Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin (1474-1548), seer
and first indigenous saint from the Americas,
is said to have been granted an apparition
of the Virgin on Hill of Tepeyac
“Truth? What is that?” Jesus never answers Pilate’s question, which has challenged philosophers since the age of Socrates. In what seems like the dawning of a post-truth era finding an answer has become a fixation of mine. Since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then truth should be in the mind of the speaker, or so the argument goes. Indeed the cognoscenti politici have trumpeted a clever, supporting syllogism:
Truth is what one hopes it is and indeed expects it to be; which of course is what it ought to be; which morphs into what it might be; then surely must be; in fact probably is; and therefore, as we used to append to our math solutions, QED, truth is what one says it is and becomes even truer with repetition.
In search of answers I headed to the library, where I spent hours in the philosophy section. I knocked on Plato’s metaphorical door but he was out to lunch. Aristotle and his offspring, Aquinas, tried to help but they sent me in circles. Ah, the moderns, Kant and Hegel, to the rescue. Hardly; they left me still drowning. Enter Jürgen Habermas, one of postmodernity’s poster children. I ploughed along his consensus theory of truth, only to discover at row’s end that it had been debunked . . . by the author himself.
Enough philosophizing and thankfully it was closing time. Mind overstuffed, I descended the library steps, collapsing into the slotted park bench nearby. Half dozing, I found myself in the ageless Náhuatl world of Juan Diego. He seemed to know about my quest, because this charge came to me: “Go out into your garden before dawn. Listen and observe. In your garden the heart of truth will be revealed.” I headed home through the mist of this mysterious message.
Next day, minutes before sunup, I was in among the flowers, the oleander shrub, the vines, and the lone desert willow, ears and eyes as open as I could seem to make them.
At break of dawn my ears found the birdsong: larks and wrens, thrushes and thrashers. Was I hearing them for the first time? Their singing was beyond enchanting. “We have no desire,” I almost heard them crow, “to be sopranos at the Met. Our song is what it is, what it is meant to be, and need be nothing else.”
As the sun crept over the Organ Mountains, I turned to my morning glories climbing their overflowing trellis. They began to yawn, then slowly to smile. “We have no interest,” they seemed to whisper, “in becoming rose or hibiscus, brilliant though these be. We are who we are, and we rejoice in the beauty that is our morning-gloryness.”
Over morning coffee and throughout the day I kept ruminating over flower and birdsong and their connection with truth. That night, as sleep began to creep, I again heard from Hill of Tepeyac that voice across time, sharing with me a vision so alien to philosophy’s world. The language was at once simple and mystical, “truth is beauty and beauty is truth, dim but true reflection of ultimate Truth.”
Juan Diego’s insight was transfigured by his descendants into a mantra that has resonated down through the centuries—
Flor y canto.