prose

sacramental whine

i. baptism. i don’t believe in purgatory anymore, but i think that’s what they were trying to save me from—an inescapable waiting room, forever itching for my name to be called. the only thing standing between me and an eternity spent reading highlights was a fountain of oily water and some stranger with the authority to dunk me in it. the seed of heaven was planted inside me, he said, and nothing could keep me out…for now. a sigh of relief hung in the air as my salvation was placed at the bottom of an hourglass.

ii. communion. my second grade class kept a butterfly garden. mrs. smith said that we were still caterpillars, but the moment the body of Christ touched our tiny, unquestioning mouths, we’d emerge from our cocoons. my rosary, crystalline blue, hung from my trembling hands as i drank the backwash of a hundred parishioners and sauntered back to my pew like judd nelson at the end of the breakfast club. flightless wings unfurled from between my shoulder blades and a halo of glass encircled my head. i had heaven inside me, i said, and nothing could keep me out now. the ethereal angels with weeping eyes stared down at me from their prison of stained glass like i’d just given them something else to cry about.

iii. reconciliation. somewhere in the middle of my children’s bible was a man named jonah and the whale that swallowed him. every kid knew his story (even my neighbor who went to public school), but no one thought twice about swimming in the sea. they should’ve told me that whales aren’t always shaped like fish; that sometimes you won’t realize you’ve been swallowed ‘til your foot gets caught between bones and you’ve got nothing left but the One you were trying to get away from. and i wouldn’t say i “ran” from nineveh per se, but i sure as hell built one in my heart. tiny fingers, wet with clay, reaching out in prayer but still treating the heaven inside me like a gamble, hoping peter would let me in but fearing that thomas would check my hands. i stared right through the whitewashed Jesus nailed to a cold stone cross and never once comprehended that all my debts had already been paid.

iv. confirmation. my parents yanked me from the parish by my ear and into a bed of hot coals, teaching me once and for all that the only thing harder than learning is unlearning. my brain split; suddenly there were two Gods—the one i grew up with, whose touch burned like sulfur, and this new God, who laughed when i apologized for using the direct line. don’t come over, i begged; the place is a mess and besides, judas is here, harvesting silver from my garden. He entered my heart anyway, made us a pot of coffee, said we needed to talk. we’d been talking my whole life, i argued. no, He said; not even once. how could that be true, i said, when i followed all the rules? when i came clean from the water? when i drank from the cup and tasted the bread? when i scrubbed my soul clean with a brillo pad fashioned from hundreds of hail marys? You aren’t making any sense. was i not good enough? how can You look at me? i’m empty, can’t You feel it?! there’s nothing here. i’m NOTHING. if i loved You before, it was just an apology. You shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t—

You shouldn’t…

I’m here.

don’t disappear.

I never did.

i don’t know You at all—

but you will.

the nails fell from my eyes, one by one, clattering across the table, dissolving to ash—everything was light, everything was Him, i can see, i can see—i’m sorry, i’m sorry, my God, i’m so sorry—

…is this…

is this the heaven inside me?

yes, came the reply.

and nothing can keep Me out now.

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