Today there was a bit of row in the Oval Office. Apparently if the wall is not built, terrible people will be streaming over the southern borders and making America worse by the minute.
The timing of this conversation and the impending (read: horrible) government shutdown has been on my mind. I just finished a book that took my breath away at every turn, a book that had me crying as I read its last words on its final page, a book about the border.
Add to all of this, today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas. Of the many apparitions of Mary, the Mother of God, she may just be my favorite. Entire volumes have been written about her, so this short blog post won’t go into all of her details. If you need to know more about her, she is easily found.
For the sake of our post today, let it suffice to say that Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe is a universally present and beloved presence in Mexico, in Central America, and beyond. It is her presence that turned the tide of evangelization in the 16th century. If not for her appearing to Juan Diego in 1531, who knows what would have happened. But she did and he did as she asked, and here we are.
Let me talk to you about this book that I read. It truly wowed me in ways that I could hot have imagined. “The Line Becomes a River, Dispatches from the Border“ by Francisco Cantú is a haunting and luminous work. Reading it was effortless, because it lured me forward with descriptive storytelling, gorgeous prose, and the revelation of ordinary life in extraordinary circumstances. From 2008 to 2012, Cantú stepped away from his scholarly pursuits to work for the Border Patrol, a decision that shocked and dismayed his mother.
This is not a book review, but the book offers insights to the border situation, even though it has been a few years since Cantú worked there. He is of some Mexican heritage and he grew up on the border; he currently lives in (my beloved) Tucson – so he is no stranger to that place.
There were many times when I wished I was not reading a library book because I wanted to highlight passages or make notes in the margins, but I did not do so. I did make good notes on some paper. One of the things that I was struck by was the reality of the border versus what is heard or known about the border. The other thing that truly struck me was that most people are good at heart, but that there are very bad people on both sides of the border. This was not news to me, but the thoughts were very present as I read the book.
In one part of the book the author refers to the work of Carl Jung. If you are not familiar with Jung, I cannot recommend him highly enough. In the meantime know this – Jung was very much interested in the way we are divided and what our wholeness (my words not his) would benefit from. To that end he wrote about the concept of “the shadow” which is some broken off “otherness in ourselves. One of his observations that I try to hold onto was this: “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” Trust me, I think of this when I think of many politicians.
In the book Cantú writes about what Jung had to say late in his life, which was after World War II. In regard to the the then “new” Cold War, Jung noted that the Iron Curtain was a “boundary line bristling with barbed wire that runs through the psyche of modern humanity’s psyche.” That is quite the border between us and “the other.” Jung went on to say that “the normal individual… sees his shadow in his neighbor or in the man beyond the great divide.” Continuing he noted that it had become a “political and social duty” to perceve “the other as the very devil, so as to fascinate the outward eye and prevent it from looking at the individual within.” Furthermore Jung said, that government had “no intention of promoting mutual understanding.” It all ultimately becomes about “the other” who is of course, the problem. We all do this at some level, but we are living it today in an extreme manner, even more extreme than when Cantú wrote the book – and that was fairly recently!
So what does this have to do with our beloved Guadalupana? Hold on, we will get there. First of all, the border dispute about the wall, the wall that will decimate a protected butterfly sanctuary, it will further decimate our nation and other nations, and it will in many ways be a crime against humanity and creation. Oh, that high steel wall, running through our psyche, the one that lures us into thinking we will somehow be “safer” and that we will get our jobs back. That is the work of the one who tempts us if I ever saw it – using division as a tool for chaos.
What might Nuestra Señora say about such things? Well, for starters, in those days the Spaniards were the invading occupiers in power. Juan Diego was “the other” – a shadow figure of sorts, although he did not seem to appear as a danger to anyone. No, he was someone to be ignored for the most part. The Spaniards were strong, rich, cunning, they had it all – and he was but an impoverished brown man. And who did Mary the Mother of God turn to in 1531? The proud and arrogant? No. if she had, would they have listened? No, this “Morenita” or brown one, she who looked like a native, came to a native in all of his small meekness.
So when thinking about who she might approach if she approached us again, who do we think that she might look to in order to deliver her message? As the Magnificat tells us, God “has put down the mighty from their thrones, and has exalted the lowly.” Of course, if there is a wall, the lowly can not come near. What message might we miss from such a barrier? Imagine if a wall had kept Juan Diego from his bishop – then what?
All this is meant to remind us on this feast day, that Jesus came so that we might become one. And during Advent, we are well reminded that it is humble women who bear the light of God most readily. So what can we learn from today’s feast? And from books like the one written by Francisco Cantú? And from looking in the shadow parts of ourselves, so that we might integrate them into some wholeness?
Whatever we might learn must be encountered. Whatever we might encounter has the potential to scare and disturb us. Whatever scares or disturbs us has the potential to change us. So in the end, if we do not face the shadow – the brown man who does not alway speak our language, or the brown woman making an audacious request – we risk turning God away. This does not mean an open border with people streaming in, this simply means humane policy that works with the reality of life.
On this feast day, may blessings be upon those who make the decisions that will impact the lives of so many. And may Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe help us to find our way.
Here is a song about Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, performed by a bishop in Chicago, Bishop Alberto Rojas.