I was born under the Sangre de Cristos, and I have always liked that.
But adding to that gift, I was born in Monte Vista, a small town in the San Luis Valley of Colorado that is its name, a little place at the end of a long highway— so straight that it is called “the gun barrel —with a mountain view of the grand peaks running along the Rio Grande as it makes its way from the headwaters in the Rockies down into New Mexico, and finally along the wide spaces that border Texas and Mexico, eventually emptying itself in the Gulf. For most of a hundred miles, 14,000 foot high mountains tower over the valley.
About 300 years ago a Spanish explorer made his way from Mexico into Colorado, following the Rio Grande, and the story that is told is that when he saw the sunrise and sunset over the peaks, he exclaimed, “Sangre de Cristo!” The blood of Christ.
In a more sacramental age, one more attentive to transcendence threading its way through the universe, one even born of Christian faith— sadly twined together as it too often was with military might and economic exploitation —that Antonio Valverde y Cosío named the mountains for the blood of Christ is understandable, even to our very secular ears. (The capitol city of California, after all, is Sacramento, named after another Spanish explorer was so impressed with the unexpected glory and wonder of the San Joaquin Valley, saying “This is as beautiful as the holy sacrament itself.”) We’ve come a long ways, sure as we are now that there are no windows to transcendence. “This is it… and this is all that ever has been and this is all that ever will be.” There is nothing tinged with the sacred— not our mountains, our cities, our bodies, our hopes or our dreams.
Being back in Colorado for the weekend, too too short for a native like me, I thought about my life, about opening my eyes to the Sangre de Cristos, newly aware of the world, barely able I am sure to understand very much about it. But I did begin there. And so as I developed my lectures, speaking six times over three days, I decided to begin my thinking where I began. While I spoke on the themes from the Visions of Vocation book, as I spent days thinking it all through, the more it seemed clear to me that rooting myself in my roots made the most sense.
So throughout I talked about being the son of my father, and the grandson of my grandfather, about their lives and labors, about the rhythms of days and weeks that made them them. Because I was asked to speak on “Worship to Workplace, and Back Again,” I reflected on their visions of vocation, of who they were and what they did. From my father’s work as a scientist tasked with the complexity of agricultural production in the San Luis Valley, focused specially on sheep and potatoes, to my grandfather’s long work buying and selling cattle throughout Colorado, for years driving through the northern end of the San Luis Valley on his way over Wolf Creek Pass to Durango and Cortez, I talked about the different ways that they were marked by “ora et labora,” a sense of seamlessness that became a fabric over a lifetime, weaving together prayer and work, day after day, year after year.
Wounded people that we are, living in a wounded world as we do, no one does this perfectly. We all stumble, and at our best we are signposts of what might be, of what could be, maybe even of what should be. Most of the time for most of us we settle into the brokenness of life, choosing fragmentation, a dualism between what we long for in our truest longings, and the way we live. So we compartmentalize, choosing to see some things as more important than others— making them more important than they can ever possibly be. The ancients called this idolatry, and it still is. Sex, money and freedom, for example, living our lives as lies, born of our unwillingness to see seamlessly, to see everything as sacred, everything as born with meaning and purpose… and yet, and yet, broken, terribly and tragically broken, because we are.
In the Christian vision of reality, of what it means to be human living in this world, the deepest hope is that someday what is broken will be made whole, that all the sorrows and sadness will be finally healed. It is more than “heaven,” but for a cosmos renewed, a new heaven and a new earth, a promise born of the conviction that a final redemption will happen, a reconciliation of all things will someday become what everyone will see and hear, that every knee will someday bow to this truth brought about by the blood of Christ. In theological terms, this is called atonement, an “at-one-ment,” where all things will finally and fully be as they were meant to be.
Hindus and Buddhists don’t see it this way, nor do evolutionary materialists, each in their own unique ways arguing for “enlightenment,” which is a strange and mysterious longing in every human heart. We do want to know, we do want to see things as they really are, but in our broken hearts we choose lesser truths, true but not “that” true, e.g. sex and money and freedom. There are lesser hopes for this eschatological satisfaction in the Jewish and Moslem traditions, yearning as they do for a final realization of what they believe about the world and their place in it. None of these hopes are despised, none are disdained. But there is something different and distinct about the story the Scriptures teach about the history from creation to consummation, of the world that was as it ought to be and the world that someday will be— and therefore the meaning of “sangre de Cristo” and its implications for all of life, for all of history, for all things in heaven and on earth. There is more that could be said.
So while at my best I see through a glass darkly, understanding some things a little bit, and missing on much more, most of my life later I am still glad to have been born under the Sangre de Cristos, certain that atonement has happened, and that someday its promise will become reality. We live in a now but not yet world. That has consequences for everything, for life and love, for labor and learning, brought together through a liturgical coherence that makes worship and workplace integrally connected, longing as we do for a time and place when and where “ora et labora” is who we are and how we live.