Star Wars, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and Liturgy
by Br. Abbot Dan Benedict, OSL
Time magazine (December 14, 2015, p. 74) quotes J. J. Abrams, the director, co-writer and co-producer of Star Wars: The Force Awakens saying of the characters in the film: “The idea that there would be a new generation of young people, a new generation of nobodies. That was what Star Wars was for me, so wonderfully: a story of desperate nobodies who became somebodies.”
I have just started reading American Magnificat: Protestants on Mary of Guadalupe, edited by Maxwell Johnson. The appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe to Juan Diego, a poor indigenous Indian “nobody,” nearly five centuries ago takes up the same story. Subject to the oppression, brutality, and marginalization by the Spanish colonizers, Juan Diego’s story is the encounter with God’s grace in a vision of Mary.
Mary of Guadalupe said to Juan Diego:
Know for certain, least of my sons, that I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God, through whom everything lives, the Lord of all things near and far…. Here [in the temple, the place of the vision] I will hear their [the people who cry to her] their weeping, their sorrow, and will remedy and alleviate all their multiple sufferings, necessities and misfortunes. (1)
As Johnson writes in his introduction, “I would like to suggest that we [Protestants] might best appropriate the story and image of the Virgin of Guadalupe under the category of parable, that is, ‘the Virgin of Guadalupe as parable of justification,’ or, ‘Mary of Guadalupe as parable of the reign of God.’” Here Johnson emphasizes New Testament scholarship on the function of parable: “‘stories that defy the religious conventions, overturn tradition, and subvert the hearer’s expectations’ about how God is supposed to act in the world and, in so doing, ‘make room’ for the inbreaking of God’s reign.” (p. 8-9, quoting Nathan Mitchell, Real Presence, p. 48)
The power of Star Wars in contemporary myth making and of the Virgin of Guadalupe as primal American mythos, is that both give the “nobodies” an imaginative space in which we can become “somebody”—not by our doing but by a strange mercy and grace. (Recall Jesse Jackson’s rallying declaration to the disenfranchised, “You are somebody!”)
Without getting into arguments about “truth” and the truthfulness of beloved narratives, whether they started in 1531 or 1977, for Christians the story we tell and seek to become is anchored in grace of God’s rule—the grace manifest in Jesus Christ, the incarnate, crucified and risen Lord. That is the public work we engage in the liturgy of Word and Table, in which we and all who are nobodies are made somebodies. The liturgy rehearses us in this story week after week, year after year, A, B, C and A, B, C. Baptized into this story, we make Eucharist for all that God has done on behalf of the whole creation. The lectionary readings and the seasons of the year become occasions for “populating” our imaginations with Mary, Joseph, Simeon, Anna, Zacchaeus, the teary woman with the alabaster jar of ointment, Peter, Andrew, and a host of Hebrew and Greek Bible characters, all of whom are nobodies in the secular universe and somebodies in the world God so loved.
All of us, the whole ecosphere in which we are integral, fit the Apostle Paul’s description of God’s reversal of our pretensions to greatness in 1 Corinthians 1: 27-31: “God chose [chooses] what is foolish…to shame the wise; what is weak…to shame the strong; … what is low and despised … things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.”
So, the story we tell and that we are becoming in baptism and the gospel we enact is our glory and our burden. We come to it ever and again as strangers, or we don’t really come at all. To come to it as “insiders”, as those who belong, is alienation.(2) In every gathering around Word and Table we come as strangers to be surprised by the mystery of being chosen by this mercy, this attentiveness, this Presence who listens to that in us, inward and personal and outward and social, that weeps and sorrows.
Willingness to be “there” for the life of the world is the risk we embrace in waters of baptism and in every encounter with mercy and mystery in Word and Table. Recognizing that in film, art, iconic figures, and one’s own story of being welcomed as a stranger, a nobody, is the risk inherent in mindfulness and humility.
(1) Queen of the Americas Guild. Accessed 12/20/15 http://www.queenoftheamericasguild.org/BriefHistoryNew.html Emphasis added.
(2) See Patrick Keifert, Welcoming the Stranger: A Public Theology of Worship and Evangelism.
The imagination joins the concrete and the abstract and connects the body with the heart and mind. In worship, the imagination seeks not ideas but “the orienting power of images. Ideas are abstract; we live concretely; and consequently, ‘we secure our senses of life and our senses of death from images.’” (p. 140, quoting Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man.)
Keifert explores the metaphor of the cross and how all of us meet before the cross as strangers. There we participate in an evangelical (and sacramental?) conversation. We meet before it as gamblers and thieves, barbarians, as Juan Diego, and experience for the first time or anew its strange hospitality. Psalm 137’s question, “How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land” becomes a shared question to the church member and the visitor alike! The liturgy itself must be the foreign land anew and again each time we gather.
Copyright © 2015 Daniel Benedict, OSL. This column may be quoted in whole or in part for church educational and formation purposes. It may not be posted on a website without the author’s permission.