The room is still and the air conditioning is off, but a cool draft billows through. In every place she has ever lived, a cylinder of cold air has taken up residence in one of the bedrooms. It moves where she moves. It is said a spirit resides inside this cold spot -wanting pride of place; likely the family member who most recently died.
My grandmother thought the dead were out to get her. Her father was a deacon in the Catholic church and she came to intentionally and ironically, a bit of both, resent religion and the too-long-a-list of spirits and saints to remember and revere. So why did anyone want to come back and talk to her? She would never connect. She would never allow it.
I distinctly remember a time around seven years old. We were lying on her bed, and she was reading me a book. The overhead fan started going berserk; spinning like it was going to detach itself from the ceiling. It was the first time I heard her say a four-line invocation to ward off evil spirits. The fan immediately stopped. We were both silenced in the moment. Each being a witness to the other’s story, we told this one for years. Other than her occasional use of the Lord’s Prayer, nothing much came out of her mouth or behavior illustrative of God or religion.
My great grandmother, her mom, was born in 1912 and was influenced by the leftover effects of Victorian era mysticism, when seances and communing with the dead were height of fashion. Despite the technological progress, women were particularly drawn to the paranormal and the occult, as most other forms of entertainment involved reading the Bible. Plus, there was a dose of Cherokee Indian blood in her. These three components made my great grandmother a very superstitious person. Hyperaware of her environment and particular about what went where, most things out of place were a sign or portended something on the horizon. It was below her to provoke or conjure, as an apparition or message simply showed up. It was all so matter-of-fact, there seemed to be no debate amongst the great-grandkids that she communicated with our dead ancestors or her own guardian angels. She was particularly interested in her dreams where visions and symbols came through. Before she died, she described to me what my future husband would look like.
My own mother, a scaredy-cat to the bone, would have nothing to do with any of it. Absolutely nothing to do with death, dying, or the dead. How then did we end up with a Ouija board in our home on a random occasion? She wasn’t going to touch it, and I would walk it out to the trashcan a couple weeks later.
A confluence of factors has contributed to my own beliefs and practices over the years. I was eight years old the first time I sat in meditation. My dalliances with religions and the metaphysical have come from curiosity not rearing, and have run the gamut. From zealot to complete disdain. From being baptized twice because I thought the first time didn’t work, to finding the whole lot a joke. A lot of evil is done in the name of religion, yet aside from this, I’ve always respected the practices of others and have felt a personal, divine connection. I’ve always sensed I could straddle two worlds: one foot in the physical and one foot in the spiritual. And I am certain I’ve met two of my guardian angels, as they showed up to save my life and then completely evaporated. But to call myself spiritual and hear others describe themselves as such sounds like a cop-out. The word has always been slung around as if weightless.
I see a similar vein coursing through the church-goer and the tarot card flipper.
There is an involuntary impulse in humans to look for order; to make sense of our environment; to give ourselves a bit of control in the chaos; to find any answers. We all show up to ask similar questions from very different places. The mystic and the fortune teller may believe they’re in on some secret and have the personal power to manipulate external forces, whereas those devoted to Christ are surrendering control, both are in the belief of a deeper connection to an external being or energy, and under the same pretense: everything is going to be ok. Even the most mainstream of athletes have pre-game rituals. This, too, is rooted in a superstition and the tiny attempt to control an outcome.
We do not know that everything is going to be ok. We seek answers through more education or more empirical evidence or more devotion. Either way, the mind is going to come up with reasons for things. Without any explanation, it would be too hard to navigate the world. The world is too chaotic.
I’ve never liked going to church and being preached to. Even seeing the mass-produced, boxed churches peppering the suburbs saddens me. I’ve always loved walking into cathedrals, though; their majesty, their history, their beauty. Anyone can feel reverence here.
Anywhere there is reverence, there is an opportunity for communion.