I should have seen it coming, but I was slow to identify the signs. First, there was the Paul Simon riff that kept running through my mind: “I know a man. He came from my home town. He wore his passion for his woman like a thorny crown . . . .” I could not stop the continuous loop of Paul Slip Sliding Away. Then there was the image of a serene Christ impressed into the insulation paper in my basement. I noticed it during one of my early morning exercise sessions. Like the Shroud of Turin, this likeness resembles the Savior quietly resting. It was clear the stars were aligning, and I should have taken notice. But I didn’t.
Since my views on religion and the sacred are unorthodox, and not associated with any formal institution, I did not immediately share these occurrences with anyone. Being raised in the Roman Catholic faith by Mother Rose, and therefore subject to its lingering influences, I was wary of being branded a heretic, and maybe even burned at the stake. Many years ago, I adopted the Joseph Campbell ideal of “The God Within.” Barry and I have been exposed to countless cultural and doctrinal philosophies over the course of our trading post practice. As a result, I finally came to consider myself a religious pluralist. As for Barry, I am still unsure. I find the various myths, legends, and teachings of world religions fascinating and enlightening. Additionally, Navajo stories of the Hero Twins, Changing Woman, First Man and First Woman, Talking God, and other deities and their adventures have caused me to more fully embrace diverse cultures. This caused me to decide that exclusive claims of oneness associated with distinct philosophies are frequently just variations of universal truths that have been around far longer than I have been or will be.
As all this was circulating through my head, Jana suggested we get out of Bluff for the day. That usually means heading to Durango, Colorado. Living in the desert, we often like to experience the mountains when we have time off. So, into the car we piled and steered east. It was a beautiful day as we strolled through the shops on Main Street Durango. Jana wandered into a women’s clothing store, which led me to take a seat on the bench outside. As I sat pondering shapes in the billowy clouds, a youngish woman exited a nearby establishment and spied me reclining in the sun. “Contemplating life?” she asked. “Yep,” I confirmed, patting the space next to me and saying, “Sit down and tell me all you know.” To my surprise she did exactly that, saying, “I really don’t know much about the topic.”
Gina, as she introduced herself, was attractive, approximately 35 years old, medium build, strikingly blue hair, a multitude of rings piercing her ears, and what looked like flame tattoos peeking out from under her long-sleeve pullover. Carefully dressed to transmit a clear message about her independence, it soon became apparent she was quick-witted, intelligent, and articulate. “Well,” I said, thinking she would likely not take the bait, “if you don’t know anything about life, tell me about tattoos.” “Ahh,” she said hiking up her right sleeve, “that is something I know.” “Flames?” I inquired. “No, Jesus’ crown of thorns. And I intend to add His image when I get around to it.” There was Paul’s song again. “Christian?” I asked, somewhat surprised, considering her outward appearance. “Yes, I am,” she assured me with a confident nod, acknowledging I had reason to be surprised.
"Have you read the Bible?” she inquired. “New Testament or Old?” I responded, hoping to throw her off. “Both.” “Well,” I said, “I have tried unsuccessfully several times, never getting all the way through either. But . . . I have read a great deal of history and commentary, which I find easier to digest.” “Ahh,” she said, gently mocking me. “Well, it’s all in there---the Bible,” she assured me. “Really?” I replied, intrigued by her conviction, but still unwilling to accept that her outward appearance was at all consistent with our discussion. “Yep,” she said confidently. “Well,” I countered, “I have an extremely simple equation for defining God; God = Love. If it doesn’t fit within that framework, I can’t understand or support it. I think even if I don’t follow the guideposts exactly, due to misinformation, misunderstanding, misinterpretation, and maybe even unintentional negligence, God will know I am doing my best and give me a pass.” “Nope,” she assured me. “You gotta do it right, and your reasoning is not going to save you. Not going to get you through.” I was a bit taken aback, but impressed with her candor. I mentioned an image of a defiant young boy I had seen several years before. Below his photograph was the caption, “I know I’m good 'cause God don’t make no junk.” Gently, but genuinely unimpressed, Gina let me know she was not buying my arguments.
I was about to tell her about my ace in the hole, when Jana emerged from the shop and ended the conference. Many years ago, Corrine Roring had come to me in search of sandstone to rebuild the old Bluff Coop. Knowing our reputation as hard bargainers, when I quickly agreed she could harvest the necessary rock from property Barry and I own, she asked suspiciously, “How much?” “Nothing, nada, zero,” I responded, “but you have to make me a promise.” “What,” she said eyeing me cautiously, obviously concerned about what was coming next. “If you get there before I do, put in a good word for me,” I said, inadvertently leaving Barry out of the transaction. This lapse has had serious consequences once Barry learned of my lapse. “Deal,” Corrine said, extending her hand, “shake.” Although I am confident Corrine kept her commitment, I am also sure Gina would not agree that is a viable solution. In any case, I didn’t get the chance to test the thesis because Jana was ready to go. So we said our good-byes and went our separate ways.
When I later explained the entire situation to Jana, pointing out the image in the insulation, she said, “That looks more like John Lennon than Jesus; maybe the Beatles will look out for you.” Just my luck. As Paul, George, John, and Ringo sang, “Help!"