I’m a New Orleans girl, and I really love to dance. I love swing dancing, line dancing, second lining, you name it. Just the other day, I was trying to explain the way we second line to some friends of mine who are not from New Orleans. After struggling to explain, I realized I really couldn’t do it with words. I was quickly reminded that the best way for me to explain to someone how to second line is by showing them.
Today, December 12, is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. While I could write a post about the miraculous qualities of the image or Juan Diego’s tilma, I feel led to share something a bit different.
Perhaps the most striking feature to me about Our Lady of Guadalupe is that you see in the image that her posture is one of prayerful dancing. Her left knee is slightly bent and raised. It is said that those in Mexico at the time would have recognized her posture not just as any dance but as part of a victory dance.
Our Lady isn’t just dancing randomly; no, she is dancing on the head of the serpent! In fact, “Guadalupe” means “the one who crushes the stone serpent’s head.”
The other day I had a conversation with someone about ideas for my dissertation. I walked away feeling pretty discouraged and telling Jesus that I really have no idea what He is doing in my life. (It’s a theme lately.) As I left, I was trying to understand why the feeling in my heart felt familiar. I realized it’s like how I feel when I am dancing with someone but have absolutely no idea what is going on.
As a woman, I really don’t have to know what is going on to dance. Yes, I’m aware of the structure and the tempo. But really, there are two primary keys to dancing well with someone.
1-The man with whom I am dancing must know what he is doing and be confident in his ability to lead me.
2-(Most Important)–Do I trust the man with whom I am dancing?
If I don’t trust him, I don’t allow him to lead. If I don’t allow him to lead but instead try to control the steps and predict his next move, the dance doesn’t work. We’re both tripping up and flailing about, and it isn’t the prettiest sight to see.
But! …if I trust him, and if I allow him to lead me, the dance is beautiful.
The dance is free.
The dance is joy.
God the Father in the very beginning, moments after we’d fallen and grasped for what we thought were our heart’s truest desires, promised us that He was not going to give up on us. In fact, we call Genesis 3:15 the Protoevangelium, which means literally “The First Gospel.” Here God said:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
Speaking here to the serpent, God literally tells Satan that there will be division between him (Satan) and the woman. The woman’s child would come to crush Satan’s head, to defeat the evil that sought to ensnare and literally trip up God’s children. For when we do not trust our Father to lead us, we try to control it all ourselves…and trip and fall.
Mama Mary, the woman promised to us in the first Gospel, wants to teach us how to dance.
Deeper than any struggle of mine with a dissertation or with exhaustion or with the constant questioning by others about my future life plans, my heart is just here in this moment, aching for the providence of my Father. I’m fighting the battle to believe that my Father is good and wants what is best for this little, weak heart of mine.
I was walking in St. Peter’s Square past the huge Nativity Scene last night, reflecting how no one is trying to sell me things, and so I can quietly wander up to the Nativity Scene and just look. I hear languages from around the world, and I see beauty that is not a hearth of warmth and perfection. I see the beauty of reality as it exists still today in this stable. In this manger. In my heart.
That is EMPTY.
No matter the situation in our life, no matter my financial security (or lack thereof), no matter my academic achievements, no matter my failures, no matter my struggles, there is a thread that unites me with every person here.
In the poverty of my own heart, in the poverty of my own unknowing, in the poverty of my feeling like just maybe He is answering my prayer…and then realizing it is another closed door, He is teaching me the glory of daily waking up and choosing to hope in Him when every little glimmer of a direction seems to wind up in a dead-end.
She is teaching me to trust in His promise even as I contemplate the cold stable and the smell of the animals and the poverty of Mary and Joseph’s experience–delivering the God-Man into the world after traveling for days and being denied a sanctuary. Sometimes, it feels like God denies us a sanctuary.
I think, though, that maybe He denies us a sanctuary so that we can run here to this stable in Bethlehem, the stable where all must bow down to enter, acknowledging our own neediness.
And here in this stable, I look up and see this woman.
This woman who sits by an empty manger and teaches me how to wait.
This woman who beckons me to come closer into the scene with her and to lay my head upon her lap as tears of frustration run down my face.
This woman who looks to Joseph and asks him to pray for me so that I might be reminded of the humanity God has called me to live to the full.
This woman whose every joy was wrapped in a mysterious silence, hidden in the depths with her remaining unanswered questions and seemingly (at times) unheard pleas.
Our Lady, Spouse of the Spirit, is teaching me how to dance even when I feel weighed down by discouragement and doubt. This woman, whose feast is always around Gaudate Sunday–a time set apart for rejoicing—is teaching me how to keep moving and fighting that daily battle for joy.
My dancing right now is shaky because I’m struggling a bit to trust my Father. Still, I am directing my gaze to this woman in front of me, choosing today to learn from her how to dance in the face of the unknown.
The Father promised us life that would know no bounds. Our Lady’s “yes” was a “yes” to miracles wrapped in mystery, remaining fully human in her reception of the gift. Her “yes” was also a “yes” to swords that pierced her heart, but such wounds for love are ones that God’s mercy transforms into a playground for the Spirit.
So as we await the coming of our Savior, the Prince of Peace, as we look upon empty manger scenes, may we prepare a place for Him in our own hearts, hearts that are at times as cold as that stable yet always desire more of Him.
May we look to our Mama and learn her best dance moves, dancing and delighting like little children who hope in the promise of the Father. May we learn to delight as she did, even in the darkness, holding onto the promises of the One who always led her in the dance. May she come to us as she did to Juan Diego, a mother familiar to us in our struggles who invites us to the greatest dance, the one of trust in the Father who leads us:
Listen, put it into your heart, my youngest and dearest son, that the thing that frightens you, the thing that afflicts you, is nothing: do not let it disturb you…Am I not here, I who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am 1 not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need something more? Let nothing else worry you or disturb you.
When we learn from our Mama, we learn how to dance one step of trust at a time. We learn how to dance like a child, free and fearless.
Some of my favorite dancing happens in the streets of New Orleans during Mardi Gras. When a parade is delayed, the music is blaring, and people from all around are joining together to dance their each unique way in the streets that are glittered with beads and doubloons. Different people from all over begin to dance and laugh together, and it’s nothing but JOY! All our dances look different, and so it is with our lives. Our steps will be our own; our movements will be unique to us. But our joy will be a common thread, for it’s the joy of children trusting in the Father’s love and providence.
And that’s the kind of dancing that makes us holy. For when we’re free to dance like that, we’re dancing with the King. Our joy is unbridled, and our hopes are once again restored.