By Jim Burklo
Gaze into her face, and listen. The Dark Madonna whispers to us from a realm beyond time.
The darker the soil, the more fertile it is. Out of the darkness of the earth, into which the seeds are planted, life springs up. We see it in this season, in this place. Green grass sprouts out of the darkness beneath the hills of gold. In the dark hollows of the redwood forest, lacy ferns explode into life. In the darkness of the womb, new life grows and then emerges.
In the darkness of a church, candles burn. Candles lit by hopeful faithful souls, generations after generations of people making the very signs of love and promise that they seek, by lighting votives in the hush of the sanctuary. The smoke of these numberless candles rises and slowly builds up on the surface of an image of the Virgin Mary in the monastery of Jasna Gora in Poland, darkening her face until she is known as the Black Madonna.
On a hill in Mexico, where once the goddess Tonantzin was worshipped, the freshly-baptized Indian, Juan Diego, kept a vigil, meditating deeply, and from the dark place inside him exploded a glowing vision that brought Meso-American and European spirituality together as one. In effulgence she hovered before him: La Morenita -- the Dark One -- the Virgin of Guadalupe, goddess and mother of God.
All over Europe, as people converted to Christianity, they found in Mary a figure that bridged the worship of the earth goddess of ancient times and the worship of the God of the church. And in dark images of Mary, they were comforted with a spiritual continuity, carrying the black-skinned earth goddesses into a new religious age. They heard whispers of the earth goddess as they gazed into her face in statues and icons.
Our Lady of Czestochowa. The black madonnas of Switzerland, France, Germany. Of the ancient Coptic churches of Ethiopia. The deep copper skin of Mexico's Virgin of Guadalupe. The dark virgin's beatific gaze haunts us. Her voice emanates from the earth itself, asking us to pay attention to the state of the planet. The dark soil being washed to the sea by overgrazing and over-tilling. The air fouled with pollution, the water squandered and poisoned. The burning of fuels and forests that threatens the climate and the ecosystems upon which it depends. She whispers, reminding us that we are of the earth, we depend on the earth, that it now depends on what we do, the choices we make in what we buy and how we eat and how we travel. She whispers of the pain of the world that she took upon herself when she accepted the glorious doom of divine conception: Love the weak among you. Reach out to the lonely and lost and sick. Protect the most vulnerable among you. Show divinely humane kindness to the very people you are most tempted to hate.
She is with us now, in the gathering darkness of winter. Through her the hope of new life is born again within and among us. The dark Virgin whispers to us of a creative, peace-making, justice-serving Word that is about to emerge. A Word that energizes us to acts of compassion, to be willing to make sacrifices for the common good. A Word that seeks a justice beyond an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and a war for a war. A Word that shows a love beyond the easy warm and fuzzy. A love that goes the distance, right into the hearts of our enemies.
In her image, holding the Christ child, the mysterious cycle of birth and death and rebirth is reflected. Her somber expression of fateful knowledge, her loving, caressing hands of hope. Grief and joy mixed, alchemically transformed. In her darkness the mystery of communion is consummated. Spirit and matter are united within her. Creator and creature embrace. She is the marriage-bed in which the eternal and the temporal, the divine and the mundane, wrestle into one. In her, the emergent property we call life arises out of the lifeless elements of the earth.
The dark Virgin whispers: You are my child. My precious child. And all those you know are my children. You are all brothers and sisters, flesh of my flesh, soul of my soul, so cherish each other as you cherish yourselves, and as I cherish you. Your pain is mine, in your victories I share. I am your Mother, and I need your love and your care, and more than all else I need your presence.I need to be with you, and you with me. So linger with me, let my heart be yours. Your gifts of compassion to each other, your acts of service, will be gifts to me. The respect you show to the earth and its living creatures will be respect you show to me. So may it be. Amen....
This article originally appeared on Jim Burklos' blog Musings at The Center for Progressive Christianity (www.tcpc.org).