It all feels so self-indulgent to be telling you my story, yet it feels necessary, cathartic.
So I guess I will keep going, but with a little backtracking.
Prior posts have spoken of my (unlikely) early life and Catholic (church nerd) childhood, plus a bit about my return to church. I also wrote of my great love for Mary, the Mother of God and how a trip to Medjugorje, of all places, is how I ended up back in the fold.
What I haven’t written about yet is some of the in-between, so let me start that today.
For reasons far too complicated and vast to go into here today, the late 80’s were some of the most miserable of my life. I was a terrible crank, mean to people, short-tempered, hostile. Somehow people still seemed to love me, but I look back and wonder how and then remember how grace works. Thank you God.
One reason for my despair was that I was so disconnected from my own soul. All my searching and seeking was futile at some level. As I mentioned, there were many narcissistic elements of this era of my life and I think that each time I reached out for what I saw, the ripples made the image go away and I was distraught. It feels crappy to say that out loud, but it is true.
My job was beyond unfulfilling at that time and my home life was a mess. I was living with my mother and my aunt at the time – that is a LONG story, not going there right now. It was not a happy time. My mother was at her all time low, sunk deeply into depression, awash in some white hot anger and very deeply engaged with her alcoholism.
The way I coped with all of this, in addition to buying all kinds of crap that I did not need, was to travel. I traveled a lot for my job and then I would take trips and for those 3 weeks a year, I felt alive. The other 49 weeks were for misery and trip planning.
In February 1989 I went to Paris, a favorite place I liked to skulk around on my own. This was my third of five trips to that fine city. I felt very exotic and mysterious being there, wearing black, drinking lots of coffee as I sat in cafes and read books or wrote in my journal.
Despite my not being in touch (or so I thought) with my Catholicity, I loved going into churches in Europe. Who doesn’t? Art, light, transcendence… Ahh. Plus I liked to fancy myself praying in that great “spiritual-but-not-religious-just-Jesus-‘n’-me” sort of way that was delusional for me.
On this particular trip I went up to Sacre-Coeur in Montmarte. When I first visited Paris in 1979, my friend was living in that part of Paris and it was one of the first places I saw, so it had a special place in my heart. I was deeply upset over the status of my life which felt so miserable and I did actually go there to pray in some way.
For reasons that were not at all clear at the time, I stopped at the little gift shop and bought a blue-stoned rosary. I went and sat in some side chapel and prayed to a statue of Mary, asking for help. This was one of the darkest times of my life and I longed for change.
Now I would have prayed the rosary if I had remembered it. Yeah yeah – I knew it was 1 Our Father followed by 10 Hail Marys and a Glory Be, but beyond that I could not recall any detail or mysteries to follow. So I just prayed 5 Our Fathers, 50 Hail Marys and 5 Glory Bes.
And I cried. A lot. Sobbed actually. It being February, and at about 2 in the afternoon on a weekday, I was pretty much alone there. My heart broke into many pieces and shattered, pieces of it skittering across the cold, hard floor of the church like a glass hitting tile.
It is not at all clear to me now how long I stayed there, but it was a long time. Finally I left the church and walked around Montmartre. I stopped and had coffee, I wrote in my journal. Something felt different. Not better – not worse, just different.
At the time I could only characterize different negatively, my lens was fear. I think I felt like I was sprayed by a skunk or something, an odor I could not shake.
Allow me to say that this is not about “magic” but rather that sometimes things happen that are way bigger than we have the vocabulary for or the depth to describe.
I wanted to pray a proper rosary like nobody’s business but I was lost, so I did spend time saying what I could, all awkward and stilted. It was like I was trying to learn a language that I had spoken frequently as a child.
Which is exactly what was happening.
The rosary – with Mary’s intercession of course, changed my life. More about that will follow, this is enough for today.
Paris will always be special to me for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is the place where the inbreaking of the spirit made an undelible mark upon my heart.
As for the rosary – I love this video, which I had found last May, via my friend Paul. And I still treasure, and use almost daily, these fine beads (shown above) given to me by Maria. She made them for me, I was so touched.
Me praying the rosary on beads strung together prayerfully by an Episcopalian… so very unlikely, but beautiful!