People make pilgrimages to all kinds of places. Baseball fans travel to Cooperstown, architects go to see famous buildings, and stage performers often recall their first, life-changing visit to Broadway. People even make a kind of pilgrimage to New York City to visit their favorite store, such as Tiffany’s or Macy’s.
Religious pilgrimages have been an important part of my following Jesus. The experience of visiting and praying where others have strongly felt God’s closeness has gotten into my spiritual bloodstream, making me more open to God’s presence wherever I might be. It has made me more open to hearing about God’s movement in the lives of others. Finally, pilgrimage teaches me about Incarnation—that God has come and continues to come into our world in human, bodily, blood-and-sweat ways.
Next week I’ll be making a mini-pilgrimage to Mexico City as I join thousands of people walking, praying, and singing at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
December 12 is the feast day for Our Lady of Guadalupe, a day that celebrates how in 1531 the Virgin Mary appeared to an indigenous man named Juan Diego on a hill just outside Mexico City. Because she introduced herself in Diego’s native Nahuatl, some suggest that the name sounded like “Guadalupe” to the Spanish religious leaders, and they simply assumed this was an appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe from Extremadura, Spain. The nickname stuck, but this Mexican appearance of the Virgin Mary was a little different from her Spanish counterpart: the image that appeared on Juan Diego’s cloak (or tilma) showed a young woman of dark or mixed complexion. Around her image were signs and symbols that blended native Aztec religion with Christianity. Like the biblical Mary, Guadalupe presented herself as subversively faithful and disarmingly loving, all the while, pointing to Jesus. Whatever happened on the hill of Tepeyac, Mexico, Our Lady of Guadalupe would become a unifying symbol, a sign of God’s love for all God’s children, and a strong sense of Mary’s encouragement for us to build a place for Jesus—in our land, in our homes, and in our hearts.
I first visited the Basilica in 2015, when I spent some sabbatical time studying Spanish and visiting churches. As someone who had mostly experienced God through my head (reading, learning, and studying), Guadalupe jolted my senses. Art, music, smell, taste, movement, pain, grief, joy, ecstasy—all combine as pilgrims from all over the world approach the church to say thank you, to ask God for help, or simply to be quiet in the midst of mystery.
I go to Guadalupe next week with gratitude for all life’s blessings. And, as always, I go with a lot of curiosity. I will be giving thanks for each of you, for The Church of the Holy Trinity, and that God would continue to show us how to be a home for Christ and welcome others.