The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, together with its novena, has been an important part of Advent throughout my life, with the vigil celebrations a staple of my upbringing. The rhythmic, rattling sound of the coyoleras on the pounding feet of the danzantes is a prayer, a religious experience, and an important symbol of my personal identity. In adulthood, Advent and the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe have also become occasions for deeper reflection on my relationship to the Church, the need for the presence of Latinas in leadership, and whether Latinas will have an equal voice in helping guide the Church’s future. Recall how the Guadalupan narrative tells of the appearance of the Virgin Mary as a young mestiza woman. She communicates not with Church leaders but with a poor indigenous man, Juan Diego, whose attempt to communicate her divine message is rejected by the local bishop. Yet Diego of course is eventually vindicated: liberated by the fact that Our Lady bears the physical features of his people, he becomes a prophetic messenger of God. A fellow parishioner once expressed to me how incredible it is that on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe we celebrate, among many things, that a bishop was wrong and an indigenous person was right.
Narratives like these have revelatory power, something theologian Natalia Imperatori-Lee reminds us of in Cuéntame: Narrative in the Ecclesial Present (Orbis Books, 192 pp., $35). Drawing on examples from fiction and popular religion, ritual and art, and everyday lived experience, Imperatori-Lee expands our notions of theological reflection, while also advancing an inductive ecclesiology centered on the experience of Latina women—whose work in the Church is so often minimized and marginalized through the patriarchal characterization of it as a “feminine” contribution. Consider, for instance, the stereotype of the abuelita regularly summoned to speak about Latina women’s contributions to the Church. Without necessarily rejecting this image of the harmless, devoted grandmother figure who passes on the faith to younger generations, Imperatori-Lee also introduces the mature Latina who has the power to change the trajectory of culture and theology—throwing off the patriarchal narrative to engage those stories that haven’t been given sufficient telling.