You know the drill. The holidays are here. Regardless what others are doing, you've got your work cut out for you. OK, so I'm not including those who say they are "above it all" and have mastered the holiday ritual, all without a bead of sweat on their brow. Good for them. But here in this tiny corner of the world, from this spot before my hearth, I am talking to those of you who wonder, really do wonder, "What's it all about, Alfie?" as the song put it, long ago, for the few of us who still remember.
Yes, you know what the holidays have meant for you in the past. Your family has had its own set of traditions and triumphs, rituals and disasters. At our house, there was the year my uncle Uno unwittingly turned off the oven while cleaning up the kitchen, a well-intended deed left undiscovered until early afternoon when there was zero aroma coming from the 24-pound turkey my mother had put into the oven. That night, all 12 of us sat down for dinner at 6 p.m., without said turkey. At 11 p.m. we had the bird. While I had never seen my mother angry at her brother, who lived with us from time to time, that year, there was a cool Finnish breeze in the otherwise overheated kitchen between them. Each family has its own lore of the unexpected, as well as tales including the hopes, the kudos, and the disappointing moments.
But this year, I find myself wanting to go deeper. As is my habit, off to the "root cellar" I went to consider just what it might look like to enlist the art of creating something more beautiful this holiday season. We can get so caught up in the "machinery" we create from our beliefs about what is expected, that we can forget about the importance of creating something beautiful that is relevant in the now of our heart.
What came to me while "on the cushion" was a December few consider. Not the one we routinely think about, the story of Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago when it is said that field hands and kings, mortals and angels, cows, sheep and one donkey oversaw the birth of a child. Not the usual birthing circumstances, this baby boy was perceived to be so threatening to the status quo that the ruler ordered his death, one which did not come for some three decades later. Most years, this is what the season connotes.
This year may we consider another December event. It did not happen in a Bethlehem manger, but on another continent and in another time. There are similarities. In each case, there's encounter with the "mystery" -- what emerges threatens the power-mongers. In each case, the inexplicable announces its existence to the humble, the low-of-station. In each case, the natives were undergoing enormous stress and persecution. Neither event came from mortal effort. Nor in either case is there a reasonable explanation. What is also true is that today, looking back on each, it is clear that lives who have allowed themselves to be touched by the mystery have never been the same since. Those who have encountered these exquisite events internally have been required to a leap in soul consciousness that has very real implications in how we are to live each day. Today, as in long ago, the very mention of both events begets suspicion as surely as it does hope.
Visit From the Unknown
An abbreviated version of the story goes like this:
Once upon a time, on Dec. 9, 1531, a humble Aztec man by the name of Juan Diego was trudging through his day when he encountered what has been called by some the "Aztec Virgin," by others, simply "Guadalupe." Called by many names since, on that cold December day Juan Diego had no awareness of her, or what was ahead. All he knew was to travel the road he was walking. Like the rest of us, he was no better or worse than others. He was living in a time when the one percent of well-moneyed were in charge, producing untold suffering for the people as they endured governmental and religious corruption at the top. The Aztecs had been conquered by the foreign, leaving a blood-stained trail of genocide.
They say on that particular morning, Dec. 9, 1531, in a place known as Tepeyac, now Mexico City, Juan met the one known as Guadalupe. Radiating the numinous, the lady asked him to tell the bishop, Fray Juan de Zumarraga, to build a temple for her. Terrified, for to do so could cost him his head, Juan obeyed. The bishop, of course, demanded proof. Shortly thereafter, Guadalupe appeared to Juan. He was afraid. But, as good mothers do, the Guadalupe met his fear with comfort, then asked him to climb to the peak of Tepeyac and return with what he found.
Seeing that he was afraid, it is recounted that she said: "Am I not right here, who is your Mother?" She asked him, "What is there to fear, for you are under my protection." Comforted, he did as she bade, returned to the bishop with the roses he had wrapped in his robe, the very same he found in the snow atop Tepeyac, flowers which did not grow in that land. When the bishop saw the roses, he spotted what Juan Diego had not: the imprint of the Guadalupe in his garment.
Humbled by the mystery, the bishop agreed to have a temple erected in her honor. Today, the cape hangs in the Basilica in Mexico City, where hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have gone to witness that which does not age.
A Message for Our Times
This is not the end of the story. When compassion presents itself in life-changing ways, there is always the attempt to render it mute. Whenever we are enjoined to honor the wisdom that lies deepest in our soul, those who would hold us captive to their own power-based agenda would attempt a cover-up. Imagine what might happen if each of us were to get up, stand up, speak up, reclaiming the authority of our own hearts' wisdom way? Imagine the possibilities! Well, my friend, there are those who would prefer to keep you in the dark, demean and disregard what is so, and spend considerable effort to convince you of your unworthiness to "know better" than they. They wish us to go away, stay meek, make no waves. But just as true, there is something greater than our monkey minds at work in the world, something more powerful that is operating in our own best interest.
One of the messages of the story of "Guadalupe" is this: Love is a choice. We get to choose how we wish to live. We can live as prisoners of fear, or we can arise and make something beautiful out of our life and time with one another. This year, I for one am making a shrine, an intentional sacred space for her, for the one that still lives through hope in our heart that we may be well, that we may be happy, at peace, that we might grow in the way of love. I have set about to do just this. Were you to come for a visit, you would see her as you entered my front door. Standing there before you, a vision of beauty would greet you with her smile. Adorned with moss and berries, a bird by her feet, and winter branches behind her, her message never varies: "Am I not here, who is your Mother?" "Then what is there to fear?"
Her story continues.
Your turn: What thing of beauty would you like to create in a designated sacred space this year? How do you prepare the way for the beautiful mystery to meet you, in your every day life filled with so many practicalities? How would life be different if we knew there was nothing to fear? I'm listening! May the "reason for the season" be lived out each day for you and yours, this 2011.
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