Growing up Catholic we would attend church every wednesday. During Lent we would go to church on Wednesday mornings but instead of our regular service we would start with Ash Wednesday to kick off the season. Then, each Wednesday after that until Easter we would have the Stations of the Cross, the way of Sorrows. It was a telling of the Passion, visual and visceral. I felt it, deeply in me. I remember, second grade, the teachers telling us about each of the stations, going over the creed, hammering in the “story” of how Christ was killed. I was lightheaded. I could see those nails going in…I could feel them in my hands. If this was the end of the memory I would suspect that I had a dramatized it all in my head but this isn’t the end of the memory.
The memory goes on to include the many times I stood in church, the smell of the incense heavy in my head, the heat of the early spring penetrating the stain glass windows, falling on my face or so it felt..the picture in my mind of the blood and the perspiration mixing with the dust, Veronica wiping His face, Simon taking the cross, Jesus beaten and bruised. I saw these things, I felt them deeply…and the room spun even as I opened my eyes. I turned to my neighbor saying “I don’t feel good…” her response a terse, “you’re okay…” then a cool breeze on my face and nothing, darkness, black…for what seemed like a long time, like a deep sleep. And in the middle of a dream I never remember a point of light is fixed in front of me, it begins to vibrate and multiply and a buzzing starts in my ears and I become aware that I am sweating and shaking a little…and then I become aware of voices, my body being carried out into the sun til I’m awake again.
I passed out at church after that nearly every Lent, always during Stations of the Cross. It was always the same, to the point where girls would argue about who had to sit next to me. If I were an extrovert I’d say I did it for attention but truly, the attention was painful for me, more painful that hitting my head on the hard marble floors at St. Teresa of Avila Church every year.
I may have resigned myself to the act at some point, sitting down most of the service. I became afraid to be in church at all during Lent. I probably chided myself quite a lot, probably stored up the shame that came from this each time, kept it in a box near my bed and hoped that one day it might make some sense to me.
So as I reflect on the start of this Great Lent…I am moved to emotion and memory for those early years…and hope desperately that it all makes more sense to me.