Maryology has been pretty Mary-free lately (other than me, of course) but there can be no better occasion to Mary-up than today. December 12 is the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe – and on Sunday we remember Mary-the-about-to-be-mother-of-Jesus’ reaction to being told she was pregnant.
What I love about these two visions of Mary is how bold she is. Most of the time, Mary is a quiet statue or painting humbly gazing at the ground. But how did she react at probably the most overwhelming moment of her life? She burst into song! How did she reveal herself to Juan Diego? With out-of-season flowers that made an ornate portrait of her on his cloak.
Virgin of Guadalupe
I’m telling you, this woman is no wallflower. She is flamboyantly faithful and ostentatiously gracious. Which saint appears on more tattoos than Mary? None.
Today, I induct the Virgin of Guadalupe into the Hall of Marys. She’ll be there with Mary of Nazareth, which might be confusing for mere mortals, but I think they will figure it out. Our Lady of Guadalupe has her own amazing place in the life and culture of Mexico and the American Southwest – she is a cultural and religious unifier and, to some, a feminist symbol of power. She is simultaneously plain and radiant, simple and complex, gentle and strong.
She’s not gazing at the ground, she is standing on the moon looking at you. Ave.
Some years, Christmas preparations are more of a struggle than other years. Maybe you put off shopping and miss the shipping deadlines. Or you wait too long to get a tree and all that’s left are the Charlie Brown specials. Of course, there is always at least one year when everyone gets a bad flu. That can make things a little rough.
For us, the trouble started right off the bat with the Advent wreath. We had the greenery, ribbons, and sparkly ornaments. My daughter was excited to put it all together. The project was started and then…the first holiday tantrum.
Wreath making halted; wreath maker was sent to Siberia.
Two days later we tried again. The stupid ribbons would not tie right and the stupid ornaments wouldn’t do what she wanted…AHHHHHHH! The candles are crooked. What is wrong with them?! Back to Siberia. It seems that Advent is, indeed, a penitential season.
Today, the 7th day of Advent, the wreath was finally finished, and not a shouted or sarcastic word was uttered. There is even a pile of extra materials to make a fairy house. An Advent miracle.
The wreath that took a week.
There is a theme that comes up in a lot of Advent and end of year reflections: darkness. Sure enough, here in the northern hemisphere, the days are shorter and darker now. That makes darkness a great metaphor as we prepare for Christmas – Jesus as a light in the darkness, we who have walked in darkness have seen a great light.
A lot of times darkness is a metaphor for ignorance, evil, sin, or death. It is a state from which we must be saved.
But I have been thinking about darkness another way. You know who lives is darkness? Fetuses in the womb. And you know what they are doing in the darkness? Growing and preparing to enter a light-filled world. (Even after they are born their pediatricians will tell you they grow while they are sleeping!)
Light – actual and metaphorical – is good. But we all grew in darkness, it was the only way we got ready for the world of sun and incandescent and fire light we all live in. This got me wondering if seasons of metaphorical darkness might be times of growth as well. What do you think?
It is the waiting time of year. Waiting for Christmas. Waiting for presents and presence. Waiting in lines and on the phone. Waiting for lift off.
For me, this time of year is called Advent – the Coming. I wait to celebrate the first coming and anticipate the second coming. It is the time of year that I am counseled – rightly – to slow down, use this waiting time to get ready, to reflect, to notice. At the same time, I think about people who spend most of their lives waiting. The homeless folks I see once a week wait for everything – food, a bed at night, paperwork, transportation, the phone. There are women and men who wait months and years and decades for children that never come. There are people who wait for loved ones to die. For a lot of people, there is nothing novel about slowing down and waiting. Maybe I can learn just by looking around.
Waiting is part of what it means to be human, starting from our origins of making others wait for us to arrive. Almost always, waiting is for the unknown (do you really think you can guarantee what is coming?) but we don’t have to wait alone.