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Miracles in December (the Sunday post) December 13, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, First Nations, Healing Stories, Hope, Kirtan, Music, Mysticism, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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This is the post for Sunday, December 12th. You can request an audio recording of Sunday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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“I try to find you, who I can’t see
I try to hear you, who I can’t hear

Then I start to see things I couldn’t see
Hear things I couldn’t hear
Because after you left
I received a power I didn’t have before”

 

– quoted from the song “Miracles in December” by EXO

‘Tis the season for miracles!

Ok, let’s be real. If you look at a calendar – you will find that there a plethora of miracles in every season. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church has a whole calendar that, essentially, celebrates miracles attributed to various people. This time of year, however, there seems to be a concentration of miracles – or maybe it just feels that way because so many of the miracles are similar and/or connected.

On Wednesday, I mentioned that within the Roman Catholic tradition there are almost 20 Marian feast days (i.e., days honoring the Virgin Mary), excluding local and regional days devoted to this holy mother. I even mentioned that December 9th, like December 8th, is a day when some people in the world celebrate the miracle of this blessed woman’s birth, a birth… which was itself a miracle. Of course, when most people (even many Christians) think of the miracle of birth, they think of the newborn baby and, in this context, they think of Jesus. Interestingly, December 12th is also a Marian feast day in the Roman Catholic tradition. It is a day associated with several miracles that occurred over a series of days (beginning on the aforementioned December 9th) in 1531, culminating with the fourth (or fifth) miraculous apparition occurring on December 12th.  

Or, at least that’s how the story has been told for almost 500 years.

But, it turns out there was more to the story.

And whether you believe the story or not*, it’s a tale full of compelling evidence. One could even say that the “balance of probabilities” or “preponderance of the evidence” was enough to convince a man who identified himself as being “poor” (possibly in spirit) and who was not inclined to believe his own senses.

“For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who do not believe, no proof is possible.”

 

– Stuart Chase

An important part of this story is the timeline.* However, before we get started, we need to clarify the timeline. In October of 1582, Papal-governed nations like Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth switched to the Gregorian calendar. Up until then, these nations – as well as their colonies – used the Julian calendar. So, keep in mind that even though the events of our story took place according to the Julian calendar, most people today celebrate according to the Gregorian calendar.

That said, our story begins on Saturday, December 9, 1531, when an Indigenous man in what is now Mexico City was walking to mass. His journey took Juan Diego Cuāuhtlahtoātzin across Tepeyac Hill, which many modern people believe had been a sacred Aztec site associated with a mother goddess. Please keep in mind that this future saint, Juan Diego, was an adult and Spanish missionaries had only been in his country for about eight years. So, if historians are correct, he would have known the significance of the site. Either way, as he was walking along his way, he started hearing birds singing. It was an odd time of year to hear this type of birdsong and so it made him pause.

Perhaps he looked around for the source. Have you ever done that? Heard some beautiful sounds in nature (or maybe something that startled you) and you looked around to verify what you were hearing? Perhaps that’s what San Juan Diego did in 1531. Only, instead of birds, he saw the vision of a young woman. She was dressed in clothes that would have been familiar to him and she spoke his language (Nahuatl), but what she said was strange. She identified herself as the virgin mother – which was weird, because she didn’t look like the pictures and descriptions that came courtesy of the priests. She was not fair-haired or fair-skinned. She looked and spoke more like Juan Diego’s people. Stranger even than her appearance was that she wanted this poor man to go to the Franciscan bishop and ask that a chapel be built where she appeared. 

Now, a little back story about this bishop might be handy (just so you can understand his possible state of mind). His Excellency Don Juan de Zumárraga y Arrazola O. F. M. was born into a noble Basque family in Spain. I’m unclear when he entered the priesthood; however, several significant things happened when he was approaching 60 years old. First, he was named as custodian of a convent. That same year, 1527, he was appointed as a judge in a court investigating witches and recommended by the Holy Roman Emperor (Charles V) to be the first bishop of Mexico (New Spain). A year later he was in the “New World,” but only had the title(s) of bishop-elect and “Protector of the Indians.” His role was not officially consecrated until April of 1533 – which means that in 1531, during the time of our story – he could not fully execute his duties. Oh, also there was dissension in the ranks and the ever-present possibility of a socio-political and religious mutiny.

So, here comes Juan Diego with his message from the Divine Mother. To be clear, he was a reluctant messenger from the very beginning, but he was even more so after visiting the bishop-elect, who (naturally) did not believe him. I say “naturally,” because even if Juan Diego was 100% convinced of his mission, the bishop-elect and “Protector of the Indians” would have been skeptical. He may have wondered why this “poor” indigenous man would be blessed with a visitation instead of someone like him, who had devoted his life to God and the Church. He might have questioned Juan Diego’s description of the woman. Finally, his previous experience serving with the court that examined witches, may have made him skeptical of anything that might be considered “hallucinatory,” especially if it was related to women.

On his way back home, defeated, discouraged, and doubtful, San Juan Diego again saw and spoke with the lady on the hill. At some point, he even pulled a Moses and suggested that someone else would be better suited for the job of messenger. But no, the blessed mother was sending him; the man whose surname (Cuāuhtlahtoātzin) means “He who speaks like an eagle.” 

“Do you hear what I hear?
Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear? (Hear what I hear)
Ringing through the night, shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear (Hear what I hear)
A song, a song, high above the trees
With a voice as big as the sea
With a voice as big as the sea

 

– 1st verse of “Do You Hear What I Hear” by Whitney Houston

The next day, Sunday, December 10th, Juan Diego went back to speak to His Excellency Don Juan de Zumárraga y Arrazola. Again, he was not believed; but this time the man who would become the first bishop and the first archbishop of Mexico told Juan Diego to go back to Tepeyac Hill and ask for proof. He wanted some form of religious currency – and here, I don’t mean a bribe: he wanted a verifiable miracle.

As instructed, Juan Diego went to the hill to request proof, which he was told he would receive if he came to the hill the next day. Unbeknownst to him, the bishop elect sent servants or guards to follow him, but “some how” they lost him. Of course, the servants or guards weren’t going to admit that they lost an indigenous “peasant.” So, they went back and told the bishop-elect that Juan Diego was a liar who had made the whole thing up. They accused him of a number of things that would be considered heretical and blasphemous. If this story were happening today, he might have been accused of “pushing a woke (or liberal) agenda” – because who else but a social justice warrior would request a church devoted to a brown-skinned Madonna.

Now, here’s where the story takes a turn, because Juan Diego does not return to Tepeyac Hill on Monday, December 11th. It’s not that he didn’t believe or didn’t take his task seriously, it’s not that he didn’t care. But, he did have a more urgent need to address: his beloved uncle Juan Diego Bernardino was deathly ill. This uncle, who had taken him in after his parents died, needed someone to take care of him; and so Juan Diego did what was needed. At some point, however, it became clear that San Juan Diego’s physical ministrations were not enough. That Tuesday morning, December 12th, he left home to find a priest who could administer the last rites. 

Imagine his grief. Imagine his pain. Also, imagine the urgency of his quest and the shame. Yes, he felt shame and embarrassment, because he hadn’t gone back to the hill to get the proof requested by the bishop-elect. He was also in a hurry and so he tried to figure out another route. Some other way that he could reach the church and find a priest without being stopped by the vision. But, to no avail. Our Lady of Guadalupe was still waiting for him.

“¿No estoy yo aquí que soy tu madre?”

[“Am I not here, I who am your mother?”] 

 

– Spanish quoted from the front entrance of the modern (or new) Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, based on the 17th century Nahuatl text Nican Mopohua (Here Is Told)

 

The vision of the Divine Mother told him that his uncle had recovered. (Later he would learn that his uncle Juan Diego Bernardino had also received a visit from the Blessed Mother.) Our Lady of Guadalupe told the future saint that if he went up to the top of the hill, where it was the coldest, he would find proof that he could take back to the bishop-elect. Juan Diego did as he was told and found the peak covered in roses. These were roses that were not indigenous to the area. Fragrant roses that could not be bought at any supermarket or mercado in the area. Flower covered in morning dew – even though it was too cold and out of season for such flowers to grow. As astounded as he must have been (and relieved because his uncle was well), he managed to gather as many flowers as he could carry in his tilma (or cloak) and brought them to the vision. She touched each flower and placed them back in his blanket-like cape. 

Now, to be clear, at this point in the story, Juan Diego had experienced these miracles with almost every one of his senses. He has heard them, seen them, smelled them, and felt them. He has thought about them and remembered them with clarity. One could argue that the only sense not engaged was his sense of taste; but since smell and taste are closely connected, we can’t exclude the possibility that the fragrant flowers left and impression on his tongue.

Yet, there was more.

After some resistance (mostly from the servants or guards at the Church), Juan Diego was admitted into the bishop’s chambers. When he opened his tilma the roses fell out onto the flower. More roses than he could have carried and, again, roses that were out of season and not available in the area. Some say they were Castilian roses, meaning they were indigenous to Spain and, theoretically, would have been recognizable to His Excellency Don Juan de Zumárraga y Arrazola O. F. M. as such.

But, there was more.

When the roses fell on the floor, they revealed an image in the tilma: a vibrant image of the Virgin Mary as she appeared to Juan Diego. She appeared to be mestiza, a mixture of two ethnicities: Aztec and Spanish. Her dark hair was parted to indicate that she was a virgin. Her blue-green mantilla or veil was covered in stars, indicating that she came from Heaven and also (by their pattern) establishing the date and time of her appearance. Her hands were in prayer with her fingers pointed to the cross that she wore at the top of her dress. A black ribbon tied beneath her hands and above her belly indicated that she was encinta, “enclosed in the ribbon” – which means she was pregnant. Four-petaled and eight-petaled flowers covered the cloth over her belly and the lower portion of her dress. She stood in the clouds, in front of the sun (which some say represents Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of the sun and of war). She also stood on top of the moon (some say crushing the Aztec’s Quetzalcóatl, the feathered serpent moon god) with a shoe that looks like the tilma. Finally, the edge of her mantilla and the edge of her dress were held up by “an angel with eagle wings” who wore a shirt and cross that matched hers.

I say “finally,” but – to be clear – I’ve only highlighted some (but not all) of the most obvious elements of the image. An image that scientists have said was not painted and has no (significant) brushstrokes. An image that, though I refer to it in the past tense above, reportedly looks almost** exactly the same as it did when it was first revealed (almost 500 years ago) – despite the fact that it was not protected from the elements for over one hundred years.

Also, I’ve left out explanations for a lot of the symbols, a note about Her name, and a few things that would not have been obvious when the image was first revealed. For example, the eyes of Our Lady of Guadalupe are shaped like a real person’s eyes and modern science has revealed that they contain two images: reflections of two scenes which include the images of people like San Juan Diego and His Excellency Don Juan de Zumárraga y Arrazola.

Then there are the flowers…

Each celestial body, in fact each and every atom, produces a particular sound on account of its movement, its rhythm or vibration. All these sounds and vibrations form a universal harmony in which each element, while having it’s own function and character, contributes to the whole.

 

– quote attributed to Pythagoras (of Samos)

The arrangement of the stars and flowers held significance right off the bat. Some of the flowers even look different when viewed at different angles, but a Mexico accountant (recently) discovered that there’s more to the arrangement than date, time, topography, and religious symbolism. According to Fernando Ojeda, a member of the Instituto Superior de Estudios Guadalupanos (ISEG), the arrangement is, well, an actual arrangement. It’s music.

Analyzing the image from a mathematical perspective, Fernando Ojeda found that it was symmetrical and maintained the golden ratio. When he asked what would be considered the “most symmetrical” instrument, someone told him it was a piano. So, he framed a copy of the image with a golden triangle and had a musical colleague overlap the image with a drawing of a piano so that they could transcribe the stars and flowers into music notes. Then, Fernando Ojeda plugged the notes into a computer program and (with the help of some classical musicians) produced what could easily be described as something heavenly.

I know, I know. Even if you believe all the rest of the story, you might be skeptical of this last bit. Especially if you know about John Cage and the wind chimes.  However, when the ISEG analysts reportedly applied these same methods to paintings from the 16th and 17th century, the painted stars and flowers did not produce anything that would have met with Bach’s approval.

“[Music] should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the re-creation of the soul, where this is not kept in mind, there is no true music, but only an infernal clamour and ranting.”

 

– Johann Sebastian Bach (b. 1685)

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube only. Spotify users can find similar music on the Mother’s Day 2020 playlist.

[NOTE: I could not find “the music of the mantle” on Spotify, but it’s embedded/linked below along with a third track that is not on the Mother’s Day playlist.]

I can’t help wondering, is this the music (of the birds) that San Juan Diego heard?

 

A longer version…

 

“Miracles in December”

 

*NOTE: Many scholars and theologians are skeptical about the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Some of the skepticism surrounds the timeline and the fact that the first written account didn’t appear until the 17th century. There is also some confusion about the name, confusion that is heightened by translating into (and out of) languages that don’t share an original culture. Some of that language confusion all revolves around a misunderstanding about what is a title and what is a name.

 

**NOTE: Acid was spilled on the tilma in 1791, but it appears that there was minimum damage and/or (as some people believe) the image healed itself. The visions crown has been altered. Scientists have disagreed about how much the image has faded or flaked over the years, but consistently agree that it seems to be very little.

 

 

### WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE? ###

 

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