She was not as big as I’d imagined, that was my first thought. My second was that I was, at age 11, clearly not worthy to be in the presence of Our Lady as evidenced by my first thought.
This was no apparition. She was real. OK, a real statue. But she was kind of freaking me out. Did I just see her exhale a sigh?
I’d been anxiously awaiting this moment ever since the nuns announced that the miraculous statue was visiting our school. This very statue of the Virgin Mary had reportedly cried real tears on multiple occasions with lots of witnesses. We’d seen a slide show, for goodness sake. Real tears, I tell you!
Our class had been prepped. The statue of the Virgin would be in the church and we’d all get a chance to walk down the aisle to see her up close. We were instructed to simply pause, bow our heads, offer quick silent prayers, and keep moving. Do not linger! And if she happens to cry when you approach, do not scream. Do not point. Do not poke your neighbor with your elbow to say, “Get a load of the tears!” but merely fall to your knees and start praying like hell because you have been chosen.
I did not care to be chosen.
I’d heard all the stories about people who had witnessed miracles, blabbed about them, and were burnt at the stake, fed to lions, beheaded or some such until years later when, after much intellectual debate, they were recognized by the church as saints and got their own Holy cards.
A little late with the vindication, I’d say.
That just wasn’t a lifestyle I could embrace. I had in mind something more along the lines of hanging out with my friends, dating cute boys, maybe traveling to Europe a few times before dying comfortably in my sleep of old age.
On the day of the statue came to visit our church, every pew was packed. People crowded the aisles. My class sat about midway on the right side. By the time my pew rose to walk single-file to the front of the church I think I may have been hyperventilating. With each step forward, I prayed silently to Our Lady: Please don’t cry. Please don’t cry. But if you must cry, please don’t let me be the first or only one to spot your tears.
"Keep moving," the girl behind me whispered before she poked me with her praying hands, and then I moved.
Whew! No tears! Hooray, I mean, thank God! My prayers were answered! I felt relief followed immediately by disappointment.
Am I not good enough? Am I not worthy to witness even a few salty tears? I mean, come on people, it’s not like I was expecting to see the lame walk, the blind acquire vision, or the dead to rise in a holy, non-zombie way.
And then I asked myself the really big question: Is any of this stuff even real?
Many years after the statue of Our Lady visit, I saw a segment on 60 Minutes where a magician made all kinds of statues and paintings cry and/or bleed. He even gave a picture of Madonna the pop star a pretty impressive case of stigmata. He refused to reveal his secrets except to say that the ingredients and techniques he used had been, for many centuries, readily available.
Aha! I knew it! We’d been duped! It’s all trickery. This whole religious shebang is one big sleight of hand.
Just wait till God finds out.
Yeah, I’m kind of stuck on a loop-de-loop when it comes to seeking. It’s not that I lack faith, exactly. It’s more that I try to be rational about it all because I personally know the arrogance of knowing that I am so dang pure and holy that miraculous things are going to happen in my presence unless I fervently pray to prevent them because I am not worthy which only proves just how worthy I actually am.
See how that works?
Once I was sitting around with a group of people I barely knew when one woman started talking about how she’d “done a lot of spiritual work” and participated in “past life regression therapy” and she could remember seven past lives and was working on her eighth. Everyone in the room was mighty impressed.
Everyone but me. I felt compelled to tell her that I thought she had a very active imagination and that I believed that whatever it was that happened to the essence of our beings after our bodies cease to exist is probably far more abstract than our brains can possibly comprehend and then I proceeded to verbally beat her up until it got so ugly people had to pull me off her. Verbally, speaking.
I wanted to apologize to that woman but I never saw her again. (Could it be because she ran in the opposite direction any time I came near?) My negative response to her recollections of her seven or eight past lives really had nothing to do with her being an Egyptian princess in past life number two or a saint tortured for her holy visions in past life number five, and far more to do with all the rubbish then going on in my own, still current, life.