Well, this year I did it. I got up in the middle of the night to get ready to go to church for La Danza and Las Mañanitas - the pre-dawn Mexican cultural celebration for Our Lady of Guadalupe. I have wanted to to this for a while, and as the vice chair of our Pastoral Council, I kind of felt I should do this. Maybe I missed them, but the only other "Anglo" I saw in the room besides myself was my pastor, who speaks fluent Spanish. I, on the other hand, speak only a little, understand maybe half of what I hear, and felt a bit like the proverbial tourista.
As I came into the back of church, I recognized Oscar, a talented musician who directs and plays with the 1:00 p.m. Sunday Spanish choir - dressed in full regalia - complete with feather headdress. He smiled and mugged for my camera. Later, he took his place beside the altar and began to beat the drum that summoned about 30 colorfully dressed dancers, mostly women and teens, to the front. For the next 25 minutes they stamped, swayed, spun and shook maracas, in honor of the Virgin, as Oscar drummed out various rhythms. Their performance was beautiful, strange and a bit primitive. Certainly like nothing I have ever seen in church before. The colorful costumes seemed a bit skimpy for a December day in the Midwest, but soon the dancers were mopping their brows from their exertion, despite the chilly room.
Once they had finished, Rosalinda, a parish reader and fellow member of Pastoral Council, stepped up to the microphone and read a long text about the story of Juan Diego and the Virgen. Then, a seven-man mariachi band came up and began to play and sing. I know enough Spanish to know that many of these were, in effect, love songs to the Virgin, singing of her as the "queen of hope" and identifying themselves as Guadalupano, people of Guadalupe - her children. The people joined in most of these,singing by heart and from the heart. Of course, having no music and not knowing them, mostly all I could do was listen and add in the refrain occasionally, when I could pick it out. I could sense their great love, even if I could not fully understand the texts.
Throughout the hour and a half of the pre-Mass celebration, some women, from the back of the church shouted out phrases that seemed to have set responses, almost as if they were cheerleading. I have to admit, this morning was a strangely fascinating if rather foreign experience. I felt a strange sensation of being an outsider, yet not a total stranger. It's my parish, but it's their parish too. Despite the language and culture gap, we all belong, in our own way, to the community of St. John the Baptist. The Virgen is my mother in faith too, even if by adoption. Maybe someday, I will feel more at home with the whole thing. Until then, I will keep stretching my comfort level to join them when I can.