Anyone who’s been Catholic for more than a week knows to be careful for what you pray. Once, in a moment of foolish virtue, I prayed for humility. “Humility is truth!” my patron St. Teresa of Avila tells us. Sounds great doesn’t it? Over the years God has provided me with frequent opportunities to experience truth; to recognize my place in the order as for a while now He has seen fit to give my stomach a voice. A colorful voice. There seems to be no real medical condition, no rhyme or reason; it’s just like an aging Buick that’s starting to rattle…
Jesus tapped me on the shoulder as I came to a traffic stop recently- my head as always filled with all kinds of dusty clutter. But He got my attention at the red light and I looked over to see that I was stopped in front of St. Joseph’s Parish, where they have perpetual Eucharist Adoration.
I thought His plan was brilliant per usual and made the turn to go visit Him there. I tell you what. There is nothing on this earth that compares with the overwhelming peace that washes over this lump of human flesh when I step into the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. It’s a heavenly balm and I walked into the silence of the little chapel area, knelt on both knees, and took an empty place with the other prayerful ladies in the intimate little space with its lovely stained glass windows and wooden kneelers.
My life is so loud. It is stuffed full to the brim with phone calls, and radios, and you tube videos of cute howling dogs, and conversations without even a breather to process one thing before being inundated with the next noise. The adoration chapel is silent. It is respite. It is stillness, and quiet, and calm. It’s there where suddenly you can hear your own heart beating. I breathe in deeply and quietly exhale as the gentle peace washes over. And I try and let go of all the other incidental nothings and focus for a time on the one thing necessary.
And here is where the lesson in humility comes in. Because I no sooner take a seat in that quiet haven when my stupid stomach decides to make itself heard. In a big way. It sounds like a Yeti mournfully searching for its soulmate. Or a pod of orcas communicating over vast ocean distances. And by golly my whale of a stomach will be heard.
Forget silent, contemplative peace- there is only one thought and humiliation going through my mind- that of willing my possessed stomach to be quiet. Mind over matter. I wince and silently call out to my gastric anomalies, while sprinkling them with mental holy water: “The power of Christ compels you!”
All I can focus on then is how I can rearrange myself in the seat to make it stop. Maybe I should kneel, you know, kind of stretch my stomach out while taking the thick Bible from the cubby and holding it to my middle as a sort of noise buffer.
I try valiantly to collect myself. Deep breathing again. Inner peace. I will myself to concentrate on where I am, what I’m doing. I thought of my children and all their needs, and brought them before our Lord. I thought of my mother now passed on, and prayed for her intercession. I thought of my father, and as I was forming a prayer in my mind, a long, powerful yet despondent cry filled the chapel. Not quite animal, and not quite human my mind thought of a baby calf, but with a rising intonation at the end as if asking some eternal question for all to ponder. This sound was followed immediately by the low sonorous bellow of a Viking battle horn. Think Lord of the Rings. Think Helm’s Deep. I looked down at my stomach in wonder. So loud. So expressive.
I glanced sheepishly then to the prayer-warrior ladies who were charitable enough to pretend nothing unusual was happening. Alas, then like Adam and Eve in the garden, I am driven out from that holy ground, as I am powerless to control my demon stomach. To keep the peace, I have to cut my visit short. I headed for the exit, my stomach gurgling a few notes from Auld Lang Syne on the way. It didn’t have the power to make the bridge, so we were left to wonder what we should do if “Old acquaintances be forgot”.
In regrouping to analyze what could possibly be the lesson for me in my intestinal experiences I read this Bible passage: “When pride comes, disgrace comes; but with the humble is wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2) So I guess me and my cranky stomach are going to be in cahoots for some time to come. Its role is to dish out the humility; my job is to grow in wisdom.