The lady of St. John of the Lakes

Fear, anger, and hatred might lead to the dark side of the Force, but they are priceless when it comes to honing reflexes to kill mosquitoes. I currently have five extraordinarily itchy bites on my right ankle (you'd be amazed how often they target, I think specifically, the right ankle). As I was fixing tea this morning, a mosquito buzzed me, and I might have chased it halfway across the downstairs until I killed it. As my old 8th grade bus driver used to say, "Zero tolerance! Zero tolerance!" (In retrospect, poor Al. How the innocent suffer. He did not deserve a bus full of middle schoolers from Germantown.)


I think I might finally be ready to talk about San Juan de los Lagos. But first I'd like you to check out this picture:

When I saw this shop, I had to capture at least a little of it. What does it look like to you? It reminds me of nothing so much as a butcher shop, with the meat hanging from the ceiling. The ladies with the stars at the bottom right corner are Guadalupes. She wears stars as the Queen of Heaven. I guess you could say this is a pretty good representation of how overwhelming city center would become. Below is an entirely different store, primarily aimed at tourists.

As my friend and I walked into the plaza, we were approached over and over by people selling souvenirs--memorials of the shrine and temple there. My friend told me that, among the people who have worked in the area, there have been many who have begun to take steps to abandon their idols and follow Jesus, but when they realized that doing so would cost them their livelihood--either making or selling the charms--they turned away. She said the place is very much like Ephesus. Witchcraft actually also abounds as part of life; but then, for a person already accustomed to wearing and using charms for various things, it's not a long step away.

Above is the city center--the plaza with many, many charm sellers, as well as the main basilica, which houses the statue, the Virgin of San Juan de Los Lagos. If you do a little research, you can find pictures of the statue before and after its restoration, so you can see it before it was given a wig and different dresses, and before it was crowned in 1904 and later proclaimed "an image resurrected and resurrecting" by John Paul II, on May 8, 1990. I'm not sure how frequently the image experiences coronations, but there are definitely pictures of Pope John Paul II crowning the image and attending coronation ceremonies.*

One of the main attributes of this image is its association with at least one resurrection, as well as various healings and preventions of major disasters. In the popular imagination, it appears to coincide specifically with very dramatic healings. It's not uncommon for people to make a promise to the image in exchange for some kind of favor, and then carry out their promise on a pilgrimage to the basilica. In fact, in January and February of every year, during the specific time of the pilgrimage, over a million people find their way to San Juan de Los Lagos to approach the image.**

The picture below is the altar of the Virgin, which is the small figure dressed in a triangular dress, protected behind glass. Above either shoulder she has a cherub, and the two cherubim hold a banner that says, "Immaculate Mother, pray for us," in Latin. The same phrase appears on the glass doors at the entrance, in Spanish. 

According to a couple of my friends, what the Virgin requires in return for her miracles are acts of humility. An example: as my friend and I drove down toward the city center, we passed an older couple, very beautifully dressed, with the husband supporting his wife by the elbow, as she walked down the street barefoot, shoes in hand. The husband of the lady that cleans my friend's house made a pilgrimage this year; for it he missed several days of work, and when he returned home he missed an additional five days, because he had sores on his feet from going barefoot. But he had to keep the promise that he had made to the image. I don't know what he had asked for.

While my friend and I were sitting in the basilica, I got these pictures and a couple of videos of what happens in there. This was not during pilgrimage season, so I can only imagine what it looks like in January and February.***

In the video above, a family approaches the image on their knees. In the video below a man comes down the aisle, carrying a bouquet and escorted by his family. Once he had finished praying in front of the altar, he walked past the gate and set his bouquet down as an offering, then he went back to the front of the altar, took out several candles from a bag his family had brought, and lit them and placed them in front of the altar. He then proceeded to the statues of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph and prayed for a while. 

What frustrates me no end is that here are people created in God's image walking on their knees in devotion to an image that's not even a good work of art. A masterpiece is bowing down to a crayon scribble.

Prayer requests:
  • Please pray for God to open hearts here and deliver people in this place. Pray for something similar to what happened in Ephesus, as the people totally rejected the trappings of their old religions. 
  • Please pray for laborers for the harvest here, and for wisdom in how to reach the people. 
  • Please pray for hope and for eyes fixed on Jesus.
  • Please pray for wisdom for me as I teach the youth Bible study on Sunday night. I'm preparing today and having a tough time knowing where to take it.
  • Please pray for the youth event on September 20.The youth at CPdD are putting on the skit. Pray that they'd turn up, and that they'd be excited about using their creativity to reach people.
  • Reading in Mark this morning, I saw two things about Jesus that struck me. . The first is that He does all things beautifully (Mk. 7:37), and the second is that He cares about people personally, knows their stories, cares that they be fed and get home safely (8:1-3). Jesus' love is practical and personal, as well as theological. It also means that He knows my story, cares that I be fed and get home. As a nomad, I value this truth.
  • Jesus has already won the conflict; it remains for us to appropriate that truth by faith until it bears itself out in sight.
  • I'm just really grateful for Jesus' provision for me to come here through my local church, grateful that, through nothing I deserve, I really don't have to worry about food, clothing, and shelter--and I'm very much loved by many people, to boot. It is a grace gift.

Thank you for praying!

*Nuestra Señora de San Juan de los Lagos (In Spanish, but worth a look)

**Wikipedia, font of knowledge

***Just by way of explanation, I was taking pictures and video discreetly. I watched to see what other people were doing, and quite a few people walked into the middle of everything and were taking pictures and video. I was quite careful to be respectful.

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