compares the Exodus across the River Jordan to the Spanish crossing the Rio Grande.

The late Chavez compares the Bible’s earliest protagonists, shepherd people, to the shepherds of northern New Mexico. In many Hispanic families who came to Portales from Encino, Anton Chico and other New Mexico villages, shepherding was a way of life.

Chavez writes, “For Palestine, Castile and Hispanic New Mexico – grazing lands all and most alike in their physical aspects – likewise share a distinctive underlying human mystique born of that very type or arid landscape.”

He notes how God seemed to favor dry upland climes compared to “tropical jungles” or “temperate forest lands.”

In April, the New Mexico Humanities Council sponsored a symposium in honor of what would have been Chavez’s 100th birthday. Chavez, who attended Harvard, died in 1996.

I cannot do his book justice here. His book is a beautiful read which brings the Holy Land home to New Mexico.