Cleansing Fire

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Holy Week Part VI: Trauma, Hysteria and Misery!

March 30th, 2018, Promulgated by Diane Harris

Today, because this is such a special day, Good Friday 2018, I will share a story with the CF community, which up until now only my best friends have heard, usually in that after dinner “open up the memories” share time. It is about trauma, hysteria and misery, and that is just an advance warning label. After all, it is Good Friday, a day on which perhaps we can identify with some of the emotions which the friends of Jesus must have experienced when He was crucified. Second warning: if you are not old enough to remember what a phonograph is, that 78’s were ‘records’ that got ‘played’ (and scratched and broken), then perhaps you might opt-out of this post now, and wait for a more technologically acceptable ambiance.

God has blessed me with remembering extraordinary detail from very early in life. And in recounting stories, I am often asked if I am absolutely sure that I remember something, and didn’t just remember stories and fill-in with paint-by-numbers. Yes, I am absolutely sure that I remember what I remember, especially those related to matters of Faith. My parents (especially my mother) and later 12+ years of Dominican Teaching were not without impact. Veritas. I remember my mother sitting me down on a quiet afternoon long before I went to school to teach me ‘something special.’ She placed me at the head of the dining room table, in my father’s chair, and sat on my left. (No, I don’t know why she didn’t sit on my right; it would have made more sense.)

She said “Give my your hand …. No the other one!” And she raised my hand to my forehead, saying In the Name of the Father….” She proceeded to make the Sign of the Cross with my hand, teaching me my first prayer. But I had a problem with it. I kept trying to turn my hand toward the world away from me, in effect to act on the external world, not on myself. But she kept turning my hand back toward myself. It took a while before I got the idea that this “something special” was something I was doing to myself, taking on the Cross of Christ.  I realize today that the Sign of the Cross might also have been so ‘special’ to her, because she was a Lutheran convert to Catholicism, and loved the Faith. She didn’t make the Sign of the Cross as a Lutheran.

Perhaps that joy of her conversion was one of the reasons that my mother was so anxious to share her faith with me, an only child at that time. My results were variable, especially giving up a shiny Mercury dime into the collection plate every Sunday. But I also began to know about Jesus, that He loved me, that He is God, and that He would always be there for me. For a while I was confused, thinking that He was ‘in’ the Sacred Heart statue at church.

Then came Good Friday. My mother had purchased a set of red, brittle ‘shellac’ (pre-vinyl) 78 records of the Passion of Christ, and we waited for Good Friday to play them on the phonograph that was inside the large floor-standing radio. I was so looking forward to hearing them, although I’m sure I was confused about whether or not it would be the ACTUAL voice of the Lord. I know that I didn’t understand a lot of what I heard at first and have no memory of what must have been the earlier parts. But I have a vivid memory of the angry shouting, swords clanking and a mob, with voices yelling one over the other. It was likely the Arrest in the Garden, although I can’t be sure. But at least the noise had my attention, for what seemed like a long period.  Then things happened fast … and suddenly Jesus was dead on the Cross. Then it hit me!  Jesus was DEAD!  I shrieked hysterically.

Actually, I know I have never cried that hard again in my entire life. It was a suffocating, unable-to-breathe horror and panic. For a short while I could only say the words “NO! NO!” My mother had somehow “lifted the needle” and the record had stopped playing. She tried to console me, but I don’t remember her words. I think the idea was that there was “more” to the story but I didn’t want to hear THAT story anymore.  Finally, seeing the extra discs in the box, through my tears, I was able to gasp out the words, exactly: “Now play the one where He doesn’t die.” 

But my mother had to answer that there is no ‘record’ where He doesn’t die. “He always died,” she said, “but ….” I had no room in my heart for “but…”  Even being told that He came back to life, that He is alive now didn’t help. I was inconsolable, wanting to somehow ‘undo’ that He had died. I might have broken the record if I had thought to do so, changed the destiny of the world to my own liking. But I was only 2 or 3 years old. And I had already learned, and then experienced, that the Sign of the Cross is what we make on ourselves.

I never saw or heard those records again. When my mother died, I had to go through all her things, and found a number of old shellac records, but none of the Passion. Perhaps she gave them away to the Dominicans. But I expect she’d have done so on the condition that they never play them when I was in the classroom.

Today, my friends wonder why I never went to see the Passion of the Christ. I do think it is a wonderful effort to reach people’s hearts. I rejoice at such forms of catechesis and evangelization. I do not intend any criticism at all of the cinematic effort, or of those who view the movie. My own reasons for not viewing the movie are because I don’t want another voice to come to mind as I read the words of Jesus in the Bible. And I am content with His Face on the Shroud, and to gaze on Him as the Host, rather than bringing to mind even the face of a stupendous actor, or little plaster statues. I have also tried to explain that were a movie available of a friend or family member being tortured to death, I could not watch it. But I also have to admit deep inside that the memories of a toddler sobbing beside the radio are still more than I can fully absorb, yet that moment brings me closest to the exhortation to “stir up” our love for God, parental oversight not withstanding.

 

Blessed Good Friday to CF Friends.

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One Response to “Holy Week Part VI: Trauma, Hysteria and Misery!”

  1. avatar Diane Harris says:

    I just wanted to share that, while I was writing this post, a blue-bird came and sat on a branch outside my office, and stayed for quite a while. Not a blue jay, but a blue-bird! Sadly deprived, I guess, I had never seen a blue-bird before! Well, except in ceramic stores, with little holes punched in their salt and pepper heads. And that doesn’t count!


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