Book reviews: True believers

Books explore a divine mother’s guidance and Santa Fe’s faithful


This week’s books have a religious theme. In the first, a woman finds inspiration from the Black Madonna. The second explores Santa Fe’s spiritual history.

A Journey into the Heart of the Black Madonna: Self-Discovery, Spiritualism, and Activism

Author Cindy M. Medina had a delightfully traditional life growing up in Colorado’s San Luis Valley. Later, she earned a master’s degree in counseling and raised two daughters with her workaholic husband. The couple had a successful computer business in Seattle.

But not all was well. She was dissatisfied with her marriage, although she kept those feelings to herself.

Medina’s life changes significantly when she visits the shrine of the Black Madonna in Einsiedeln, Switzerland, while on a professional development trip. (Yes, Mary and Jesus are depicted as having black skin.)

She asks the Black Madonna, “What do you want me to hear?” The answer she receives is unexpected.

Thus, Medina writes in her memoir, listening became the basis of her relationship with the Black Madonna.

Back home in Seattle, Washington, Medina finds solace in the Madonna’s spiritual presence and messages as she watches her marriage unravel.

“One day, as I was putting the dishes into the dishwasher, I felt like someone was in the kitchen watching over me, even in this most ordinary household chore. I stood quietly, listening and feeling. Who could this be? Then, I felt a motherly tender warmth. Even though I was unable to see her, I knew this loving presence was the Black Madonna.”

Medina begins to explore meditation. She devours books on meditation and spiritual lives. “No other daily routine captured the Black [Madonna’s] presence as deeply as this meditative state.”

She also concentrates on her dreams, compiling them in a journal. A few prove to be prophetic.

Eventually, Medina and her family move to the San Luis Valley, where significant personal and professional changes occur. She becomes an activist, helping to establish a community center in Capulin.

A bigger challenge presents itself after it is revealed that mining operations have contaminated the Alamosa River watershed with heavy metals. Medina becomes involved in helping to address this ecological disaster.

Medina presents her story in an uncomplicated narrative that is accessible to readers. She just might make a convincing case to others who are also searching for a lasting spiritual experience.

Medina will have a free book reading and signing Friday (March 3), 5-7 p.m. at SOMOS, 108 Civic Plaza Drive, Taos.

“A Journey into the Heart of the Black Madonna: Self-Discovery, Spiritualism, and Activism” is a 237-page paperback published by Mercury HeartLink. It costs $17.

A History of Spirituality in Santa Fe: The City of Holy Faith

The official name Santa Fe received during its founding in 1610 is La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asís. It was the fourth of 13 cities named Santa Fe, which means “holy faith,” and the first outside Spain.

Ana Pacheco, the city historian for Santa Fe, explores the state capital’s legacy of holy faith, from the spiritual practices of its original inhabitants to the Spanish conquerors’ Catholicism to a broad spectrum of religions imported by newcomers.

Pacheco’s book is a simple historical account of what religions came when to Santa Fe and who brought them.

We learn about key religious figures such as: Bishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy, who arrived in 1851; Yogi Bhajan, leader of the Sikh Dharma International; and Olive Rush, who founded the first Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in her Canyon Road Home. There have been, of course, many more pioneers of faith in Santa Fe.

“Roots of Resilience,” one of the book’s chapters, focuses on Sephardic Jews who converted to Catholicism to escape persecution during the Inquisition. Known as crypto Jews, they practiced their Jewish faith secretly. (Through a DNA test, Pacheco found out she is of Jewish origin.)

The westward movement, aka Manifest Destiny, brings different Protestant sects to the city, including Presbyterians, Baptists and others. Latter-day Saints — the Mormon Battalion during the Mexican-American War is the only religious-based unit in U.S. history — also head westward.

Pacheco’s study includes more recent additions, many of which emerged during the hippie movement of the 1960s and ‘70s. “It was an era of tension filled with global turmoil combined with the proliferation of efforts in self-discovery,” she writes.

“A History of Spirituality in Santa Fe: The City of Holy Faith” is Pacheco’s seventh book. The History Press published the glossy 174-page paperback, which is enhanced by numerous historic photos. The book costs $21.99.

Authors: Have a recently released book you would like reviewed in this column? Mail a copy to Joan Livingston/The Write Stuff c/o The Taos News, 226 Albright St., Taos, NM 87571 – or drop it off at the newsroom. Priority is given to Southwest authors and/or books set in that region.

Joan Livingston is a writer and a reader living in Ranchos de Taos. For more information, visit