Cottonwood Madonna

This is another article in a series of letters that I am writing to my children about some of the things I hope they can learn about life from my observations.

Dear Children,

This is a carving that we saw in old town Albuquerque. It is a carving of the Virgin Mary that was done in an old cottonwood tree and I haven’t been able to get the story that we were told about it out of my head. I haven’t been able to confirm it’s veracity online but I choose to tell it to you because of how it inspires me.

According to a tour guide, this carving and painting was done by a parishioner of the San Felipe church in 1970. He lovingly carved the virgin from the interior of a cottonwood that was behind the church. The story is that the parishioner died immediately after completing the painting. Since he had to reach inside the tree to paint, his hands were still blue when he died. The embalmer couldn’t get all of the paint off of his hands so he was buried with blue hands.

Originally the painting was hidden behind the church and few people saw it. Then the cottonwood tree blew over an the carving remained undamaged so they moved it to the front of the church so more people could see it.

This story touched me a lot. First, like the parishioner, how many times do people do things for others, or for our Heavenly Father, and it remains unseen. They continue on through life doing good deed after good deed and remain in anonymity much like this painting remained in anonymity behind the church. Then they pass on and meet their maker. I imagine that like the blue paint on the artists hands, God will be able to see what our hands have done. He will be able to see our hearts. He will see what we did to help others, and make the world a better place.

Like the paint on the artists hands, our good deeds and bad deeds leave a mark on us. We will take these marks with us. I believe that we can always repent and change our path for the better. We can erase the bad stains. However, I think of this artist and I know that he had no idea that he would be buried with blue hands that showed his devotion.He didn’t know that he would take the physical evidence of what he had done with him.

I hope that when I die, when I am gone, I return to Heavenly Father with blue paint on my hands. I hope that the last few things I did will show my devotion to him, to my family, and to making the world better. I am far from perfect and I make a lot of mistakes. I am constantly trying to overcome my weaknesses and sins, but I also always hope that my next decision will be a good one.

It is hard to do the right thing. It is hard to always follow our faith. I hope that this story can make it easier for you, like it has for me. I hope that when you have difficult decisions to make, or hard things to do, that you will remember this story and think to yourself, “if these are my last moments, will I return to my Heavenly Father with blue paint on my hands?”



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