Vidi Aquam, I Saw Water

Vidi Aquam, I Saw Water March 18, 2022


I woke up under that terrible weight– the fear that I am going to hell.

I’m nearly used to the feeling now. I’ve had it for a long time. It started last April and got decidedly worse over the winter. Now, after the events of last week, it’s the worst it’s ever been. And yesterday was particularly terrible.

For so many years, I’ve been determined that they couldn’t chase me away. I was going to go to confession even though it made me nervous. I was going to learn to drive, get a car, find a church to go to even though going to church makes me panic. I I was not going to let the trolls and abusers and the PTSD grind me down. They would never get between me and Jesus. I was going to do everything right in spite of them. I was going to get out of Steubenville and find a church community. was going to find an affable priest somewhere who would understand that Rose can’t stand crowds and noise and people staring at her, and that she would like to receive her First Holy Communion by going to confession one Saturday afternoon and then slipping in line with the grown-ups to receive Holy Communion in her special occasion khakis with no fuss. I was going to heal my spiritual life. I would find a way.

But this week, I’m broken.

They won. I lost. There’s no more fight in me. I can’t take it anymore. They get Jesus, and I’m going to hell. Even if I do go to Mass this Sunday, and grip the pew with both hands and close my eyes and breathe through another panic attack, I will still go to hell because God doesn’t love me. I can’t stop feeling that way.

Have you ever gone for a drive while badly depressed, and absolutely convinced you are going to hell?

That’s what I did yesterday.

I went for a drive across the chimney of West Virginia to a state park in Pennsylvania, to see if the wildflowers were up yet. I didn’t think it would dig me out of the dumps, but I was keen to try anyway. And all the while I felt that if I got into an accident, I would fall into the dark abyss and suffer for eternity.

When I got there, the flowers weren’t blooming. The trees still looked dormant, save a bud here and there. Barely anything even looked alive except the moss, which had greened up with all the water from the melting snow.  And the next thing I knew, I was hiking up the trail, admiring the moss. Sometimes I’d stop in mid-stride and admire the green. Sometimes I’d bend over and touch it, and think about the August afternoons walking barefoot on luxurious moss at the State Park in Pocahontas County, when I was a little girl. It was such a bright, stark, vibrant shade of green against a world of mud and papery dead leaves. It didn’t look real.

Could the God who made moss send someone to hell for giving up?

It was so wet that in places, the melted snow running downhill made the trail into a muddy stream.

The trail darted uphill, and then my feet stopped going squish on fresh mud and made no sound at all on a carpet of gold needles. The air was all incense, a cloud of fragrance from a tight congregation of pines. All I could do was stand in awe, staring at a fresh woodpecker hole in the living yellow wood of a pine, listening to the creaking of boughs against boughs as if it were a chant.

My mother told me that no good a person does counts for anything when they are in mortal sin. I don’t know that I’m in mortal sin, but I feel like I am.

What, then, does it matter, that I stood there, awestruck, breathing incense, gazing at the woodpecker hole as if it were an icon, praying lamentations along with the groans of the  pines?

And then the trail went on, astonishingly quiet, over the side of a hill until I got to the waterfall. They tell me there used to be a lodge where people would bring the sick, near the top of that waterfall, because the water was said to be good for your health. Now, the state park warns tourists not to drink the water, but people do it anyway. The healing water comes over the top of a cliff and it also comes spurting out of cracks in the shale rock, not one great cataract but a thousand little ones, cascading down into the noisiest of streams. Over the years, it’s hollowed out a grotto in the shale.

I followed the steps down to the grotto.

The sun sparkled through a particularly lively stream of water just in front of me. Every place in the shale wall that that stream ran against was not brown or gray, but red-gold from minerals leeched out of the ground, as if the wall was bleeding. The cascade fell into a natural stone cup, hollowed out from the constant outpouring.

Vidi aquam egredientem de templo, a latere dextro, alleluia: et omnes, ad quos pervenit aqua ista, salvi facti sunt, et dicent, alleluia, alleluia.

I saw water coming from the right side of the temple, alleluia, and all to whom the water came were saved. Alleluia, alleluia.

I am going to hell, so I might as well sing “alleluia” during Lent.

I stuck my hand in the font at the bottom of the waterfall. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. And my hand, too, was stained red.

It doesn’t do any good, because the water isn’t blessed water from a church font. It’s the other kind, the profane kind you find in nature.

I want to go home,” I said as I took the trail downstream. “I want to go home. I give up being a saint. I was never strong enough to be a saint. I’m old, I’m traumatized, I’m poor, I’m alone, I’m in debt that will last until I die, and none of that would matter if you hadn’t left me as well.  I was raised to believe that you were all that mattered. We were all going to die anyway, from persecutions and cataclysms and the Three Days of Darkness, but it would all be all right as long as we had you. And now, here I’ve given up everything for you, and the world didn’t end, and I didn’t die, and you are gone as well. All I want is to go home, but I can’t.” 

Vidi aquam egredientem de templo, a latere dextro, alleluia: et omnes, ad quos pervenit aqua ista, salvi facti sunt, et dicent, alleluia, alleluia.

The water ran down to the side of the road, and finally back to the parking lot.

Last of all,  I drove to a different part of the park, to the lake.

Geese paddled on the glassy water that I had walked on two months ago.

And just for a moment, nothing hurt.



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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