I don’t know if it’s Kaqchikel or Tzutujil they speak here. I use my small Spanish to haggle for a woven bracelet. Mark and the girls wander off, so I walk alone past stalls of cheap skirts and plastic shoes, baskets of melons, even a table of carved statues of the local saint, Maximón, with his Stetson hat and big cigar.
In a shop I’m drawn to a crucifix, hanging alone among the clay pots. The carver has nudged the local wood into its graceful form. Shy, he says a price— hardly anything—but my local cash is gone and my watch shows nearly noon, time for the last boat back.
At the dock the rest look impatient, the boatman drumming the motor, but I can think only of the pale wood, the stripe of darker grain in the hanging head.
The boat rides low in the water, and as we reach the lake’s heart— great craters guarding its distant shores— the wind comes suddenly alive. People have warned us of the lake’s treacherous afternoon xocomil— the wind that carries away sin. The pilot turns away. I catch Mark’s eye and look at our daughters in a crush of fear.
As the village shoreline shrinks, I remember that locals plead with their cowboy saint, offering oranges, cigarettes, and soda. The waves rise and we sit stiff, our eyes on our distant beach. I picture the carving, the curve of the corpus, the crossed feet.
Recently I was talking with a colleague about the nature of God and how sometimes we lean too exclusively toward the transcendence of God—God is mighty and distant and all powerful, concerned only with judging us.
It’s the second movement of Leonard Bernstein’s choral work, Chichester Psalms. A boy soprano (or a countertenor), in the “role” of the shepherd boy, David, sings in Hebrew the opening verses of Psalm 23. He is accompanied–sparingly, fittingly–by the harp. The first several measures are tender but not tentative; filled with sentiment, but without sentimentality (this per Bernstein’s instructions). When the women’s voices take over the text at גַּם כִּי־אֵלֵךְ בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת . . . (Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death . . .) there’s an ethereal echo-canon effect. This part of the movement, when executed well, is something sublime.