God Sends a Mother

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When the world is in travail, God sends a mother.

In 1531 the Mexican peoples languished in the ashes of the Aztec Empire. Once-strong warriors slumped in servitude to their new Spanish overlords. Local women were frequently raped by the conquistadors during the warring years and bore children without fathers. Those mixed children struggled to find their place in a world where they were neither Spanish nor indigenous. New weapons and new diseases each took their turn, ending the lives of many and decimating the population. Glorious cities were razed and holy temples were sacked; Cortés destroyed the known civilization in 1521. The people, broken and bereft, lived in the aftermath of the apocalypse.

The Book of Lamentations would have been appropriate in the hands of the Mexican peoples that remained. Surely the Daughter of Zion, lamenting the loss of her beloved Jerusalem, knew their pain intimately. Her incessant harangue, “There are none to comfort, none to comfort,” rang true across the both grief-stricken lands. Mexican mourners would have welcomed a fellow woman to weep with them. Instead God sent a mother.

Juan Diego, an indigenous man, made his way from the countryside to the Franciscan mission in the city for religious instruction. He had made his peace with the new God of the colonizers, it seemed. Or maybe it was his survival strategy.

One day as he walked, he heard music. He stopped. He followed the song up the hillside of Tepeyac and found a woman with child, dressed like his mother and smiling. She looked familiar with brown skin and features like his ancestors. She spoke in his mother tongue. She used words that honored him in a world that did not.

He recognized her as a manifestation of Mother Mary. She came to comfort her people and to cultivate green sprouts of life in a desolate land. She stood atop a hallowed place for his people, a hill where his ancestors once worshiped in a beautiful temple before it was torn down by the invaders. She invited Juan Diego to help restore the people by building a church there so worship could begin anew. She told him to continue to the city and to invite the bishop to join in this restoration project.

What an unexpected twist to commission the colonizer and colonized to work together toward newness, to create a new house of worship that was neither Spanish nor indigenous, but a new path toward a shared humanity. Except that mothers know how imperative it is for children to get along for true peace to take root.

Mother Mary, more commonly known in Mexico as Our Lady of Guadalupe, visited Juan Diego three times on that sacred hillside of Tepeyac. She healed his uncle. She participated in a miraculous sign involving flowers and fashion. Always, she spoke to him with respect and kindness. Always, she stoked courage in his spirit. Always, she spoke in his native tongue and used metaphors from the canon of his ancestors. And as she honored his culture and empowered him through his traditions, she pushed him to imagine something new for a future where everyone now in the land could live and worship together.

Of course, this required the priest to enter into the project with humility. He had to believe Juan Diego. He had to collaborate with him as an equal partner in the work of restoration. If he could do that, then they would build something new together. And Our Lady of Guadalupe knew how to soften the Spaniard’s heart and draw him in, too. She made a way for healing in the land where there was no way before. She incarnated God’s goodness and restorative prowess in the Americas. Because of her, Christ would be born afresh in the New World. 

It’s not the first time God sent a mother. There were four hundred silent years between the oracle of Malachi closing out the Old Testament and the new days testified to in the Gospels. Except that those years were anything but silent. They were bloody years full of major wars and regional revolts, lost sons, raped daughters and stolen fortunes. The people must have been as inconsolable. I imagine the shouts of rage and cries of “Why, why?” that pierced the sky. I can only imagine silence after the last tear fell.

But then, at long last, God sent a mother. First, he sent an angel to announce that Mary would become a mother by divine means. And then God sent her into a convulsing land with incarnation in her belly. Hope gestated in her from Nazareth, to Ein Kerem, to Bethlehem. Songs of grand reversals burst forth from her mouth. And she gave birth to a revolutionary son. 

Further back, God sent mothers in Egypt when the land was heavy with enslavement. Hebrew women conceived and birthed sons despite the death edict of Pharaoh. They delivered babies under duress. One mother ferried her son across the Nile River on a makeshift raft to save him. Another, an Egyptian, adopted the boy to protect him from a certain death. Mothers worked together on both side of the river to sponsor life and work toward freedom. I believe it was mothers who sang liberation lullabies to their children and gave them the imagination for liberation. I cannot imagine Exodus without the mothers. 

Even now, God sends mothers. God sends them to the border to fight for those families suffering separation. God sends them to the streets to march for the civil rights of black sons and daughters, then and now. God sends them to Liberia to break the back of militias and to Sierra Leon to reintegrate child soldiers into communities. God sends mothers to Israel and Palestine to transform their suffering into healing and show the way forward to reconciliation. 

I see mothers deployed all around me. Some are teaching in family literacy programs in Denver, others are creating curriculum to help their refugee neighbors learn English outside Portland. Some mothers are creating jobs for refugees from Burma or translating their stories from Syria to honor them and educate others along the way. Some mothers pack extra food in school lunches for kids to share with hungry classmates, some volunteer at the local food bank or give extra to families struggling with medical bills. Mothers keep showing up to transform their communities as Our Lady of Guadalupe did in Mexico. Mothers keep saying yes to God’s invitation to participate in the world like Mother Mary. 

We live in perilous times. The forces of colonization are everywhere and often generational with reach deep into our cultures and even churches. And the good news is that amid all the tumult we can trust God to send a mother – maybe even us.

 

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Footnotes:
1. For more on the tradition of Our Lady of Guadalupe I recommend Guadalupe: Mother of the New Creation by Virgilio Elizondo
2. For more about the mothers in the Exodus story I commend my own forth-coming book, Defiant: What the Women of Exodus Teach Us about Freedom (March 2020)
3. To learn more about the women of Libera, check out the movie Pray the Devil Back to Hell starring Lehman Gbowee (movie). Fore more about the women of Sierra Leone, read When Blood and Bones Cry Out by John Paul Lederach. And the women of Israel-Palestine, follow the Parents Circle (or @ThePCFF on Twitter).
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