Friday, December 6, 2013

Of black bras, Priests, and the Virgin Mary?

During my time in Mexico this past summer, I had this one conversation with a new friend I had made a few days prior. My new friend and I met during a dinner party at don Ruben's house. I did not know I would be making a new friend on this particular evening. I did know that I wanted to wear a black sheer-in-the-back top with a black bra and some good fitting jeans. On my way to don Ruben's house, I found out that the dinner party was in honor of 7 clergymen. Actually, one was a priest, one a deacon, and the rest “priests in training”. Awesome. And here I am, with my black bra and fitted jeans. Oh well, what do you do?

The answer, per don Ruben, was “you drink Tequila”. So while we waited for the clergymen to arrive, don Ruben, a Tequila connoisseur, taught me a little bit about this magical drink. Thanks to the Tequila, by the time the clergymen arrived, I was no longer worried about my bra exposed in the back and I was all giddy to share a table with men on of robe. Turned out that, in my world, sharing a table with clergymen while slightly buzzed and physically exposed was a night to be remember and a night were friendships were made. With Priests. But I'm not Catholic.

don Ruben y yo...on the last day of celebrations

Anyway, back to that one conversation with my new friend the Priest. My Priest friend invited me to accompany them (all 7) in the celebrations of the Tastoanes, which is a celebration in honor of Santo Santiago. Essentially, these series of celebrations are cultural longings that commemorate the New World meeting the Old World, in other words, the Spanish Conquest of the the Indigenous peoples of Mexico. And where “in the people” do we find the most iconic presence of Identity? In their stories of their gods. So really, the Tastoanes are celebrations that bridge Catholicism and Indigenous Paganism, the place were the experience of “god” unities itself from "gods" to "God". Yeah, I was all over that! 

The celebrations ended up being something absolutely amazing for me. I didn't actually get to participate in them with the Priest, I ended up meeting up with him on the last day. For most of the celebrations, I went alone or met up with “a friend of a friend”. What ended up happening was that I spent the time participating with the people that the celebrations actually meant something to, with those souls engaging in an act of Spiritual Devotion, those not merely engaging in a cultural experience of dancing and drinking beer with friends (which is actually really cool also...and I did that too).

Santo Santiago on his white horse...well, someone pretending to be him...representing the New World

Los Tastoanes, here the are...the represent the Old World

During this time in Mexico, during these celebrations, walking barefoot with that lady and her family, I learned what it means to be Devoted to something so much that you willing participate in corporal Sacrifice. Devotion: the fact or state of being ardently dedicated and loyal. I believe that to truly experience Devotion it must be accompanied by some Sacrifice. And in the end, after the experience, the ardent dedication through the sacrifice is all that is left...Ardent Dedication. Devotion. And I believe we long for that experience of feeling Ardently Dedicated to something beyond ourselves. I didn't learn that next to the Priest, I learned it next to the people.

I don't remember  how far we walked barefoot, I do remember that it was 3 hours on unforgiving terrain

My feet were fine after the barefoot walk, my soul was purified.  My intention was not to appease God or to negotiate some "final result" with Him.  I wanted to know what Devotion was...and I learned what Ardent Desire feels like.  Would I do it again? I don't know...

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My Priest friend gave me a lot of great factual data about Santo Santigo, the apostle Human and the Saint he turned into after his death. He shared with me historical information about the Spanish Conquest and the zeal of Christian Conversion of the Indigenous Americas. He shared with me that there are still lots of pagan influence in the way that Christianity (Catholicism) is expressed by the people of Mexico in some areas, that although these parts of Mexico were mostly Converted to Christianity, the process of Evangelization hadn't completed settled in the hearts and minds of the people.

It all made sense to me at that moment. The rich devotions we have to Saints, the Aztec danzas still danced in honor of La Virgen de Guadalupe, the Tastoanes, the corporal sacrifice to the gods associated with devotion (which is an improvement to the young Virgin Sacrifice of back in the day, right?!), the Dia de los Muertos...I was so beyond happy to learn this. It made complete sense to me, to who I am. I thought to myself “No wonder you like all this cultural, indigenous stuff, the attraction of the Pagan Greeks and Romans....In your Mexican blood you still have that thread running through your are a Catholic Pagan woman!”

My Priest friend went on to share with me that the Catholic Church is still working on “purifying” the experience of God from a polytheistic pagan expression to a monotheistic one united in Christ. I have to be honest, I kinda felt a little raped by the Church at that moment. I felt a strange sadness that, in the act of Purification, the unnecessary elements that would be eliminated from our history of polytheism would be our  rituals that belong, not to the gods, but to Us, to OUR human experience, our devotions, our desires, our fights, or belief, our history. I still grapple with the psychological experience of personifying God as "one entity". In my heart, God feels too big to be contained by a name or a religion or a psychological experience or even a spiritual experience. In my heart, God is the consolidation of it all, He is the breath giving life to all of it...the Pagan Past, the Purified Present.

I miss my friend the Priest and I miss the lady I walked barefoot with in honor of Santo Santiago. Fortunately, my feelings of longing for the human history of God to be alive in me will soon have an outlet. His feminine face will soon be at the center of Latin American Catholicism. We celebrate the veneration of La Virgen de Guadalupe on December 12th. We honor Her...Feminine Divinity. There are Aztec dances, there is coffee and chocolate at midnight, and las mananitas with Mariachi to remember Her. And when I sit in the Church and watch all of this unfold, I will quietly thank my Pagan Past for giving Mother Mary the voice the Bible forgot to give Her. I will remember that la Virgen de Guadalupe exists on the coattails of Tonantzin, the Aztec Goddess known as Mother Earth. And that La Virgencita de Guadalupe chose to make her apparition on the sacred site of the burned temple belonging to Tonantzin on the hill of Tepeyac. I will remember the Feminine Divinity was always here....waiting for us to notice Her. I won't let Her be "Purified" out of Me.

Feminine Divinity collide in these two religions

1 comment:

  1. fascinating...I very much like the 'feminine' power of God, and am mystified it's rarely validated in my protestant background. The Virgin Mary or feminine divinity or Earth Mother personify the welcoming and sensual love of 'all that is'. I need this love - this femaleness. My faith is incomplete without it. Thanks for sharing, Gabby