I have a confession to make.
I've always found Mary a bit intimidating.
Crazy, I know, but there's something about her being the only human who ever lived without sin that's always made me feel like she couldn't possibly help but frown on the rest of us. I've always marveled at those who were able to call on her for comfort, because it seemed to me that her glow of purity couldn't possibly function as anything but a glaring spotlight on how flawed the rest of us were.
My mind, I must confess, still rather sees it that way. But recently I had an encounter that reminded me that the highest knowledge doesn't come from my mind.
Back in May, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe visited my midwestern church. The story of Juan Diego has always been a favorite of mine, and if I have thought vaguely of traveling to Mexico to see his miraculous cloak. If that's possible, it won't be for many years, so I was delighted to learn that the image was coming to me. I couldn't wait to see it, but I must admit that I was entirely unprepared for the actual experience of it.
Her gentleness was undeniable; I puzzled over how I might ever have seen her as aloof and intimidating. Her words to Juan Diego--"am I not your mother?"--suddenly rang true in a way that they never had before. I could have sat at her feet forever and simply absorbed the peace and gentleness that she radiated, and I know that I was not alone in that. Nearly everyone in the church was moved to tears at one time or another, or continuously.
It's really impossible for me to describe the way that the power of her gentle, loving spirit washed over everyone in her presence--it's certainly nothing I was prepared for in viewing an image, and I have delayed making this post for weeks in hopes that words would come to me that would allow me to share something of what I saw and felt in that church that day, but they have not come. I can only say that I cannot even begin to imagine the experience of someone like Juan Diego, or Bernadette, to feel the full force of her presence--it is on one hand difficult to imagine surviving such intensity and in another quite easy to understand how their lives were so completely transformed.
Perhaps, in the end, it is just as well that the experience defies description. It is one everyone should experience firsthand.