If you don’t know anything about apparitions of Mary, you may not know about some powerful stories. Inevitably, the “certified” visions appear only to children or people who have no power in society. As an example, Our Lady of Lourdes appeared to a young girl who was illiterate, yet was able to repeat what the lady said, that she was the “Immaculate Conception.” There was no way that young Bernadette, far removed from the theologians of her day, could possibly have known they were all kicking around the idea of Mary’s immaculate conception and whether or not it was true. No one in the village really knew about that going on. Later, in Fatima, Portugal, “a lady” appeared to three shepherd children. One day, she made the sun dance. The weirdest part about the sun dancing was that not everyone there saw it, which seemed to make it even more believable as divine (Bible stories inevitably have unbelievers seem to not see a thing).
But the big common denominator inevitably is: a silenced voice sees a lady (the viewer or viewers rarely call her Mary, but eventually they figure it out or someone else will eventually decide it is she).
Today is the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of the Americas (not just Mexico, as some might believe).
If you’ve never heard the story, the short version is this: a young man named Juan Diego goes to the desert and sees this lady and she speaks to him in Nahuatal (the Aztec language). When prodded, she identifies herself as the mother of the true God, and wants a church built on this hill. Juan Diego goes back to tell the Archbishop this, and (not surprisingly) is rebuffed. He asks for a sign, though. Juan Diego goes back, sees the vision, asks for a sign, and she says to come back tomorrow. Juan Diego tries to go back, but his uncle grows sick, and he has to minister him and then realizes he’d better fetch a priest, so he heads to town, avoiding where the lady appeared to him, since he felt ashamed. She appears again, and does the miracle. Somehow, there were Castillian roses (not even Mexican roses, and it’s December anyway, so how the heck are there roses blooming?) on the hill, which he gathers. When he does, he heads back to town and finds more than the roses in his tilma, the kind of cloak that natives wear, that he’d used to carry the roses. He also finds the image of the lady:
This is the image that converted a nation. (By the way, Juan Diego’s uncle gets cured, too!)
See, at the time, the Indigenous people were skeptical of Catholicism, but this image circulated and many came to believe. What’s fascinating about the image is that it blends traditional Catholic imagery (she’s got a moon on her feet and clothed in the sun) but at the same time it has significant meaning, not for the Spaniards, but for the indigenous people. For starters, she looks kind of like they do, and beyond that, the color is more bluey-green than blue, which was a color they used for their own divine couple. Further images indicated that she was mother of the universe. While there are deeply Catholic images here, they are translated into an Aztec-friendly viewing. The Aztec perspective is privileged over the Spanish perspective.
Once, I taught a Spanish class where I asked the students to look up facts about the Aztecs, which they dutifully did, on December 11.
The next day, I showed them the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I remember one class, which was a mix of identified gifted and identified special education students (which was, in point of fact, my favorite class), was extremely impressed by this. They kept finding images that had meaning in what they studied (really studying closely is necessary to see them all; and I remember one kid actually going, “woah.”
The reason I appreciate Our Lady of Guadalupe in particular is because she is an image of blending. She doesn’t say, “look, humor these Spaniards,” but she also doesn’t tell Juan Diego to “go be a Spanish guy.” Instead, her image represents a love for all people, however they are. One can only interpret the images if one is familiar with Indigenous culture and Bible culture (heck, you don’t even need to be European to do it!) which shows her intention to be the mother of everyone.
As I told the students, you don’t even need to believe in Mary as mother-of-God to find this story engaging, because it explains why a nation converted. It converted because someone figured out that you need to understand the people you hope will join you, and understand them, not on a surface level, but on a deep level, which is only possible with true love and affection. You don’t spend that much time getting to know a group unless you really do care.
I think, therefore, the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe could tell us Neurodivergent folk about working together with neurotypicals and why things aren’t going so well. They keep trying to get us to act like they are, and that’s never going to work. Until neurotypicals understand that they have to deeply understand us and appreciate us for who we are, we’re going to be on two different sides. While it’s true that some people have made the passage over to us, like Juan Diego did, but we’re far from unified. I hope we don’t need a miracle of these proportions to get on the same page, but sometimes, when I see all the hateful stuff said about Neurodivergent people online (let alone face-to-face), I wonder if we don’t need such an extreme miracle to really have progress.
I know many of my followers aren’t Catholic (many aren’t believers at all), but I share this story to point out how very hard it is to get together when your world view differs so dramatically from another group. Through this appearance and this image, things changed. The cynic in me says I’m not sure how we can get a miracle this big to occur to get neurotypicals and Neurodivergents together, but I have hope that someday, we’ll figure it out. It’s not about us becoming them, and it’s not about them becoming us, but it IS about being together in a world built for both of us that currently is only run by, and for one of us.
And that’s not how it should be.