It was Sunday afternoon and the sun was shining. We were sitting on our porch enjoying the plentiful rays in Portugal when I heard a faint, sad song. As the volume increased, we realized the music was coming closer and there must be a parade or procession in our village. We jumped up, grabbed the camera, and started running toward the town square. What we didn’t know was, as we balanced on the edge of the fountain to watch the procession, we were on the threshold of something we had never before experienced.
Semana Santa or Holy Week is a powerful advent regardless of one’s religious orientation and we knew it the moment we caught up to the procession. As we naturally do when we arrive in unfamiliar surroundings, we started looking for the familiar …
- We recognized Jesus on the cross and the Virgin Mary.
- We saw the stations of the cross represented on plaques around the village.
- We waved at some participants in the processional that we knew from trips to the butcher and baker.
Honestly, the list of familiar was pretty short. While I always looked forward to the Sunrise Service on Easter in the USA, the weeks leading up to it were filled with finding crisp matching outfits for my kids, filling baskets with fake grass and chocolate, planning menus, and juggling schedules with extended family. As I stood on the outside of this procession, I missed the familiarity of Easter as I once knew it, as I tried to take in my surroundings and ended up with more questions than answers …
What is the significance of the person hooded in black leading the procession?
Why are the townspeople hanging tapestries from their windows?
Who does the woman singing with the parchment represent and what story is she telling?
Who does the path of herbs and flowers signify throughout the village?
What is the melancholy tune the band is playing?
Who wears purple robes and what makes purple a liturgical color?
What is being said at each station and by whom?
I could literally feel distracted by my quest for answers and the procession was passing me by. The teacher in me wanted to understand each movement, action, and expression of such devotion but forcing comprehension was taking away my ability to be present.
As I ran a few blocks to get ahead of the procession, past doors adorned with spring lilies and ribbons billowing in the breeze, I stopped. A procession is an orderly display of progress and I was anything but …
After I caught my breath, I could hear the drums and trumpets again in the distance and I knew I had to stop my mind from racing to the answer. I knew this day was about walking step by step over these ancient cobbles in the footsteps of those that understood profoundly what was happening. I knew that my willingness to walk with them meant I was already deepening my understanding and that by Easter Sunday, I would know more than I know now.
Maybe having more questions than answers is central to the faith of any kind for what is there to believe in without a willing and curious heart?