The Heart of the Black Madonna

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Darkness, Doubt and the Human Journey

Today is the third day in the Festival of the Virgin of Guadalupe. I have been immersing myself in this narrative for the past month, preparing for a series of lectures and finishing up the next book in my series on The Black Madonna. I have been attending a local Catholic Church here in Ojai for the past month. The name of this country parish is St. Thomas Aquinas, and conducts masses in English and Spanish. There was a workshop on The Virgin of Guadalupe by an expert from the Los Angeles Diocese, and for the last several days there have been special services and events commemorating and celebrating this unique event that happened in Mexico nearly 500 years ago.

The story of Guadalupe is rich with imagery, symbolism and meaning. While much deserved focus during this event is on The Virgin, her appearance and imprinting on the Tilma that still exists today in the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, I am actually more interested in Juan Diego. He is the Nahuatl native that Guadalupe appeared to numerous times throughout the original drama that unfolded in 1531. It is to Juan Diego whom the Virgin asks, "Where are you going?"  She tells him ask the Bishop to work with the Spaniards and Natives to  "Build me a Temple."

I have the tendency to be too believing at times, wanting to accept the most fantastic stories and events as real. I am always the one clapping my hands off during performances of Peter Pan. I often wonder what I would think and feel if I had experienced the events that Juan Diego witnessed during December 9th - 12th, 1531. What for me is one of the most meaningful parts of this story is how after seeing The Virgin of Guadalupe on several occasions on his walk to and from the local church, his actions on the 11th of December.

The Virgin had asked Juan to visit Bishop Zumarraga to give him her message of hope, to work together with the Spaniards and the Natives, and as she said "Build me a Temple." Juan tried for two days in a row. He was mocked by the servants of the Bishop, and for all intents and purposes dismissed by Zumarraga. He was told to come back on another day with some proof. Juan pleaded twice with The Virgin to send someone else who was more important. He refers to himself in quite lowly and unworthy terms. The Virgin argues with him, telling him he is worthy, that he is loved and that he is the best person to do her bidding.

On the 11th of December, Juan Diego decides not to go to church because his uncle is gravely ill. He decides that he can wait a day, or until his uncle is better and do what the Virgin asks him to do. Later in the evening, his uncle is near death and asks Juan to seek a priests to administer last rights. In the early hours before the dawn on the 12th of December, Juan decides he will take a different route to church so as not to run into the Virgin where he has always seen her before.

She greets him on the road and asks, "Where are you going?"

What I love about this part of the story is Juan thinking he can avoid the Virgin by taking another road. Juan knows what he should have done the day before, but his uncle was ill, on the verge of death. When he tells her why he did not do as she asks, she told him not to worry that everything was well, that his uncle was safe and to go on and relay her message to the Bishop.

In a way, we seem to be stuck in the realm of December 11th 1531, the same way Juan was stuck. It is dark, we know what we should be doing, but we either don't think we can do it, or we are distracted by the daily dramas of life. Even when we have a magnificent tableau of life, of miracles all around us, we still hesitate, we still procrastinate, we doubt, we get lost in our pain of loss and suffering, we are preoccupied by the seemingly urgent needs of the day. We think that we can avoid God by taking a different route. Why is it that we doubt? 

"Where are you going?" It is a deep call from the Divine. How will we answer?

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