They Had Heard No Thunder

They Had Heard No Thunder January 14, 2019

Some were inside of churches; some were at conveniently-located retreat centers with suspiciously well-stocked gift shops. We packed into those places with hundreds of Apparition-chases, praying the Rosary. I would panic and cry, embarrassing my mother, because I was very scrupulous about the Rosary. I was afraid Mary would be upset about how much trouble I had concentrating. Maybe she’d smite me with a chastisement rather than smiting me because she liked me and wanted to make me God’s victim.

I was petrified of Our Lady.

My mother kept photographing the sun and doing what she could so God would show her a miracle, but little came of it. Once she swore that the patterns in the wood grain in one board of our cupboard looked like the Virgin Mary, and I could see it if I squinted. But our lives continued to be unmiraculous, ordinary, punctuated by fear and lurid fascination whenever news of apparitions came into the house.

There was one of those supposed apparitions, however, that I  think might be genuinely of Divine origin. It’s not my place to pronounce that it is, but I’m inclined to believe it.

We were out in the middle of a grassy field, on a sloppy misty day in the armpit of summer. I think it might have been in the northern part of Kentucky. There were hundreds of people there, praying the Rosary, but they were nice to each other. That was the first miracle. You’ve got to understand, under ordinary circumstances there is nothing grouchier or less charitable than a mob of Apparition-seeking Catholics praying the Rosary together. The glares and hisses you usually receive are terrible. In this case, though, the people were being nice. An elderly man even invited all seven of us to kneel with him on the vast vinyl shower curtain he’d brought to use as a picnic blanket.

“There’s chiggers in the grass,” he said. “You don’t want no chiggers. Come pray over here. Thank you for sharing your family with me.”

Someone was leading the Rosary over an annoying crackly loudspeaker. After a moment, they stopped and announced that the visionary said Mary was coming. And then there was silence– eerie, complete silence.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to make a massive crowd of Apparition-seekers silent? There would usually be at least one irritating person praying in tongues or strumming an acoustic guitar, but there wasn’t. And there weren’t any birds or crickets either. All of creation kept silence.

And then there was a wind– a sudden, gentle but noisy, tickly breeze that bent all the tall grass for a moment. A pleasant rustling whhhhhhhshhhhhh like wind has in films sometimes, but rarely sounds so perfect in real life. And then the wind, too, was still.

And then I heard the thunder– a sustained, very soft rumble from somewhere far away. It went on, then paused a moment, and then it rumbled again, as if someone was speaking and then waiting for a response and then speaking again, but that person’s voice was thunder, yet the thunder was gentle and not threatening. For all I know it was something to do with the old-fashioned loudspeaker, but it didn’t sound like it was coming from the loudspeaker– and it didn’t seem likely in the total absence of wind to distrub the microphone. For all I know it was an airplane somewhere, but I didn’t see an airplane, and the noise didn’t approach and get farther away the way airplanes do. It sounded like thunder in the distance, but it never turned into a storm.

And then there was another breeze, whhhhhhhssssh. And then the loudspeaker announced that Our Lady had finished, and we would pray the Rosary again. And the noise and action of a group of Apparition-chasers praying in a field of chiggers commenced again.

And I wasn’t afraid. I wasn’t afraid that Mary would appear and open the ground to show me hell; I wasn’t afraid that she’d drive nails through my hands and make me offer it up. I wasn’t afraid that she’d be cross that I couldn’t pray the Rosary. I just prayed it, calmly, kneeling on a vinyl shower curtain in a misty field somewhere in northern Kentucky.

As I said, it probably all has a perfectly run-of-the-mill explanation. I am not the Church’s arbiter on which apparitions are of supernatural origin, nor do I wish to be. But If I were the Blessed Virgin, that’s the aura I would wish to radiate to everyone– the breeze, the silence, the voice that you hear out of nowhere but doesn’t alarm you, the charity of total strangers in an irritating place, and the total absence of fear.

We went home. We went back to reading Spirit Daily. The fear and scruples came back. Life went on as it had.

Later, I mentioned the rumbling thunder, but my parents said I imagined it.

They had heard no thunder at all.

(image via Pixabay) 

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