My summer project to earn pocket money is cleaning Our Lady of Guadalupe, a tiny church which happens to be next door to my house. (My house is more cheerful, being called “The Ladies with the Spitcurls.”)
It has been quite a trip back in time to handle all the articles of ritual I noticed as a child but was never permitted to touch. The names float up from some interior reliquary of memory: ciborium, chasuble, dalmatic, stole, corporal, chalice. The Liturgical Year floats through my mind as I uncover accessories in purple, green, red, white.
This church is a replacement building constructed in 1973. The original was flooded. Adobe does not do well in flood … the building was lost & rebuilt facing east. These days, a priest comes on first Sundays to say Mass & the street fills with new cars & old people.
I have washed & polished the pews, cleaned the medieval torture-kneelers. I have carried the ceramic statues into the kitchen, placed them in the sink & given them Dawn bubble baths. Stations of the Cross plaques are wiped & carefully rehung.
I am now aware of the total lack of joy the Church brought to my life. The “Laughing Jesus” didn’t exist until fairly recent history, although in my opinion, He must have been an Olympic raconteur to have made such a great impression on so many. I think it is one of Catholocism’s great psyops that He never cracked a smile. But, then, none of the statues look happy. Their expressions are pensive, sorrowful, unhappy, pinched. At the risk of total irreverence, I must say they all look like a dose of stewed prunes might help set up a sunnier outlook.
It’s challenging to clean all the folds & wrinkles in their robes & veils. St. Francis has managed to bop me three times on the head while I was wiping him down – those extended arms are lethal. Baby Jesus (cradled in two out of three statues) was truly divine as not one of His representations is wearing a diaper.
Today I bumped a processional crucifix on a long stick. The plastic figurine slipped feet up, head down. I thought how appropriate this was, given the current state of affairs as the world uncovers overwhelming evidence of paedophilia within the Roman Catholic Church. It put me in mind of flying the flag upside down as a signal of distress.
Everyone in my family was a practicing Catholic until graduation day. Then we all beat feet out of church, shook off any residual holy water & headed for the beach. I was extremely lucky to find the Unity Movement in my life – a joy-filled, affirmative shout of individual power & personal divinity extolling humans as the sources & engineers of grace in motion, living in wellness for the highest good.
The days of a nearby convent of bustling nuns to clean up after the congregation are long gone. It falls upon me, a local cynic offered up for an hourly wage. Only my innate & residual respect calls me to honor these representations of what was once a thriving industry. A time ago, the church was a world to me: an arcane, mysterious, dark place full of echoing silence, redolent with incense & candle wax.
Once again, the language surfaces from that same deep well: confirmation, communion, intercession, rosary, Eucharist, confession, purgatory, limbo, hell & finally heaven. All for the bargain-basement rate of $12/hour!