Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Way to See

In 1746 an Indian man was walking between villages outside Tegucigalpa, Honduras.  Night caught him before he got to his home village, so he camped beside the trail with his son.  In the middle of the night something poked him in the side.  Groggily he pushed it away.  It poked him again, and he pushed it away again.  The third time he grabbed it, stuffed it in his bag, and went back to sleep.  In the morning he awoke, stirred his son, and went home.
Curious, he looked in his bag.  There he found a small figurine of a Madonna, about 4 inches tall.  Word got around and soon curious people filled his house.  Miracles began to occur, healings and fortuitous events that were credited to the figurine.  Soon a house was built as a shrine, then a church, and she was named after the town in which the man lived, "Suyapa."  Devotion to the image increased to where eventually she was named patroness of Honduras.  Pilgrimages from all over Central America end at the altar of the small church.

About a dozen years ago the Catholic authorities decided to build a larger church to house the pilgrims.  It is a stately thing, done in shades of blue and green rather than pink and red like the small one, but patterned after the original.  Green marble accents the appointments within, and beautiful stained-glass windows picture important scenes in the life of Mary from a Catholic Marian perspective.  It is all beautiful - and empty.

The people are all down the hill at the original church where the figurine is.  The story goes that on two occasions the authorities tried to house the statue in the new church but mysteriously by morning it was back in the old church.  After two tries they decided she wanted to be there so they left her there.

I find it interesting because the figurine itself is seen as imbued with power.  It "fell from heaven" so to speak, not crafted by human hands.  Miraculous powers are attributed to it, and then by inference, the Mother of God.

It's a different way of seeing.

But I saw something else again.  The new church, beautiful as it is, is hollow.  It is the idol of the church authorities, devoid of life for the people, cold and strangely un-welcoming.  The smaller church is crowded and dirty, but homey and warm, full of the hearts and souls of devout believers.

Strange as it may seem, the Spirit of God was almost palpable in the old church, and eerily absent from the new.

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