There she is—La Virgen de la Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas. There she is, standing in front of the sun and on top of the moon. There she is—a black band around her waist signifying that she is about to give birth. There she is—surrounded by flowers, accompanied with music. “Flor y cantu,” I think they say.
Whenever I see her image, I’m reminded of the day I walked in her wake. At the time, I didn’t really get what was going on. I was just taken up in the moment. Thousands and thousands of people crowded between the buildings lining Market Street in San Francisco. Chants of “Si! Se Puede!” echoing through the crowd. Helping my friend Eddie hold up his banner of Guadalupe. People waving from second story windows, pointing to the banner and smiling. Others coming up to the banner, kissing their fingers and then touching the image of Guadalupe. A crowd of people—brown and black and white—marching in her wake. There, standing out amidst all the signs and banners, the image of Guadalupe still drawing people in. Still giving people hope; still giving people life.
What is her lure? What draws folks to her? For some, like Juan Diego, it’s the way she sees him and the dignity she offers him. Imagine it! A poor peasant, an Indian, a native, one scorned by the rich and powerful, chosen to be her trusted messenger. She sees him as he is—a beloved and beautiful child of God—and she trusts him to carry her message to the seat of power. For others it’s the hope she offers—hope of a new beginning, hope of a new life. Still others turn to her for comfort and compassion knowing that they are held in her loving embrace.
It’s not only Juan Diego who is changed by this encounter with Guadalupe. The bishop is changed as well. Imagine the times he walked past Juan Diego—not even seeing him or dismissing him with a wave of a hand. The indifference, the arrogance the bishop showed. Yet he, too, is changed. Remember his words after he sees the image on the cloak and the flowers falling to the ground. He bends down and kisses the ground and prays to the Virgin for forgiveness “for not believing her will, her heart and her word.”
That’s what draws me to Guadalupe—the gifts she offers both to Juan Diego and to the bishop. To one the gift of dignity and affirmation; to the other the opportunity to repent and to join in the building of a place where all are welcome and all are loved and all are raised up to new life. What I love about the story of Guadalupe is that all are changed and that no one goes away empty.
What is our path when walk in her wake? Yours and mine and ours together. What is our path? Perhaps it is to join in the birth of something new, a new creation, a new people—people who come together across traditions to worship God and to experience God’s deep love for her children. Perhaps it is to work together to build a place where all are welcome, all are known and all are valued for who they are. Perhaps it is to live each day confident that no matter what else comes our way we can be sure of one thing—that we are deeply loved by God. That’s no small thing. That’s the kind of knowledge that can change a world.
The protestant theologian Maxwell Johnson tells the story of the December day when a Latino pizza man came to his house. It was Advent and on his front door, Johnson had draped a banner of Guadalupe. As he was leaving, that young delivery man nodded to the banner and said, “It’s beautiful.” Then he added, “She’s my mom.”1 Mom—the one who gives us birth, the one who gives us life, the one who ushers us into a new world—the world Christ calls us to, the world of the reign of God.
1Maxwell Johnson, American Magnificat: Protestants on Mary of Guadalupe, p. 3.