And he said, ‘Hear my words: When there are prophets among you, I the Lord make myself known to them in visions; I speak to them in dreams.
– Numbers 12:6
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.
– Luke 1:26-32
Both the Jewish and Christian Bible are filled with dreams and visions expressing the reality of a direct relationship to the spiritual world. This was accepted by all early church fathers up until Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. His ideas changed the focus on dreams and visions as he interpreted the life of the church with the help of Aristotle’s philosophy that people only experience through sensory perception and reason.
After this change of world view in the church, dreams have taken a back seat in our Christian tradition. Our religion has become predominantly intellectual leaving out the world of symbols, metaphors, dreams, and the non-rational realms. Before Thomas Aquinas, all of the church fathers wrote extensively about visions and dreams, and viewed them as an important window into the spiritual dimension. It was in a dream vision that Constantine in 312 AD saw two Greek letters for ‘chi’ and ‘ro’ appear in the sky, and Christ appeared to him in a dream carrying this symbol in his hand. Supposedly, because of this dream, Constantine converted to Christianity and the 300-year persecution of Christianity stopped. From this dream, Christianity became the state religion of Rome.
Because of the field of psychology, with the work of Freud and Carl Jung, we are just beginning to explore –– to begin to take dreams and visions seriously. We have seen how Jesus is born only because Joseph and Mary responded to the dreams they had and visions of angels instructing them on what to do next. If they had not done as these visions of this mystery of God had guided them to do, Jesus would not have survived as a baby. Pontius Pilot’s wife had a dream warning her husband not to have anything to do with Jesus. Abraham Lincoln had a dream one week before he was assassinated that he saw his own body lying in state in the White House. He went to the theater where he was shot without any body guards. Perhaps if he had been better at understanding his dreams, our history as a nation would have been very different.
I have offered you an invitation to do the spiritual work of paying attention to your dreams. God will give directions to those who are open to them. It is my belief that God is much more anxious to communicate with us than we are to listen to God. Have you had dreams and visions? Are you paying attention to what God is trying to share with you?
All dreams and visions come for one reason, for healing. As much or more than the laws that promoted racial equality in this country, I believe it is visionary religious leaders like Martin Luther King that has made possible the election of an African-American man as president of the United States. For “without a vision, a people perish.” As we go forth into New Year and our new ministry together, for I will be installed two days before Obama will be inaugurated, let us commit to the study of our dreams and to enjoying and learning to take our dreams and visions seriously. Our new ministry together represents a very different vision of our church, for I am a woman, an artist, and a mystic, and I represent new religious visions I believe that are being born now in the new millennium. We are given in our new ministry together an opportunity to dream and vision together. It is for the most humble amongst us to help lead us to the healing of us individually and as a global people that are one in Christ.
Juan Diego was a humble man who was chosen by God to have a vision that changed his native peoples’ spiritual life forever. He managed to nothing less than restore an Indian woman as the feminine face of God back into their religion. We are called by God to do the same in this time and place as we recognize how out-of-balance our world has become. It is the presence of a Divine Mother who will guide us to heal the earth, to learn to give up our addictions to war, and to learn to treat all children as our own. May this story be an invitation for you to listen to this mystery we call God in your life, and know that no matter how insignificant you may feel, God is trying to lead you to healing and wholeness for yourself and for all of creation.
OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE
By Bonnie Tarwater
Adapted from a children’s story by Tomie de Paola
A long time ago, almost 500 years, in what is now Mexico, there lived a great people called the Aztecs. But Spaniards invaded their land and brutally conquered them, destroying their temples, religion, and culture. One humble Aztec peasant was named He-who-speaks-like-an-eagle. He had been an important figure in the worship of Tonantsi, the Aztec Goddess of Earth and Corn. But the invaders forced the natives to convert to Catholicism and to worship their God. They also gave Spanish names to everyone. So He-who-speaks-like-an-eagle became Juan Diego. He continued to plant corn, but every Saturday and Sunday he now attended mass at the Church of Santiago.
On Saturday, the 9th of December, in the year 1531, something happened that would change Juan Diego’s life forever. It was just before dawn when he put on his tilma, a poncho made of coarse fabric woven from cactus. Then he set out for mass. He neared the sacred hill of Tepeyac where his people used to worship their Goddess of Earth and Corn. Suddenly he paused. What was that sound? Was it a bird song?
But it was different – more like a choir of birds singing a chant of sacred music. Looking up, Juan Diego saw that the top of the hill was covered by a brilliant white cloud, where the Temple of the Goddess used to be. Juan decided to have a better look. So he started to climb the hill. And then, a most remarkable thing happened. The cloud suddenly exploded into shimmering rays of color.
Then all was silent – stillness all around. Juan Diego heard a voice – a sweet, gentle voice of a woman speaking in his own language.
“Juan,” the voice said, “Juan Diego.”
Excited and amazed, he ran up the hill to the top – and it was then the cloud parted.
Before him stood a beautiful lady dressed in the robes of an Aztec princess. She looked like a dark Madonna and her skin was the color of bronze, like his own. It seemed she was standing in front of the sun, its light was so brilliant around and through her. Everything gleamed and glistened, as if made of precious jewels, of silver and gold. Awestruck, Juan Diego kneeled before her.
“Juanito,” she said softly, “most humble and beloved son, where are you off to?”
He scrambled to his feet, stammering, “I’m on my way to the Church of Santiago, my Lady, to hear the mass in honor of the Mother of God.”
“I am that Mother,” she said modestly, “and I want you to listen closely, because I have an important message to give you. I want a church built here, to show my love for your people. You will go at once to the house of the Franciscan Bishop. Tell him that I have sent you. Tell him that he must build a church here, where the Temple of the Aztec Goddess used to be. Tell him everything you have seen and heard.”
With these words, she disappeared into the cloud.
Juan Diego left in a daze. He went straight to the Bishop’s house. He had to wait a long time for an audience with His Grace, but finally he was admitted. He stood nervously before the Bishop and priests. Through an interpreter, Juan told his miraculous story, concluding with the assurance, “The Mother of God told me this herself on the hill of Tepeyac and she invites you to carry out her wishes.”
Loud laughter ran through the room. The Bishop silenced them. To Juan Diego he said kindly, “Come back tomorrow, when I’m not so busy.”
Juan trudged back to the hill. The Lady was waiting for him in the same spot.
“Oh, beautiful Lady,” he sobbed, “I have failed. I don’t think the Bishop believes me. I’m just a poor peasant. Maybe you should’ve sent someone more important than me.”
“My beloved son,” the Lady said, “I have many messengers I could send, but it’s you I need and want for this purpose. Do it for my sake. Go home now to your village, get a good night’s sleep, then tomorrow go to the Bishop again and tell him I want a church. It doesn’t have to be a cathedral. A plain adobe chapel will do for the time being.”
Juan realized he must do as she asked. The next day was the 10th of December. Juan called on the Bishop again and repeated the Lady’s message. This time the Bishop said, “Go back to this Lady and tell her to give me some sign that she is indeed the Mother of God.”
Juan did as he was told. Back he went to the sacred hill, and there she was at the foot of the hill, waiting impatiently. But this time she was standing on a crescent moon held up by angels with colored wings. Well, by now Juan Diego wasn’t much surprised by anything. When he told the Lady about the Bishop wanting proof of her identity, she said, “Juanito, climb up to the top of this hill, where we first met. Cut and gather the roses you will find there.”
“Roses?” he exclaimed. “In December?”
“Collect them all in your poncho,” she said, “and take them to the Bishop. Go quickly now. When he sees them, he’ll know I’m the real thing, and he’ll build my church.” Even though Juan knew that no flowers had ever grown on that barren hill, he ran to the top as ordered.
There before him was the most beautiful garden he’d ever seen. Red roses of Castile with dew still on their petals stretched as far as he could see – he cut the best blooms with his stone knife and filled his poncho with them. With this burden of beauty tied around his neck, he ran to the Bishop’s house as fast as he could.
Juan Diego knocked on the door. A priest opened it and Juan stepped into the room. The Bishop stood and looked at him curiously. Juan spoke with new authority.
“I have the sign you asked for,” he said. Then he opened his poncho and let the roses cascade like a waterfall onto the carpet.
The Bishop let out a cry, as Juan stood holding open his empty poncho. Both Bishop and priests fell to their knees. That’s when Juan realized that they weren’t looking at the roses on the floor. They were staring at his poncho, emptied of the roses. On the coarse fabric was the image of the Lady who Juan Diego had come to know.
“Hail, Mary, full of grace,” the Bishop murmured, “the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
News of the miracle spread and thousands of Juan Diego’s people came to see and honor the sacred image. On that day the Bishop announced, “We will build a church just as Our Lady told us to do on the exact spot where she met Juan Diego. It is her wish that the Holy Image shall be known as Our Lady Maria of Guadalupe.”
In a few days, the Bishop, being a frugal man, gave orders that his priests build an adobe chapel. And Juan Diego’s poncho with its amazing image of the Lady was placed there. For the rest of his life, Juan lived next to the shrine, which he took care of and watched over.
Later, a large cathedral was built, also in the same hallowed place. It’s there that the mysterious image still hangs today, unfaded for centuries. Millions of people from around the world have made pilgrimages to this place in what is now Mexico City.
Today, Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico and is the symbol in Latin America of liberation for the poor, the sick, and the oppressed. Altars to her are found everywhere. In the same sacred place where the Goddess of Earth and Corn was worshipped by the Aztecs, Christians continue to worship this feminine face of the divine, the Mother who brings miracles of healing and gives us hope that we will transcend evil and be blessed with grace.
Please pray with me to Our Lady of Guadalupe, for our prayers to her are for all people seeking liberation here in the Americas.
Let us pray: Our Lady, we ask you to let the day come when, raising our gaze, we all may see freedom reign on this earth. Our soul magnifies the liberating God, Our spirit rejoices in your name, for you have not forgotten us who suffer, and you, our Mother of God, will always be with us in our struggle to be healed and free. In Your Holy name we pray. Amen.
(Adapted from the Song of Mary)