A Cave for Mary

Mary in a grotto! The cave walls are like walls in a zoo — they look real and touchable.  But get a little closer and they look a bit fake. Also, it’s just weird to see cave walls in a church, even if they are recreating Lourdes, France in Upper Manhattan.

I was on my lunch hour, hungry for a moment of peace. Family life and work life are way hectic at the end of September. And Michael DeBorja had Facebook messaged me the suggestion to visit this church! (Thanks Michael)

The odor of incense totally hit me when I walked into the sanctuary. There is also the wow effect of a cave wall in church and the vast, wide space and the echo-ey domed ceiling. This church totally reeked. I was thrown back to my first grammar school — St. Joan of Arc in Skokie, Illinois. It’s kindergarten on the Holy Day and the crowning of the May. I recalled wanting desperately to crown Mary and not being chosen. Hence, I’ve spent my life pursuing and getting snagged by the Good Girl syndrome.

Mary doesn’t help — with her unattainable tranquility and alabaster skin (what product could give me that smooth sheen?). Mary is also always alone. Ah, and in this church, there were five older women,  a diverse group too, all sitting alone. One wore a white veil on her head.

Their aloneness struck me as sad. But maybe, like me, these women, are surrounded everyday by people and they need this moment of solitude. Maybe it is an active aloneness. Like Anne Morrow Lindbergh said about solitude by the sea, “The loneliness you get by the sea is personal and alive. It doesn’t subdue you and make you feel abject. It’s stimulating loneliness.”

For some reason, I felt compelled to bless myself with holy water as I left. In churches I’ve visited before, I never felt the need. But yesterday, I did. It was a hot day in the city and cool water on my forehead would feel good.

I looked for the water founts and found them. I walked to the Morningside entrance to dip my fingers in. I was overcome with gratitude for my life. I walked down two blocks thinking of nothing but gratitude for everything and everyone in my life. And I named you all. It was a chant, “Thank you God for …..”

Today, when I looked up the church online to be sure I got the name right I discovered on Wikipedia the water is sent from Lourdes, France by special arrangement. I am glad. I am an unabashed Francophile and love all things French, especially the language. Around Mary’s halo are words, that begin, “Je suis….” I couldn’t read the rest. But I’ll take, “Je suis!”

If you love Mary — and who doesn’t? — this is the church for you! The Church of Notre Dame at 114th and Morningside.

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