We were running errands when we stopped by the church.
This is what we do now. I have a car, and I take Rosie on errands. Today was exciting because we got an extra big tip in the tip jar after a horribly lean month. We paid down the bills just in time to avoid shutoff without bouncing the rent check, and then we drove to Wal Mart and Aldi to buy everything we’d run out of, and then we were completely broke again, but with a car full of treasures. Among the treasures were two packs of freeze pops and a flat of Gatorade for the Friendship Room’s free refrigerator, ahead of the week’s heat wave.
This isn’t the kind of thing that we did growing up, but it’s normal to Rosie. We go to the Friendship Room as often as we can. She helps me put things on the free pantry shelves. We used to do it on the bus or on foot, and now we drive.
After that we went across the street, to the church.
We knelt at the Communion rail, in front of the statue of the Mother of God.
I barely knew a thing to say. Too many terrible things were done in her name, growing up. I don’t think of her as gentle or comforting. I think of her as someone who cracks open the ground to show you hell and traumatize you. I think of the terror of being dragged to supposed Marian apparitions and the bizarre, arbitrary, superstitious restrictions I experienced in the Charismatic Renewal. That’s not something I want to share with my child, but I don’t know what to put in its place.
“We’ll just… we’ll pray to Mother Mary to help us to say ‘yes’ to what God wants us to do, just like she did, even if the world tells us we should be selfish. And we’ll thank God for getting us the grocery money this week.”
Rosie knelt obediently, for longer than I expected her to do.
I prayed one Hail Mary, which is my limit.
I stood up and gazed around the church, wondering what else to say.
“You see the windows?” I said. The windows in that church illustrate the mysteries of the Rosary, but we don’t pray the Rosary. I can’t. It induces panic attacks. Still, I want her to know about those mysteries. “You know these Bible stories, Rose. Here’s the Angel Gabriel announcing to Mother Mary that she would become the mother of Jesus, and she consented, and here’s the Holy Spirit coming down on her looking like a dove to put Jesus in her womb. And here’s Mary visiting Saint Elizabeth, and here’s Jesus being born in the stable, that’s Christmas. This is Jesus being taken to the temple, and here’s when he was a little older. His parents took him to the temple when he was twelve and he wandered off and they couldn’t find Him for three days. When they did find Him, he was in the temple, talking with all the old people and telling them about the Bible instead of them telling Him.”
“And here’s when He was a grown-up. Before He was crucified, He went to a garden and prayed by Himself and was so scared He asked that the Father would make it go away if He could, and that if He couldn’t make it go away then that God’s will would be done. And then,” here I pointed to the Sorrowful mysteries arching around the back of the church in a horseshoe shape, “He got beat up… and then He got beat up again… and then He REALLY got beat up, and He died on the cross. And of course, this is when He rose from the dead on Easter, we celebrated that several weeks ago, and you can see that man in a Roman soldier uniform like we’re learning about in school with the ridiculous brush on his hat, those were the soldiers guarding the tomb who thought Jesus’s dead body was going to be stolen by the apostles, but instead He came out alive and they fainted dead away.”
She laughed again.
“Over here is when He ascended into Heaven to be with His father, but He hasn’t left us. Now, here is the window that talks about what’s going to happen next Sunday. Next Sunday is Pentecost, when we think about the Holy Spirit descending on the apostles and Mary. See, they were locked by themselves in a room, when suddenly the Holy Spirit came down from Heaven and it looked like tongues of fire. And they started talking in foreign languages and they had the courage and strength to tell everybody the Gospel.”
“They look like they’re being SET on fire by tongues,” said Rose.
“Well, the fire didn’t hurt,” I said.
It didn’t hurt.
When the Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary and she conceived by the Holy Spirit, that Spirit didn’t hurt or destroy her. That Spirit was gentle and life-giving. When the Spirit moved her to speak to her cousin Elizabeth, it didn’t hurt. It filled that frightened young woman with a prophecy of triumph and joy that must have seemed impossible even as she proclaimed it to be true. And all those years later, when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and Mary, again it didn’t hurt. The Glory of God didn’t destroy them; the Glory gave them the gifts they needed to be what they ought to have been before. Peter wouldn’t deny the Lord out of fear of death anymore, He would preach the Gospel until he, too, was crucified. Mark wouldn’t get seized by his garment and run away naked again; he would preach the Gospel until the Alexandrians seized him by the neck and broke it. As for the Virgin Mary, she was already perfect, so perfect the Son of God burned within her for nine months and didn’t kill her, and here she was receiving the Holy Spirit again. And it didn’t hurt. The things that happened in between times, losing Christ in the temple, losing Him again in the most violent way on Calvary, they hurt. But the Spirit of God doesn’t hurt.
Growing up in the Charismatic Renewal, I got the impression that the Holy Spirit does hurt. My mother used to say that God always chooses the absolute worst suffering you can imagine for you, because otherwise it isn’t a real sacrifice. That was why I was always getting sick and was so anxious and depressed, because God had chosen me as a victim. I tried as hard as I could to want that, so I could be a good girl, but I didn’t. I wanted to be healthy and happy. And I eventually refused to worship a god so sadistic that he would torture one of his children to death so that they could “offer it up” to appease him for the other children’s sins. I refuse to worship a god who is a worse parent than I am.
I was also taught that if a group of people is bad enough, God would withdraw their guardian angel so that suffering and calamity would happen to them. That was sometimes the cause of natural disasters, wars, plagues and other misfortunes, when they weren’t caused by being a victim soul. That was why AIDS existed. The massive tsunami in Indonesia was to punish human trafficking. The increase in hurricanes on the East coast was not because of global warming but because of legal abortion. I remember, during the Clinton impeachment when I was barely a teenager, staying up late in bed terrified that God was going to send a plague or a hurricane to punish us for the president’s sexual indiscretions. I prayed and prayed my Rosary to try and deflect the punishment. I begged God to spare all the little children I knew from the coming wrath. But I knew it was hopeless and would get worse. There would be a terrible persecution and God would smite us with three days of darkness. Eventually I broke, and couldn’t believe in a god so small and petty anymore.
That’s part of the reason my mother and I don’t speak to each other now.
Rosie and I were walking out the door at this point. I instinctively looked for the Holy Water, but there wasn’t any, just a bottle of hand sanitizer. And of course I kept talking, because that’s what mothers do.
“The Bible says ‘if ye love me, you will keep my commandments, and I will pray the Father, and He will give you the Paraclete, that He may abide with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth.'” This was a verse I’ve been repeating to her over and over for weeks. It keeps coming up because we’re learning about ancient Rome in homeschooling. “In ancient Rome, if you were on trial, they would give you a designated person to lean on so you wouldn’t be scared. That person was called a ‘comforter,’ from the word ‘fortis’ for ‘strength.’ But most people spoke Greek in the Roman empire, and ‘comforter’ in Greek is “paraclete.” If we love Jesus, we will do what He says and try to live the Gospel. And then He will pray the Father, and the Father will send the Holy Spirit to strengthen us and make us brave to do what we have to do, and to help us know what’s true.”
“I know that!” said Rosie, scampering out into the sun. “Subject change!”
We drove home, chatting about ice cream and how excited we were to go swimming in a week, and it didn’t hurt.
The Spirit of God is not pain or trauma. The Spirit of God is the Paraclete in the midst of pain and trauma. Life is difficult, so difficult it can break you and usually does. Life is so difficult it left the Son of God sobbing to God, “Why have you abandoned me?” I don’t understand the mystery of why that is. But when the Spirit of God comes, that Spirit will tell you what is true. The Spirit of God strengthen and comfort you to do what is yours to do. The Spirit of God is not the thing that hurts. The Spirit of God is what strengthens you to live, in spit of the hurt.
That’s a God I can believe in, and teach my daughter about.
The other one doesn’t matter.
Image via Pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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