San Cristóbal


San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico – 19.June.2019

6:35 in the morning. I leave the hotel in the old center of town and head for the Church of Santo Domingo. It is the only one open early in the morning, since almost all of the churches in San Cristóbal are being renovated. Santo Domingo, dating from the mid XVIth century, is also under renovation but they tell me there is a small door on the side that will remain open.

6:41 I arrive. I find the door after a gentleman sweeping the street points me in the right direction. I wait a few minutes. The early morning sky is majestic and soft all at once after a night of intense rain.

6:45 The door opens and I step in. It smells of humidity. The main altar is hidden by a giant scaffolding, so I go left to the Chapel. Rather large with about 30 rows on each side, its walls are stained with water marks, the floor tiles faded. A large crucifix stands behind the altar covered with glass. On the left, a Virgin Mary dressed in bleu. On the right side of the Chapel, an old Crucifix with a pale Jesus looking down at us.

Two Dominican nuns walk in and sit in front of me. A few more people arrive. Among them, an old man, poor, dirty, with a face of immense sadness. He goes to the first row, kneels and prays in silence. More people arrive. An old lady with a silvery braid and a grey jacket sits next to me. We exchange smiles. She smells of vel rosita (a popular Mexican fabric softener).

Suddenly, the noise level goes up. People talking in Tzotzil (the indigenous language of the Tzotzil, a large and varied Maya indigenous community in Chiapas and other regions of Mexico and Guatemala). I see some 100 persons fill all the remaining rows of the chapel. They are all dressed in a long sleeve top with a red and yellow flower pattern embroidered upon dark burgundy, with black trousers or skirts. They must be coming from the Chamula area, in the mountains near San Cristóbal.

One of them carries two very large candles set sideways on a silver tray, and brings them to the altar to be blessed.

The Priest arrives. He enters from a side door I had not noticed. He is tall, a full head of unruly white hair, light eyes, skin tanned by the sun and the high altitude, in his seventies. A total contrast from most of us in the church. He smiles and shakes hands as he walks down the aisle. He starts to sing with a sincere and broken voice, and encourages everyone to sing with him.

“Alegre la mañana que nos habla de ti – alegre la mañana…” Joyous de morning that speaks of you – joyous the morning…

Mass – simple and profound words by the Father on generosity as he comments the scriptures of the day. He speaks with a faint Spanish accent tainted by decades in Mexico, his strong “jota” (letter “j” pronounced “kh”) revealing his origins. He smiles incessantly and I cannot help doing the same.

As the recitation of “Our Father…” starts, the Tzotzil light one by one tall and very thin white candles, including the very young children. Behind me, everything becomes light. The Chapel takes tones of gold erasing off the water marks from the walls and the wounds of time from the statues.

When the time comes to exchange the sign of peace, instead of shaking hands or embracing the neighbor, each Tzotzil bends his or her head so that an older one may touch the head with his hand as a blessing and sign of mutual peace. Even the very young ones do it between them. A little four or five year old girl with lovely braids, cannot stop giggling as she does it, infecting even her mother who at first admonished her to keep still.

When the Father starts to offer the host, the Tzotzil start forming a long double line and as they walk up to the altar, place their candles at the foot of the Crucifix on the right side of the Chapel. The older ones do it for the children.

The mass ends.

The old and poor man I saw at the beginning, approaches the Father as he steps down from the altar. The Father listens to him. While doing so, he straightens the collar of the old man’s jacket, fixes his hair, talks to him, embraces and blesses him. The old man leaves with an enchanted smile on his face.

Others also approach the Priest. To each, the Father dedicates his full attention. He listens, touches, embraces, smiles, blesses.

I stand up and get ready to leave. I saw and felt what it is to be a Priest, to be with the faithful, to give hope through humanity and simple presence. I saw what we read in books about small Churches in small towns. I saw what most think belongs to history and far away novels.

I was very moved by the humanity and simplicity of it all. It was precious, the reason I wanted to share it here.

Thank you for taking the time to read this account.


I hear the babble of the world

I hear the babble of the world.

I try to discern something, a word, anything, that will indicate that the world is awake. But most of it is asleep or keeping the awoken part very well hidden.

The news is heartbreaking no matter where it comes from. Violence fueled by an obtuse sense of self is on the rise, both in speech and action; while so-called political correctness actually impedes free speech, the one where humor and laughter are allowed. Remember?

Trying to be original has become so common that it is… you guessed it, no longer original.

I do look around. I do observe and I do try to avoid judgement. But at times, I wish there were less brashness and a dash more of elegance — intellectual elegance I mean, the one that opens your mind and makes you want to pursue a conversation. The one of knowledge and simple straightforwardness, not the one of vulgar (as in vulgaris) information and complicated pretension.

The world is in dire need of consciousness, of ideas and concepts beyond the confines of the known, of dreams and of those things that are only accessible to the mind. If only mankind would realize that what he can do is far far greater than what he has made and what he thinks he can do.

There are more than 125 trillion synapses in our cerebral cortex, that is more than there are stars in 1’500 milky ways. And yet, look at the world.

Thank you for reading.


Zen story – Su Dongpo and Master Fo-yin

My son turns 10 years old today, and I told him the following story that made him laugh and think. I hope you do to.

Feeling particularly inspired that morning, Su Dongpo wrote the following brief poem and sent it to his teacher, Zen Master Fo-yin, who lived just across the Yangtze river.

“I bow to the god among gods;
his hair-light illuminates the world.
Unmoved when the eight winds blow,
upright I sit in a purple-gold lotus.”

After receiving the poem, Master Fo-yin replied with two words:

“Fart! Fart!”

When Su Dongpo received the Master’s reply, he became furious and without further ado, jumped on a boat, crossed the Yangtze river and barged into Master Fo-yin’s house saying:

“How could you possibly send someone a note with these two words? This is slanderous!”

“Slanderous?” replied Master Fo-yin. “Who was I slandering? You said you were unmoved by the eight winds when they blew. But look at you now! Just two farts blew you across the Yangtze river!”

Recognizing his error and realizing he boasted about a spiritual progress he had not yet achieved, Su Dongpo apologized to the Master for his outburst and promised to strive to always act with full humility.

– The eight winds are praise, ridicule, misery, happiness, honor, disgrace, gain and loss — all external elements affecting our internal quietude if taken at heart and without wisdom.
– Su Tung-p’o or Su Dongpo (1037-1101) was a poet during the Song Dynasty. He is better known as Su Shi (his art name).
– Master Fo-yin (1011-1086) was a Great Master of the Zen tradition. He was known for his strict discipline and wonderful sense of humor, as is the case with many Zen masters and others who have reached such serenity, that joy springs naturally and in its many forms.
– Here, I have most humbly put into my own words a story I once read written by Zen Master Hsuan Hua.

川 – Kawa

I was once a colourful little fish in a river.
I am now a drop in the ocean
where the fish and the river flow.


川 – kawa means “river” or “flow” in Japanese. By flow, it is meant the one from the clouds to the river to the sea. It is often used as a model for life whereby one tries to live in harmony with circunstances (people, work, thoughts, words, deeds, etc.).

Let us not fret about the world

“We live no more than one hundred years” wrote Sikong Tu at the start of a poem more than one thousand years ago.

We live but a speck in timelessness.

So, why not let our hair turn white and the soft breeze rustle through our clothes?

Why not let the moss cover the stone?

Let us not fret about the world, shall we?


Inspiration: Sikong Tu (China, 837-908), Tang Dynasty poet, known for his poems and for writing the Chinese poetry manual “The twenty-four styles of poetry.”