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  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

Every Tuesday morning for almost a decade, artist Alvaro Enciso and volunteers based in Tucson have gone into the desert to plant almost 1400 handmade crosses, in bright shades of orange, purple and green, at the sites where immigrants died on their journey north.  Encisco, a 77-year-old Colombian immigrant, calls this project, “Donde Mueren los Sueños,” Where Dreams Die. 


The Artist does what he can.  On Fridays the coroner’s report comes out with the cold hard facts of who died in the desert that week.  Sometimes there is a name.  The name matters. Sometimes it is simply annotated “unknown”.  But the name still matters..

But what matters even more, for the nameless and the known, are the coordinates of where the remains were found in the desert.  It is where The Artist will travel, carrying a lovingly crafted cross to where a fellow human, just passing through, just hungering for something better, has taken his last breath.  Or her last breath.  A weak gasp of a dehydrated man, or woman, or the barely audible breath of a child.

Hiking through the ocotillo, the palo verde, the occasional saguaro, The Artist will come to rest at those coordinates, pausing where perhaps now only the dusty remnants of a rude grave remain.  Perhaps there is no longer even a trace of a life lost, for the scorching winds carry the dust and send it across the desert in the brutal summer. He will stand each time over the place where these coordinates meet and place the cross in the ground, set in hastily created concrete, to keep it upright in monsoon rain and wind.

And then The Artist will call the name out and pray, sending what story he knows to the heavens.  He will honor the name of the departed until his final cry, rest in peace, settles into the desert soil. Until the coyotes carry it through the washes and into the mountains. Until the owl at night repeats the name, and the sun declares its glory both rising and setting. .

The Keepers of the Law do what is required.  They find the searching and the lost and the frightened and the traumatized and place them in a transport vehicle to be processed.

Or not.

But before entry to be transported, they must leave their belongings behind them where they were found. 

And the desert becomes a graveyard of things.

Half full water bottles, saved perhaps for essential thirst. An unopened bag of chips held in the hand of a child, perhaps as a “not yet” until safe arrival to the night’s destination. An apple, whole and fresh, saved perhaps to savor when hope is on the wane and starvation circles like a red-tailed hawk. 

And here and there, in the desert, other remains in this graveyard of things litter the landscape.  A single shoe. A baby bottle. A well loved stuffed animal. A bright pink child’s backpack. What did it contain?  A love letter from an abuelita? A bracelet from a beloved tia who sang songs of comfort in a tiny room at night?

Quien sabe?  Who knows? 

Every memory, every sacred comfort, every holy memento, is discarded by the side of the road into an unforgiving desert.  Along with compassion. Along with their dreams.  

Along with their bones. 

But The Keepers of the Law are “just doing their job” as has been done by conquerors since the dawn of man. They do it armed and dangerous. They do it carrying thick protective shields forged in the power of their privilege. The only truth they know is birthed in soundbites and nurtured by deceit.

And the work of The Keepers of the Law

writes headlines in irresponsible ink

attributed to The Law and held sacrosanct

“for the betterment and protection of human lives”.

But not all human lives.

And The Artist is “just doing his job”.  He is turning ashes into beauty by wrapping himself in remembrance.  He does it softly, armed only with mercy and a wooden cross decorated with remnants from the graveyard of things. The only truth he knows is the truth he experiences, not the shrill voice on the street corner, not the screaming headlines, but the sound of a fading heartbeat and a struggling breath.

And the work of The Artist

echoes across the night sky 

where the stars weep

and the moon keeps vigil

and coyotes carry a funeral prayer

while The Keepers of the Law sleep.


  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

Like many people in the world, my husband is a sports addict, and his favorite is football (the American one).  He waits with great anticipation for every season, and few things bring him more joy than sitting with chips and dip, a cat on his lap, and perhaps a little crossword activity while the game progresses

My viewing habits are way more high brow.

I am addicted to Outback Opal Hunters.

If you have never seen it, this Discovery Channel show follows several “motley crews” of men and women as they struggle in the Outback of Australia to find the elusive opal.  Mining crews come and go, businesses fail and thrive, friendships develop and dissolve, and through it all, the quest never changes.

At the beginning of my addiction, my husband would wander in the room and, in an uncharacteristic way, remark less than kindly that he couldn’t imagine why anyone would watch that kind of show.  And in my characteristic fashion, I would reply, “the same kind of people who stare at a screen while grown men run a small ball back and forth.” And of course, I had to add, for emphasis,

It’s my football.

For some reason, in the middle of the night last night, I began to wonder why this show.? What is it about their quest that pulls me in week after week, season after season?  Why do I get so invested in these people whose lives are so unlike my own?  Why do I root for their success.

And I think it has something to do with hope.

The land on which they struggle to eke out an existence is brutal.  The dust blown, arid and mostly empty landscape is broken up only by occasional torrential rains that make the land a sea of mud.  The heat is brutal, and the toll it takes on their physical bodies and their mining equipment is constant and extensive.

And yet they continue the quest.

Somewhere, out there in the ground, in the stones, a glimmer of hope resides, and it is the pursuit of that glimmer that keeps them moving forward.  Catching sight of that opal peeking through a rough stone causes outbursts of joy that rival the celebration at the birth of a first child. And I find myself celebrating with them, these total strangers who are so determined to never be deterred in their quest.

But there is something else deeper than the opal quest going on here, I think.

An elderly miner gets cancer, and his younger team member devotes his career to helping his friend still experience the joy of the journey at whatever level he can.  Equipment fails or gets stuck, and a community rallies to come help out.  Young people enter the field, and the elders come alongside to mentor and to lead.  Big emotions are displayed, and even bigger grace is given. In the constant struggle for survival, community happens.  And perhaps that is my addiction.

I am watching messy grace at work in people seeking tiny glimpses of hope in a barren landscape.

And I am a sucker for messy grace.

In reality, it is a messy world for all of us right now.  We are bombarded by violence, disease, war, weather, politics…the list is endless.  And then there is the battlefield of our own lives, often wracked by personal struggles and health challenges and splintered family dynamics.

But in these desert times, perhaps we, like the opal miners, can forge ahead, in spite of the conditions, leaning on our community, and focusing on the small glimmers of promise buried in the rubble.

It’s there.  I promise you.

Waiting hidden in the rough stones…

Waiting to catch your eye…

Waiting to bring you Hope.

  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

It was the last Sunday of 2023 in this church of disorganized religion to which I belong, and only one child was present.  Even on a good day, there are only three.  The elders, however, are always there in full force.  We are a sea of white heads walking each other home in these desert lands.

But here’s the thing about these elders.  They are generally not grumpy.  They generally do not grumble about the state of the world today when their needs are not being met.  And, though mostly white, they do not flaunt their privilege or decry its loss.

I am sure that everyone here carries their own story of love and loss.  I am sure everyone is dealing with significant challenges and frustrations.  And I am sure everyone is probably doing their own share of gnashing of teeth over the state of the world today.  But as a whole, they are a joyful bunch.

And I think I know why.

They are too busy being the hands and feet of Christ to worry about themselves.

It seems that pretty much everyone I have met here is focused on meeting the needs of others around them.  They are hiking into the desert to fill up water stations for migrants, or going to The Wall to provide humanitarian help, or driving to centers in Mexico to teach English.  They display a generosity of spirit, and they laugh together vigorously and often.

Like all aging churches, however, there is a longing to have young families be part of the faith community.  Actually that has been true for every church I have been part of.  And in my experience, attracting young families has often meant finding the best social media campaign or the best curriculum to teach the correct theology or a packaged program that would somehow guarantee that young people would fill the church.

Really, we have none of those things here. But what we do have is a group of folks so focused on love in action that it pours into everything that happens here.  And that love spilled over on the last Sunday of 2023 during a children’s moment.

One little girl in her princess dress came forward to sit by the pastor.  And he let her know, after first acknowledging her beautiful dress to her delight, how loved she was by this congregation.  He let her know what the other two children who couldn’t be here were doing that Sunday, and he shared that he had a gift for her.

We were as spellbound as she was when he opened up a beautiful quilt…not just any quilt, as he explained.  It was created with her favorite colors, and it was patterned with rainbows and unicorns and all of her beloved images.  A soft pink edge ringed the blanket, which he placed over her shoulders, and when she stood, I think applause came forth.

Then our pastor explained about the other quilts created for the two absent children.  Each was also created with favorite colors and images, including one with dinosaurs and a hidden “Woody” from Toy Story.  Each could only have been created by quilters who knew what made each child unique.

Our only precious child that day, after receiving her gift, came and sat on grandma’s lap in our row.  She beamed shyly at the others sitting next to her.  I watched as she pointed out different images on the quilt, wrapped in its warmth.

But really, I think, she was wrapped in love.  Love that takes the time to find out what your favorite colors are.  Love that knows that rainbows and unicorns are your secret best friends.  Love made tangible in a quilt created by artists who sent a message loud and clear.:

We see you.  We know you.  We treasure you.

Yes, we outnumber the children by about 100 to 1 in this little church in the desert.  But the children who are here get to experience first hand what it is like to be loved deeply just for who they are from a group of grandmas and grandpas who have the gift of giving love lavishly to all.  No program, no curriculum…just love made visible.

It was that kind of Love that wrapped itself around this child, created stitch by tender stitch.

And it is that kind of Love that is wrapped around each of us by the One who knit us together in the womb and calls us by name.

A love that knows us in the deepest part of our being,

and a Love that will bring us all home.

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