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There is a house on our street, typical of those in this South Valley, Albuquerque, neighborhood. Run down, with untidy yard, a broken window, it showcases two of our local culture’s most prominent images: Our Lady of Guadalupe and a skeleton. I am fascinated and read them as poetry, like dreams—with endless and various meaning. This hallowed eve, I muse….

Guadalupe: The virgin is life-sized, painted on the North-facing wall—North, biblical symbol for permanence, eternity, the heavens, God’s dwelling place. And also for disaster, destruction, falsity.[i] She is clothed in sunlight, crowned with twelve stars. Multi-colored bulbs frame the icon; they glow pure vintage at night. Guadalupe stands on a cupped crescent moon—waxing or waning? Sharp rays surround her like the spines of the Agave plant whose liquid heart offers sweetness and sometimes inebriation (an ingredient in Tequila), whose pith provides fiber for rope and coarse cloth.

Juan Diego encountered the lady on a hill where there had once been a temple to the mother-goddess (destroyed by Spanish conquistadors). The vision told him to build a church in that place, and when he came back asking for proof to convince the archbishop, she filled his tilma with roses. When Juan Diego opened his cloak for the bishop, the flowers spilled out, leaving the now famous image on the cloth.

Guadalupe shrines are everywhere. We recently dismantled one at our workplace with a stuccoed bathtub for backdrop. The neighbor asked if he could have the plastic statue, now faded blue and eerily reminiscent of Mario; he lifted his shirt to bare a tattooed belly, her imprint as clear on his skin as on the ancient tilma that began the lore of Lady of Guadalupe. 

Skeleton: Draped in black, it sits in a rocking chair on the front porch, facing the street and sunset—the rushing traffic and the end of day. West—for evil and death, yet also for blessing and union with God.[ii] The door behind the skeleton’s back is barred and boarded, as if there is no return, no entry to life. Or perhaps there is no going back to the self that died during surrender—it’s all a journey toward authentic life in God’s presence from here on out.

Santa Muerte (Saint Death) is a Mexican folk saint, made better known in the TV series Breaking Bad. Devotees come to her for “life-saving miracles and death to enemies alike.”[iii] She grants protection and healing, but also success in crime. She is portrayed as a skeleton wearing a full-length robe, sometimes holding a scythe or globe.[iv]

This weekend the entire South Valley will gather for a parade to celebrate Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). In the distance, the golden cottonwoods blaze along the Rio Grande and snow dusts the top of the Sandia mountains. We’ll paint our faces black and outline bones in white and flash wide, white smiles. We’ll drape garlands of tissue marigolds (a symbol of death) over shoulders, cars, floats. Traditional Azteca dancers, mariachi bands, cheerleaders, low-riders, farmers with wheelbarrows—for once all are together, in one place, with one purpose. Later we’ll sit around a fire and speak of our dead, honoring them with our remembrance, letting them go again as the embers cool to ash.

This is the time of Hallowmas, the Triduum of All Saints—Halloween (All Hallows’ Eve), All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day—from October 31 through November 2. It is Samhain, the Gaelic festival celebrating the end of harvest and the beginning of winter. It’s a “thin” time where the divide between the material and spiritual worlds is almost nil. It is the turning of seasons, the turning of leaves, the turning toward darker days.

It is a time to remember that life and death go hand-in-hand. A time to face our shadows, to acknowledge that which we are ashamed of, and to know that the other side of dark is light. It is a time to draw close to the source of Life, to the One who holds sleepers in her arms. It is now ever more clear that we are within a mystery, which is all grace—that all of this living and dying and goodness and evil and beauty and violence is witnessed and hallowed by grace.


Image: Mosaic of Lady of Guadalupe at the Basilica of Lourdes (photo taken by Joelle Chase)





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