Have you heard about the ruckus in Santa Fe? Have you heard about all the fuss being made over an image of Guadalupe now hanging at a gallery in Santa Fe? A bare-breasted Guadalupe. Imagine that! Actually, we don’t have to imagine that. We just have to remember. Remember all the fuss last summer over a cartoon image of Guadalupe. Remember the brouhaha over Alma Lopez’s busty, bikini-clad version of La Morenita—the little brown virgin—exhibited in Santa Fe over a decade ago. Yet still folks cling to that version of Guadalupe that resides in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City.
Isn’t it odd how folks cling to sanitized versions of things? Isn’t it odd how folks hold tight to a really quite light and not at all revolutionary Guadalupe? Isn’t it odd how far folks depart from the stories we hear today and the worlds in which they are set?
A young girl, a teenager, poor, pregnant, not married, living in a land occupied by foreign troops, an outpost of a foreign empire. A child, really. Preparing to bring a child into a world where the rich and well born feast while the poor are sent away hungry. A young woman bringing a baby into a world where empty crosses, remnants of state-sanctioned torture and murder, clutter otherwise barren hills. A young woman without a place to birth her baby.
And yet that young girl sings, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord….the Almighty has great things for me, and holy is his name….He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly….” Hers is the song of a revolutionary—one who understands and claims and suffers for as well—her role in changing the world in which she lives. This Mary, this Mary of Nazareth, is no gentle Mary meek and mild. Make no mistake about it. She’s one determined sister.
And so is La Virgen—Guadalupe is what we call her. When Juan Diego turns and faces her, he sees a face quite like his own—dark and brown. There’s no mistaking that face. It’s the face of a native. And when she speaks, she speaks in his native tongue—Nahuatl. Imagine a brown Virgin addressing a peasant farmer in his native tongue. Take note. She’s not speaking Spanish.
Yet Guadalupe does not come to Juan Diego with a magic wand made of flowers and accompanied by song. Though flowers cover the hillside and song fills the air.
Hers is not a solo act; hers is not a virtuoso performance.
This moment is not a one-time-only event.
I’m not even sure it is she who carries the story. For it’s Juan Diego—poor, brown, overlooked, pushed aside—who carries the action in the story we hear today. It’s his courage, his perseverance, his determination that finally change the Bishop’s mind and maybe his heart as well.
But this Guadalupe moment we celebrate today in flower and song—signs of the sacred, emblems of truth for the Nahuatl people and maybe for us as well—is so much more than the story of a peasant farmer, a vision of the virgin, a dubious bishop and a cloak full of flowers. This story we hear today, this Guadalupe moment, is really an invitation. An invitation to the people of Juan Diego’s day to join in the making of a new people, a new world—one that goes beyond the categories of their day—categories that divide along lines of race and class and color as well.
Listen to this invitation against the backdrop of our world—a world in which the most vulnerable—poor, brown, black, mentally ill, homeless—are often victims of systems promising to educate, protect and serve them. A world not unlike the world in which young Mary of Nazareth gave birth to a child conceived out of wedlock. A world in which reports of state-sponsored torture circulate side-by-side with reports of civic improvements.
Listen to this invitation against the backdrop of a crowd gathered at Civic Center Plaza to support families whose children had been killed by police. Speaking to the press and to the people assembled were three fathers determined that their son’s deaths would not be in vain. As the press conference ended, one of those fathers turned to a friend and said, “It’s hard not to lose heart.” Like Juan Diego circling around Teypeyac hill, those fathers grow weary.
And so do I. Maybe you grow weary too. Weary of all that troubles our world. Weary of the news of yet another killing, yet another peaceful demonstration co-opted by the rage of a few. Weary of the growing gap between rich and poor. Weary of foxes monitoring chicken-coops. Just plain weary.
It’s tempting to cover our ears. It’s tempting to go back to bed, pull up the covers and wait for another day. It’s tempting to join with Juan Diego and steer clear of that virgin’s call. It’s tempting to lose heart.
But that is not the Guadalupe way. Two nights ago, on the Feast of Guadalupe, a group of people—women and men, young and old, brown and white, straight and gay—gathered in a circle around a fire. They were celebrating the Feast of Guadalupe. At one point in the evening the people in that circle grasped one another’s hand. Then they placed their neighbor’s hand on their own heart. Silence descended. There, in that circle, there in that silence, people felt and heard one another’s heart beating.
Take a moment just to listen to the silence in this room and to listen to the beat of our most human hearts. In the echo of hearts beating lies an open invitation to hear the beat of broken hearts and to join our mother Guadalupe in the work of mending broken hearts and healing broken worlds.