All Wet: A Haibun
John J. Dunphy
(Originally published in the Spring 2020 issue of Wales Haiku Journal)
When I was a child, my fellow American Catholics believed that holy water — ordinary tap water that had been blessed by a priest — possessed magical qualities, such as the ability to protect one from harm. Thunderstorms terrified my poor mother, who ran around our house sprinkling holy water from a small bottle. It became almost as wet inside our house as it was outside in the actual storm.
housedog scurries into
a dry room
Unfortunately, holy water evidently offers no protection against the coronavirus. Catholic churches typically have holy water fonts inside the doorways of their churches. Congregants dip the second and third fingers of their hands into this font and then perform the sign of the cross on themselves. Now, however, these fonts are dry. They’ve been drained in order to hinder the spread of the coronavirus.
its holy water fonts filling
Lourdes, France is a sacred site in the Catholic religion. The Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared there a couple of centuries ago. This holy shrine is blessed with a marketable commodity: its water, which comes from a spring in the Grotto of Massabille in the Sanctuary of Our Lady. This water allegedly possesses healing qualities.
Pilgrims to Lourdes who seek healing from various maladies bathe in its water. Bottles of Lourdes water are sold as well. My great uncle and his wife brought my family a bottle of this water after visiting Lourdes in the early 1960s. However, my mother regarded it as much too sacred to be used for such mundane purposes as protection from storms. That was a job for locally-sourced holy water from our parish church.
its potting soil moistened
with holy water
Even Lourdes water is no match for the coronavius, however. “Our first concern will always be the safety and health of the pilgrims and the shrine’s working community,” according to a February 28 post on the shrine’s web site. “As a precaution, the pools have been closed until further notice.”
the priest’s homily
delivered through a mask
My father took very little interest in religion. As he lay dying in a Catholic hospital, however, he got sprinkled with holy water. A nun who served on the hospital staff told those of us who were gathered in his room, “I’ve heard that holy water is very powerful and we don’t know what evil entities might be lurking around him at a time like this.” Dad got duly dampened.
Her words disturbed me. Images of invisible demons hovering around Dad just waiting to devour his soul were not what I needed to hear at that difficult time. I shared what had transpired that day with a friend, who attended the Unitarian Universalist church to which I belonged at the time. His reply lightened my spirits. “Did she know that you’re a Unitarian, Dunphy? She might have been referring to you.”
inner city church
its holy water taken
to test for lead
John J. Dunphy’s poetry collections include Zen Koanhead, Touching Each Tree, pagan rites, Dark Nebulae and Stellar Possibilities. He owns The Second Reading Book Shop in Alton, IL.