The Basilica brimmed with statues and pictures of Our Lady, the ultimate Mother-love of All. Vases of long-stemmed red roses and votive candles of every size and color covered the altar. The air was sweet with perfume. The pews were full, even though there was no Mass. I stared up at the statue of Guadalupe as tears filled my eyes. I squeezed them shut and folded my hands in prayer. “Here I am,” I imparted. “Welcome me into your arms, Mi Madre.” I gave thanks for my life, rich in possibility; and for my health. I asked for blessings on my daughter, Hope.Then I sat and breathed in holy, reverent moment.
Exit was slow, the line was long. In front of me was a mother holding her brown-eyed baby boy. His thick lashes slowly opened and closed as he peered over her shoulder let loose with an angelic smile. I smiled back and did a double take as I saw a black mustache painted above his lip. A glance around revealed dozens of little Juan Diegos, the peasant man to whom Our Lady of Guadalupe first appeared in the mountains.The story goes that She presented Juan with fresh roses in the middle of December in order for him to prove her existence to the church officials. Boy babes and toddlers wore white cotton peasant clothes and donned ‘Juan’ mustaches. A hilarious, heart rendering scene!
The little girls, on the other hand, wore kerchiefs on their heads and strutted in their multicolored peasant skirts. On their backs, positioned between their shoulder blades, hung intriguing little cages about ten inches wide and eight inches tall. Later that day, in the packed, bustling market, I saw these cages for sale, bought one and hung it above my writing space.
The cage was called a java (pronounced hă-ba). It replicated the items one carried for spiritual pilgrimage. Affixed to this little wood and wire crate were miniature replicas of necessities for a sacred journey: a sombrero to protect one from the sun, a tortilla press, a clay water jug, a straw basket and a lava stone molcajete to cook stews over a fire. A plate and various pieces of cookware dangled from the bottom. A rolled up lime green sleeping mat stretched across the top. A turquoise and pink striped serape adorned the side, next to a tiny picture of - who else? - Our Lady. The java was a symbol of one who rids herself of possessions and embarks on a spiritual pilgrimage.
That java is the centerpiece of my day up here in snowy Montana. A reminder that no matter where I am, sitting still or moving down the road, I continue my journey. “Is there anything you need?” Our Lady invokes. Yes. To come upon a blood red rose in the freshly fallen snow.