It is the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Out the window of my day room at the Trappist Abbey in Lafayette, Oregon, an abbey named in her honor, I watch rain bear down, the jostling of giant firs. Back home in Tillamook County, the week’s torrents brought floods, landslides and road collapse, cutting off whole communities from those around them. I was fortunate to drive out via a just cleared lane through a fresh slide. Of all things, I am headed to Maui, having won the trip. I have, before Maui, won nada. A pizza in Reno in middle school.
I am aware of the feeling of escape; the joy at getting away from inconveniences like power outages, blocked roads and bare cupboards, the dangers of traveling on debris-scattered highways to seek out provisions, the looming threat of repeat floods as rains ramp up again. Having escaped, it is easy to turn one’s attention to other things and forget the struggles facing those back home.
Driving to the abbey this morning, I heard a story about arson at a mosque in southern California, where retaliation against Muslims is one more festering wound of the violence done in San Bernardino—the town where I and both my parents were born, where my grandparents met, married, and spent their lives. Direct and indirect violence against Muslims is rising, regardless of the fact that jihad extremists do not represent the religion. A major presidential candidate foments hatred against Mexicans and Muslims; throngs of angry, white Republicans catapult him to astounding success in polls—which, however skewed, are shocking.
For those of us a safe distance from groups targeted by this candidate, it’s easy to go on and forget, to turn one’s attention to other things. Escape. But in the path of hate, no one is really safe. Those fomenting hatred won’t stop at Mexicans and Muslims, since the scope of hatred trains on anyone not on its side, as history shows. I want to shout: Wake up!—especially to those on the Republican side. I want to shout at the media who gave so much credit and publicity to this candidate, multiplying his supporters. But in saying Wake up! I am a voice crying out in a wilderness of other voices. Like most issues, the problems of hatred and bigotry are not theirs (whoever “they” are), but ours. All of ours. So are the solutions. Every tool in the service of dismantling hatred and fear-mongering is available. The starting point: human hearts in true community.
The narrative propelling followers of this candidate is one of humiliation or loss, of not getting and keeping what is rightfully mine. “Mine” being what they see due to white, American-born citizens. It is a politics of greed, exclusivity, zero-sum, fear. It is decidedly non-communal, however homogenous the movement. In this sense, it is not even about “ours,” in the most exclusive, narrowly defined sense of like-with-like. It is about “mine.”
As I sit in the Trappist chapel on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I think about unity. I am intrigued with the appellations given to Mary, Jesus’ mother: Our Lady of Mercy, Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Victory. People have acknowledged throughout history that Mary was not just the mother of Jesus, but the mother of us all. A symbol. Mary was a peasant girl from the backwater of Nazareth, and as the apparition at Guadalupe, she appeared in splendor to an indigenous man, assuring him of her affinity, her trustworthiness and eternal support for those suffering and marginalized. She said she was a mother to all appealing to her for help, asking Juan Diego to deliver that message to elites of his day. Our Lady of Guadalupe is not yours and she is not mine, she is ours. She symbolizes the most unifying aspects of divinity.
The voices in the wilderness grow more resonant, and more people sound a warning call about the divisive sentiments of the aforementioned candidate. I appreciate the riposte to these sentiments by activists like Michael Moore, who states, “We are all Muslims. Just as we are all Mexican, we are all Catholic and Jewish and black and every shade in between.” Our lives rise and fall together, as a community.
The election cycle will come to an end, and so will the fear-mongering campaign to which I refer. But the festering hatred, fear, and greed it exploited and gave voice to will not end so quickly. Yet I am one who believes—against the stories featured on cable news—that collective human consciousness deepens. And each awakening of a human soul waters the seeds of awakening in others. Just as the problems of the world are ours to share, and no one is untouched by them as long as some are threatened, so no one is entirely untouched by the dawning of compassion, goodness, and inclusion among us. This progress, too, is shared. It is ours.
I work on this essay in the season of Advent and Hanukkah, on this day the birthday of Muhammad, just two days after Winter Solstice. It is a time of universally celebrating the dawning of light, and the dawning of messages of newness, grace, and transformation. In this season, I hold in my heart the image of a poor woman named Mary—member of a derided minority under brutal occupation by a foreign power, who stands as a symbol of radical love and utter trust in God, and who, for this reason, came to be lauded as Our Mother, the most unexpected “Queen of Heaven.”