I drove out to the lake– not the nice clean lake where I like to go swimming, but a nice muddy lake in a state park way out in the country in Ohio. I went there to sit with my grief.
Adrienne went with me, which is rarer lately. She is very happy in school and having all kinds of new experiences, but asks that I respect her privacy for awhile and don’t tell too many funny stories. She doesn’t like to hike as I do. I promised that we wouldn’t hike, we would only sit by the lake and look for shells.
We did look for shells, which were plentiful; the shore birds like to eat the snails out of them and leave the vacant dwellings in piles. Adrienne had a good time throwing the shells back into the lake, and then she found a swing set to swing on while I went to explore the nearby picnic shelter house with the big fireplace, and pretend it was Rivendell.
After I visited Rivendell, I went to sit on a bench and watch the water, and feel sad.
I have been so sad for the longest time. In going out to look at nature, I can process my sadness a little better. That was the purpose of the trip. It was Sunday, and the feast of Saint Therese, the first day of the month of the Holy Rosary, ten days away from my thirty-ninth birthday, and I was terrified and angry and overwhelmed with depression… no, not depression at all. This was something else.
It was grief.
I sat for awhile with my grief.
There was the water, bright blue where it reflected the sky and dank green algae where the trees overshadowed. There were the trees, still two thirds green and the rest a glorious gold. There was the firmament with God above it, if God is anywhere at all.
It felt like He was.
I would like Him to be.
I would also like Him with me, down on the dry grass, sitting on that bench, understanding. Empathizing. Dwelling in pain with me and making it right. I’m not sure that He was, but I hope so. If hope does not disappoint, He was there.
I wasn’t talking to Him, however. I was talking to Saint Therese and the Virgin Mary, two saints I can’t usually stand to talk to. The people who hurt me usually had cutesy devotions to Saint Therese and horrifying devotions to the Virgin Mary. I prayed to the Virgin Mary for help when I was pregnant with Adrienne, and she did not answer. It went badly. Life went badly for many years after that, and I don’t like it very much now. I haven’t been too keen on her since. Sometimes I am terrified of her. Often I have to keep her icon turned to the wall.
I was not nice, when I prayed. I was not respectful or polite.
Whatever you think of me, you would hate me if you knew the things I said. I told Saint Therese I hoped she had a terrible feast day and I told the Virgin Mary much worse things, truly horrid things, things I can’t repeat on a Patheos blog. The least offensive thing I said was that it was a sin to abandon a good girl who tried to follow all the rules here in Northern Appalachia, in poverty and chronic illness, with terrible PTSD and six-figure student debt, without love or help or a way out. It was sin not to kill me quickly back when I had faith, when the trouble started, when I was a naive young woman who went to Daily Mass and weekly confession and said at least one Rosary every night. Now, knowing what I know, it’s so much more complicated. I have panic attacks at the thought of Mass or the Rosary. I don’t even want to go to Heaven. Heaven has saints in it, and we don’t get along. What would I do in Heaven? I don’t want to go to hell either, I just want to rest. But how could I rest in Heaven?
And then I cringed away from Saint Therese and the Virgin Mary, because I had blasphemed.
And then I sat with my grief again.
I don’t know if it was there on the bench, or later that afternoon, that I remembered the things I have come to know.
I used to think that I could earn Heaven by following the rules and being good, and now I know that that’s a lost cause. Any god there might be will have to save me some other way, so the whole matter is up to Him and not me.
I used to fear that I would go to hell for making a mistake, and I often still do. But now I believe that any god who would damn me for making a mistake is a god who is smaller than I am and not worth my time. That god’s Heaven would be hell indeed.
I used to be terrified that relatives like my brother and both my beloved grandfathers, who didn’t go to church, would go to hell and be tortured forever for their apostasy. My mother assured me that I’d be perfectly happy in Heaven even if they went to hell, but I didn’t want to be happy if they were in hell. That would be an injustice. I haven’t exactly resolved this paradox, but I believe I am right. And I believe that any god who would damn a soul to hell for giving up after seeing how Christians treat one another, is a god so petty and cruel that I refuse to bother with them. And any God worth my worship is a God Who would descend into hell and bring back my grandfathers and my brother and me, and take us to a place where we could learn what He is and decide what we wanted to be in freedom. If such a God exists, I would like to know Him.
I used to fear that it was Blasphemy of the Spirit, a sin that will never be forgiven in this world or the next, to rail at God and His holy mother and tell them how horrible and sinful they were for doing this to me and so many others. But now I know that if Blasphemy of the Spirit exists, it’s something else entirely. It’s the sin of the Charismatic Renewal, of the cultists who used to live in LaBelle, of Mike Scanlan and his cronies, of everyone who hurts and abuses and ruins others for their own selfish purposes and claims the authority of the Holy Spirit to do so. If the Spirit of the Lord exists, then the Spirit of the Lord is love. If you have made someone feel that the Spirit of God doesn’t love them by your cruel superstitious torture for your own aggrandizement, may you never be forgiven. May this movement, these cults, that blasphemous hill in Steubenville, never be forgiven.
If there is a Virgin Mary at all, and if she heard my prayer, just at that moment I didn’t think she was angry with me. She was angry with somebody, but not me.
Of course, maybe she wasn’t there.
Maybe there was nothing but a pathetic middle-aged woman sitting on a bench, staring at blue and green and vibrant gold, talking to her grief.
Adrienne finished her play just then, and we went home. I tried to go to church and had my usual panic attack. I don’t know what will happen next.
I will go back to the lake tomorrow, and sit with my grief again.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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