I’ve gotten a couple more emails from my mother, but that distressing detail somehow took the backseat this week, as my time off continued. I’m kind of sad it’s ending tomorrow, but as a whole, this has been a pretty good week. This weekend was something extra special though, as I went on a day-trip up to that Marian grotto shrine Saturday for my baptism anniversary.
I was planning on making that trip up to the grotto myself for September 24*, but a friend ended up asking if I wanted to come with her that day. We both mused, and were amused while we mused, that God wanted the two of us to go that day, as I already wanted to go, and she happened to invite me. The trip to and from was picturesque as always as we headed out to the countryside, to the mountains. It’s like going to a different world, especially as we left the empty blue skies behind in favor of pearly gray clouds that cooled the air.
A/N: Turns out I was baptized on a Marian feast day: Our Lady of Ransom. This title depicts Mary as the one who frees us from whatever is shackling us, shown on her holy cards/medals. If that doesn’t mean anything, I don’t know what does.
I was left on my own for about an hour when we got there, walking past the two angels into the grotto to be greeted by the Jesus statue, his arms outstretched as if to say “Welcome home”. There were some other pilgrims there, some talking, some silent. The trees rustled with the wind, the leaves brushing the holy images of saints. A little statue of Mary overlooked one of the main springs, and I looked down for the first time to see that the water was clearer and deeper than I thought it to be. I sat and had a long conversation in silence in the little chapel near the Lourdes and Calvary scenes, its ceiling being the second time I saw constellations painted there. Every step, every bend of the knee, every breathe made me feel more refreshed, like I was being washed of all the things I brought with me to that mountain.
Like at Lourdes, the grotto’s water has had healing properties, whether in that miraculous physical sense or in the, really, more miraculous spiritual/emotional sense. People were filling giant jugs of the water to take home. What struck me as funny was that most of them were doing that at this one faucet by the spring that looks like a holy water fountain, leaving three perfectly functional, yet more ordinary-looking faucets a little ways above almost untouched. That’s where I filled my jar and bottles, the sign clearly saying that this was the same holy water as the one at the prettier fount.
Now, before I came up there, I wrote in my journal a couple goals I’d like to reach there, one of them being a better use of holy water as a devotional. I learned how blessing oneself with holy water washes away venial sins (hence why they have founts at the entrances of churches), and how it’s to remind us of our baptisms. I was baptized as a baby, and while I have some very early memories, I’ve only one from when I was actually a baby. When I’d go to baptisms, however, the godparents would make the baptismal promises for the child they were claiming spiritual parenthood over, and the rest of the congregation were invited to renew their own vows.
I was looking just that up on my phone, wanting to say a special prayer while I was there, when a pilgrim came over, and turned on one of the faucets. For these, you press a button, and water comes out for a minute or so. That’s how long she put her head in the stream of water. “What a great idea,” I thought, pocketing my phone. I turned my faucet back on after she left, and folding my hands in prayer, I put my head in.
I very soon realized why she was gasping; what I thought was some sort of spiritual experience on her part might actually have been due to just how cold it was. It was shockingly cold; it gave me a whole new appreciation of the word “brain-freeze” as my head started to ache, an admiration for my Japanese ancestors who would practice “misogi” (prayerful meditation under a waterfall). I wondered if this was why babies cried when they’re baptized. It felt like forever, but then it was over. A feeling poured into my heart, a very positive feeling. “Purified” is the best word I had for it, and that’s a feeling I don’t often experience.
Through my prayerful walk, and especially during that “second baptism”, a song has been playing in my head. It’s something we’d sing during Eastertide, while the priest would sprinkle holy water on all the people in the pews, the founts being bone-dry during those Masses. In Latin, it’s “Vidi Aquam” (“I Saw Water”), describing the scene of “water flowing from the temple on the right-hand side”. It refers to Ezekiel, where he has a vision of a temple with life-giving water. Makes me think of Jesus’s final wound from St. Longinus’s spear, blood and water coming from His heart, or the Divine Mercy image of a white and red ray of light came from Jesus’s heart. It’s very a beautiful and flowing song, whether in its original Latin or in the English translation.
Jesus has often been described as the Water of Life a number of times in the gospels, maybe most famously in John’s account of the Samaritan woman at the well. Reading it, one could see how something in her was quenched by Jesus’s presence, specifically in how she spoke at first meeting, asking why He, a Jewish man, was talking to her, a Samaritan (John 4:9) to how she spoke after that encounter, excitedly telling everyone in the city to come see Him themselves (John 4:28-30). Makes me think of another title for Him: Fount of Love.
I guess it was from my own experience at the grotto shrine that led me to have a thought during Mass. I had all kinds of thoughts on what I should pray for: my grandfather, that the police would stop mother from contacting me, that I could find a way to support myself without needing to depend on anyone else, etc. I then thought to ask for something more abstract: strength, courage, wisdom, clarity/calm, healing, etc.
That’s when it occurred to me to ask, “Please…just love me.”
When I lived with my family, I had next to no material want, but was starving for love. Love, I’d learned in this healing journey, is what gives someone strength, courage, wisdom, and healing. Friends who gave me love, especially when I felt the most unloved, gave me the strength and courage to continue. Love is also the one thing we can always be guaranteed from God, the one thing He will always give us, has always given us since He first dreamt of the idea of us.
Love is, therefore ,the answer to any and all prayers/desires I may have.
My confessor had often suggested that I ask God for love when things get dark. I’ll admit it, I didn’t think much of the advice for a long time, because I didn’t know what love looked like. Even when I’d experience something in prayer that moves me to tears, God talking to me, it didn’t leave too lasting an impression on me, because back then every good thing ends horribly, often when I least expect it. I was told that such experiences weren’t really “real” anyways; that it’s just sentimental fluff. I don’t know about that, but I’m very grateful to have had that thought. People always like to hear “yes”, so to find the one thing I could ask God that will always get a “yes” is wonderful, nevermind realizing that love is something God would, in fact, always say “yes” to.
I’m not sure what to make about the semantics of employment, of vocation, destiny, whatever. I don’t have a clue about the details. I feel, though, that I’ll get closer to where I need to be if I just keep my focus on God’s love. All that stuff is important, vitally so, but unlike what I was groomed to believe, asking for love is not laziness. All I know is that there are people in dead-poor countries, or people in war-zones, or people in just horrifically evil situations who would somehow make it through okay if they have someone to share love with. St. Maximilian Kolbe was locked up in a starvation cellar with other prisoners during WWII; it was his love for them and for God that kept them praying and singing through what I could only imagine to be a gruesomely tortuous death that had to be ended with a lethal injection. These saints just seemed crazy, didn’t they, fanatical even, talking about being overjoyed in the face of martyrdom?
Maybe they weren’t so crazy after all. Maybe they’re just more “hydrated” with that love than I am, than most of us are. Like the Samaritan woman at the well, I can’t help but want that water, so I didn’t have to go back to the well everyday, do that daily grind with my thoughts preoccupied with my eventual death. That death will come, and it’s good to be prepared. Maybe it’s better to prepare by living.