Our Lady Mother of Ferguson
Jesus said, "What you have done to the least. You have done it unto me."
The Black Madonna: A Reflection on Devotion
During the second Luminous mystery of the rosary, we meditate on how, at his mother’s insistence, Jesus changed water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee.
When I was asked to provide this reflection, I initially started out considering images of the Black Madonna—Our Lady Aparecida in Brazil; Our Lady of Africa, Mother of All Graces, in Cote d’Ivoire; and Our Mother of Africa in Washington, DC.
As with Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, these representations are not just religious symbols; they are teaching vessels. They teach us that the language of Genesis 1:27 isn’t just figurative. That we have all been created in the divine image means that God and everything that is holy is recognizable in ourselves as individuals and in our communities—in the times and places in which we live and, most especially, struggle.
Which brings me to the mental shift that I mentioned earlier. As I was considering what each of these images meant, it occurred to me that I have become familiar with them, not because of their beauty or even because of the miraculous occurrence (if there was one) that preceded their creation. I came to know these particular images of the Black Madonna as centers of devotion, what we call shrines.
“They have no wine” (John 2:3).
A shrine is, essentially, the destination of a pilgrimage. There are two primary reasons that people go on pilgrimage: to ask for favors and to express thanks for favors received. Pilgrims walk and drive from distances far and near. Their attitude is one of openness. They arrive at a shrine with open hearts and open hands. In their hearts, they carry their fears and concerns, their wishes and hopes. In their hands, they carry incense, candles, flowers, pictures, or other objects that are appropriate for a particular shrine.
Personal sacrifice is the hallmark of shrine devotion. In cultures and religions where intermediaries speak on behalf of the shrine’s deity, totem, or fetish, these intermediaries are the ones who determine the appropriate offerings to be brought. The offerings represent sacrifice. At Christian shrines, on the other hand, the offerings are determined by the unique and ever-growing relationship between the devotees and the Blessed Mother or saint.
On the initial pilgrimage, when devotees make their concerns known, they might bring a list of names on a piece of paper. On subsequent pilgrimages (Notice that I’m not using the word “visit” or “trip”.), flowers or candles might be brought. When prayers are answered, as a sign of gratitude, pilgrims might return with a symbol of the outcome, such as a post-chemotherapy headscarf. They might bring a monetary gift for the upkeep of the shrine. In any case, the offerings are extensions of the pilgrims themselves.
What does it mean, then, to have devotion to the Black Madonna? The shrines that I mentioned above are special in that they appeal very specially to people of African descent. The Black Madonna is not just a racialized version of European images. Neither is the devotion of African people a copy of others’ devotion. Drumming and dancing, stories and libation, weeping and wailing are elements we have incorporated into our pilgrimages and our sacrificial offerings.
“Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).
Another question to ask is, how can Africans in America make a pilgrimage to the Black Madonna an essential part of our spirituality? I think that this time of isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic presents opportunities we might not otherwise have. The first is immediately accessible. We can create a shrine in our own homes. By this, I mean creating an intentional space with a picture of one of the Black Madonnas mentioned above (or any other that you know of). Decorate the space simply, according to what you believe Our Blessed Mother requires. Beyond the decorations, the most important element is creating an opportunity for pilgrimage.
Here is a suggestion. On a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, we—individually or with loved ones—could process to our home shrine, from one room to the next. We could pray and sing, drum and dance, and lay our petitions, along with flowers or incense, before Our Blessed Mother. We could read a Scripture passage, recite a poem, and/or tell a story. When we take our leave, we can promise to return.
Another opportunity we need to start creating from now is to make a pilgrimage to one of the shrines dedicated to the Black Madonna. As African Americans, we have become regulars on cruise ships, at casinos, and other forms of vacation or luxury travel. This pandemic has given us plenty of reasons to open our hearts and our hands, in supplication and in thanksgiving. What if our devotion took us beyond where we are now to Washington, DC; or to Aparecida, Brazil; or to Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire? Our Blessed Mother, the Black Madonna, is waiting for us.
The Black Madonna: A Reflection on Devotion
Author: Angela Redmond-Theodore
Join us on October 9, 2020, for "Praying with the Black Madonna ... Prayers for our people today."
Topic: Praying with the Black Madonna...Prayers for our people today!
Time: Oct 9, 2020, 08:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
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