Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Our Lady of Guadalupe

The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe was the first Marian apparition I ever learned about in detail.  Such a lush, inspiring story, I could not believe I had not heard it before.  I am from a family of stories, on both sides.  My grandfather, especially, has told me his stories, repeated so many times as memory is rekindled by a present conversation, so often that the stories grow to the proportion of tall tales, mythic accounts where he and his family members are always victorious.  No one ever bests them, or wins the argument or the fight.  He and his kin always have the last word.  It is proven that human beings learn best from stories, which become a part of the hearer, interpreted within the context of his or her own life and experiences.  If you really want to make a point with a child, tell her a story.  If you really want to learn as an adult, become like a child.  My grandpa's stories reflect his faith, that we are never beaten in the game of life, that through challenge and hardship we will prevail, and at the end receive our reward.

So it was for me when I heard of the Mexican Indian Juan Diego, a poor peasant who was given his Christianized name by Spanish missionaries, in a place of the conquered and abused.  The Mother of God came to him in 1531at the top of a hill called Tepayac, at the shrine of Tonantzin, a goddess of earth and crops who stood in stark contrast to the Aztec gods of the region who required human sacrifice.  The Indians were saved by Catholicism from this barbarous tradition, but their women were raped by the Spanish, and thousands of the people were murdered.  They were an enslaved race.  The Virgin of Guadalupe brought peace, hope, conversion, and motherly love.  She told Juan Diego, "I am the Ever-Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the Great God of Truth."  She washed the violated clean through the power of her divine Son.  "I am your merciful mother and the mother of all the nations that live on this earth who would love me, who would speak with me, who would search for me, and who would place their confidence in me."

With Mary came an ethereal song of birds and roses in December, and a miracle--her image painted on the cloak of Juan Diego, a sign to the bishop that the peasant's words were true, that he had indeed been visited by the Blessed Mother.  The church she requested to be built on the hill was constructed immediately, and tens of thousands of pilgrims visit what is now a major basilica every year.  In almost 500 years the image has not faded, and the cloak, made of maguey cactus fibers that should have disintegrated within 20 years, is still pristine.  The materials used to create the image cannot be identified, and the picture has survived an accidental spill of acid and a terrorist bomb, not to mention the touch and kisses of many, many believers. Today, December 12, is her Feast Day.  I will make corn bread and quesadillas in honor of her association with the native peoples of Mexico and the abundance of life-giving earth.

The Virgin of Guadalupe bears a striking resemblance to the woman of Revelation 12, standing on the crescent moon, clothed in the rays of the sun, her veil covered with stars in the pattern of the night sky on the day of her visitation.  She is wearing a sash that symbolizes pregnancy.  She is praying and appears to be dancing.  This figure of Mary is cosmological, her clothing depicting Native Mexican royalty, her grace forever abundant and available to the downtrodden and broken-hearted.  In her they are lifted up, promised a new beginning and perpetual renewal.  Our Lady of the Dispossessed.

We have a spiritual Mother in heaven who visits us here on earth.  She loves us, she nurtures us, she brings us the peace of God.  We have only to seek her, and she will come.  I know, for she came to me.  "Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" I asked myself, echoing the words of Mary's cousin Elizabeth.  Who, indeed?  I will tell you.  I am a child of God and a child of Mary, just like Jesus, because he is my Savior who made me his sister.  Mary leads us to Jesus, and she offers her motherly intercession free to anyone with an open heart.  She holds us under her starry mantle and shows us the view from the top of the moon.  She allows us to try on her crown that we might look forward to wearing a royal diadem ourselves one day.  From her flows the maternal presence--the Shekinah--of our Creator, and she invites us to dance with her the cosmic dance of holy union, light, and love.


  1. I've been to the shrine of la guadalupana in mexico city in front of her altar your hairs stand up I felt like moses in the prescience of god mexico is full of madonnas octalan los Lagos juquilla some dark earth mother one came from the waters one born of lightning all of them sacred and awe inspiring

    1. Thank you for reading and for your beautiful comment! I hope to go to the shrine someday. Tell me more about the other madonnas, please!