Saturday, August 15, 2009

Our Lady of Kibeho

Given that my dearly beloved but occasionally exasperating father had no use for organized religion, and further given that he had even less use, formally speaking, for the concept of a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is a wonderful piece of Divine irony to employ a favourite phrase of his in application to the happiest discovery of the past week.
"This is the one we're looking for."
I first heard this meaningful sentence at the end of a long, hard, Saturday of digging in the back yard of our new home at Vimy Crescent, in the veterans' rental housing project of some 600 new homes built in the wake of World War II. We were a three man team: Dad, my next brother Wayne, and myself. Dad wielded the mattock, my brother and I the shovels, and we had dug from east to western end of the yard in the spring in preparation for the vegetable garden. A mattock is not a usual tool in a back yard garden, but in this case it was necessary, for our grounds had never been gardened before, only existing as bush forever, and then as the trampling ground for heavy equipment used in the construction. The dirt in the wake of the construction was next-to-bedrock hard, utterly insensitive to the ministry of a mere shovel, so my father went ahead with the mattock, to loosen the soil from hell, and my brother and I followed with the shovels that would render the ground fit for planting. And some of the time Dad and I traded: I too used the mattock.
As I recall, it was raining by the end of the day, but we wanted to see the job done, for even though Papa was not a churchgoer, he had a profound sense of Sunday as a day for the family to relax as a family. It was as we got to the last row of this team effort that he uttered the immortal phrase, "This is the one we're looking for." I did not then know I was a writer, but something in me delighted in the profound humour and common sense of my father's invocation. The "Ite, Missa Est" of the labourer at the end of his daily contribution to the world of work.I was thirteen.
My father, now dead and in purgatory, at last understands the purpose of organized religion, and is rather much aware, I imagine, of the Virgin Mary's irreplaceable office in regards to it.
And he is also aware of the follies of his life-long dedication to racism. This one must really sting for the moment, because his excellent phrase is being applied to his eldest son's discovery, in just the week past, of the Virgin of Kibeho, not only an African apparition, but an apparition in one of the poorest countries on earth. My father was too much of a materialist to have it easy with the poor, and the needs of the poor.
And such an apparition!
The BVM certainly did cut loose. Coaches, presidents, bishops, whatever, really should study the Boss' Ma's techniques! This was indeed a ball game. Scoring from the red line be damned, ninth-inning home runs go wash your face. When you want to see a real world class performance, just call up the Lady among Ladies Auxiliary Redemptor.
I am a little picked, I must admit. After all, we theologians, we Thomists, we back-and-forth-with the Vatican chit-chatters like to be in the loop. And we poor bloody victims of the prophets' periodic 'things that go bump in the night' like to have an explanation of what's going on. So how come I had to wait until now to hear of the real and true Marian performance of the early 80s?
From the simply spiritual point of view, I have always to insist, just to know the dialogue of Juan Diego with Our Lady of Guadalupe is enough. The soul melts, the spirit is forever yoked with the lightsome easy burden. I am of the western hemisphere, and no one over here could ask for more than Mary's initial visit to those sorry shores and the domain of Aztec blood craze. Any apparitions after that, as lovely as they are, can only be icing on the cake, the additional accidentals that John of the Cross talks about in the Canticle.
But that is in the spiritual sphere, and the contemplative ambience. There is also the active zone, damn it, which confronts the world as it is now, and into which I am occasionally inserted.
In 1995 I finally connected with the novel Gone With The Wind, as I have mentioned before, and came out of that mighty epic about neighbourhood with a few musical sketches for an opera. The creative juices flowed for three months, in my head, in my conversations - especially with a pair of puzzled and frequently annoyed agents - and even on to the page. But never the stage.
The contemplative's life is always full of intellectual adventure, and no small part of this mental smash, crash, and dash is the mystery of it all. Every image, every inspiration, has a spiritual value, but what does it mean in the visible world as it trundles along its habitually foolish, insensitive, and mediocre way?
GWTW was unquestionably a rocket. But why do much angelic activity for something that could not come to be?
In retrospect, I have to think that one of the major reasons I was moved to take up the book and make so much of it was the undoubted and very significant presence of the black culture in the South, and the special point of this is coming clear with the facts of the 80s history of Rwanda, thus preparing, a little better than I might have without it, for the phenomenon of black clergy turning up in our diocese. Especially black clergy who understand the importance of good instruction in music.

1 comment:

Southview said...

Organized religion seems to be more a creature of man than of GOD. GOD commands the WORD but man has created the club! If only the WORD was followed, instead of which religious club you belonged to, then there would indeed be peace on Earth! Your Father may have been right.