Thursday, October 12, 2006

A Fear is Born

Staurophobia--a fear of crosses or crucifixes

Growing up Catholic, I was exposed to the image of the crucifix at an early age. My mom and dad had one in their bedroom, there was one in the bedroom I shared with my sisters, and of course, there was one in every classroom at the school. I never really liked them—it just seemed so sad and painful, and I didn’t want to think about it. I’d also get upset if a student was acting out in class and the teacher pointed to the crucifix and said, by way of a reminder I guess, “Jesus died for your sins.”

It got worse when I was a little older and we would be on Easter break. At home, mom would watch the variety of what I would call “Jesus Movies.” There was “The Robe” and “King of Kings”, and inevitably, I would end up wandering into the living room just in time for the most graphic scenes. My stomach still turns when I think about it. I wasn’t allowed to watch a PG-13 movie, but mom would let me—sometimes even encourage me to—watch this. She believed it was okay, because it was related to our faith and had an educational component to it. FYI: I didn’t agree with it then and I don’t agree with it now.

Anyway, it wasn’t even any of those things that triggered my fear of crucifixes. The roots had probably started, but there was one incident that left me nearly unable to even be in a room where a crucifix is displayed.

Going to Catholic school, each grade attended a weekday mass on a designated day. Of course, this was in addition to attending regular Sunday mass. But it was at one of those weekday masses that the following happened:

There was a huge crucifix at the front of St. Genevieve Catholic Church. It was the largest crucifix I’d ever seen before (and since), and it was surrounded by smaller statues of the Twelve Apostles. There were enormous, ornate, beautiful stained-glass windows that flooded the church with color, and I usually spent more time admiring the windows than paying attention. That day was no exception.

As my eyes were wandering around the church, I did a double-take when I suddenly thought I saw Jesus breathing. I was mesmerized, convincing myself that it couldn’t be happening. But it was there—a subtle, but steady, rise and fall of the chest; a slight movement of the ribcage with each breath. I remember wanting to look away, but not being able to do it. And then, the rigid, forward-facing Jesus turned His head and looked at me.

There was a scream building in the back of my throat, which I quickly swallowed down when I had the sensation of waking up, and realized that I must have nodded off during Father Maher’s sermon.

It must have been just a dream. Vivid and realistic, no doubt, but still just a dream. I think about it far more often than I’d like to, and it comes back to me at the strangest times. Like when my in-laws gave me and my husband a crucifix as a wedding gift. My husband, bless his heart, keeps it tucked away where I can’t see it.

Now, all these years later, you would think I’d have outgrown my irrational fear of crucifixes. I haven’t. I know it’s supposed to represent ultimate sacrifice and love, but it’s still unsettling for me.

I guess it’s a fear that I’m not afraid to hang on to.

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