Some of my earliest memories are those of primitive country people. You might say “superstitious” except that so many of those beliefs have proven true. One of them is an ability to take the heat away from another’s burn. If one of us children burned ourselves, perhaps on a hot kettle, we ran to my grandmother, who would hold the injured little hand and move her other hand over it, taking the heat away from the burn. This was a “gift” she had. And yes, I inherited it. I can do it, too. I hold my hand over the minor burn and feel the warmth being absorbed into my hand. The pain of the burn goes away.
Perhaps related to this phenomenon is a certain perceptive ability. For example, how one physically injures oneself is an expression of spiritual injury. My cousin Cecilia was given to tantrums, as though anger was her spiritual nemesis. And she was forever cutting herself somewhere. I don’t mean the self-mutilation that afflicts some troubled teenagers; I mean she had accidental cuts more than any other kind of childhood injury. My own type of accident was burns, and I’ve always been given to fits of guilt. Someone who’s always falling and breaking some bone or straining a muscle is incautious, and weak in spirit, unable to resist temptation as well as others might. And one who has a weak stomach, always nauseous, is credulous and gullible. (If all of this sounds reminiscent of the Four Humors, all I can say is—oh, well.)
I remember, back in my B.C. era, being in a temple sanctuary one afternoon with my rabbi friend, who was positioning the Torah at the time. I would not go near it, would not touch it. He looked at me quizzically and said, “You’re afraid of this.” I said I was. He asked why and I answered, “God!” He smiled a little and observed that my attitude toward God was “primitive.” Now, what I may have in perception I lack in discretion, and so I answered him, “And you are envious.” He was a little shocked, but then he smiled and said, “Yes, I think I am.”
My husband, who was a brilliant designer of nuclear weapons, had as much native kindness as that which he designed. More than once, he called me a witch. If I’d been a Christian at the time, that might have frightened me, but I wasn’t and it didn’t. We were an odd pair. His hobby was photography and he spent thousands of dollars on equipment, but could not, for the life of him, compose a picture. I remember driving through the mountains in the rural part of Mallorca. I told him to stop the car and to take a picture of the mountains to our left. He didn’t want to because it wasn’t technically interesting, but he did. It was a beautiful photograph, misty shades of lavender and deep violet. He never understood why it was so lovely. Not understanding troubled him.
There have been many occasions as a child and as an adult when the veil between metaphysical and physical has been so thin as to be almost transparent, not just for me but for everyone. Most people dismiss these occasions out of fear—or contempt (which is unacknowledged fear). I am too thoroughly Catholic not to be wary about discernment of spirits, but a little like St. Therese also (in only one way). When she saw the devil, she laughed at him. He never troubled her again. Fear feeds him. I always begin meditation with Jesus Dominus, three times, just to let him know to whom I belong. I never take grace for granted. And so far, I’ve been able to take the heat, Deo Gratias.