Thursday, February 24, 2011

Brainstorming For a New Book

I want to write about someone I love, about a friend, a companion, above all else a mother. My mother. It is a very personal love, and I find it difficult to speak of it. And yet it is a love for a very “public” person, a person visited by millions of people every year. This public person lives in a particular place–she lives there–by means of an image. This image is one of the most extraordinary phenomena on the face of the earth. Scientists can’t explain it. Pilgrims call it a “Presence.” It is an icon, a “window to eternity.” But it is a different kind of icon. Icons open up for us a prayerful access to the Beauty of the New Creation. But this icon is one in which the New Creation opens a window to us; she wants, in a special way, to come to us and make herself accessible to us.*

But why has she come here to this place? Why has she come to my land, to “America,” and what does she want from me? I always ask her for things, and she said that she has come because she wants to listen and to console and to heal, and so this is part of it. But she also wants something from me. I am going to try to respond to her desire. I am going to write a book about this mysterious Presence, this luminous image that still looks out at us after almost 500 years and says, “I am the Mother of the True God, the Creator of all things, the Lord of the near and of the far.” I think she wants to gather us all up, all of North and Central and South America. I think she has plans for the whole world.

But is this not all a little superstitious or overly mystical? The Virgin of Guadalupe is a mysterious painting, granted. It was an image that converted the Aztecs to Christianity. Great. It is a devotion of old Hispanic ladies in black veils who light candles in front of copies of the image in churches in California. That’s nice. Or it’s a tattoo on the arms of Mexican drug dealers. It’s a Mexican “thing,” isn’t it? In any case, it’s just a picture of Mary, one of many pictures of Mary that we find over the course of the past two thousand years.

Mary. There is only one of her, after all. Maryam of Nazareth. Even if she is the Mother of Jesus Christ, God made man, still there is only one Mary. Why does every country have to have a different Mary? Is it just different cultures expressing their love for the Mother of God in different ways? I think it is something more profound than that.

Mary wants to make herself present to her children, her Son’s brothers and sisters, in as concrete a way as possible. She wants to be seen. She knows that children need to see their mother. Indeed, if you are a mother, you know that you need to use all kinds of tricks to get your children’s attention. Mary has seven billion children, and most of them are not paying attention.

The icon of the Mother of America has a particular reason for soliciting attention. Nobody painted it. Its not anybody’s cultural expression. It contains symbols that resonated with the Mexica people and their neighbors in the 16th century, but it is not confined to this symbolism. Contrary to what is often said, she is not dressed as an Aztec princess. Her features are not a combination of Spanish and Indian. She is beyond the divisions of races and cultures, encompassing and transcending them all. She is something that is not from this world. If we believe the story of Guadalupe, then we must recognize that the image is her expression of herself.

What I found when I went as a pilgrim to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe was something that I did not expect. I found a very personal presence. I found my mother.

© 2011 by John Janaro. All rights reserved.

*In considering Guadalupe as icon, I must acknowledge a debt to the truly inspirational book/memoir of another surprised pilgrim and a man who has seen many things, the German journalist for Die Welt, Paul Badde. An English translation of Maria of Guadalupe: Shaper of History, Shaper of Hearts is available from Ignatius Press. Here is a link: