Luminous virgins and pillowcase angels

They told me not to wear a dress when they dunked me so I wore something practical to my second baptism. A floral onesie. My priest-grandad had sprinkled creek- water over my pulsing fontenelle when I was a baby but by the time I was seven or eight and attending Pentecostal churches in all of their 90’s tack and splendour I needed another initiation they said. And then when I was fourteen, wearing a scratchy brown scapular under my T-shirt (for a while, the teenage fanatic I am, I wore her laminated image in the shower) and stumbling through the unfamiliar words of the mass, I was confirmed Catholic. I still have the certificate and I still awkwardly can’t quite remember all the responses in mass. Usually I blush.

I am drawn to car-park Marys and Dissenters graveyards alike. On Wednesday after work I’ll leave a rose and say a halting Hail Mary at Crossbones graveyard in Southwark because it is Mary Magdalene’s feast day and I pray to her sometimes, I love her mad hair and her ability to shock the disciples with her kinky acts of devotion to god. I wear a silver Fatima medal: I am devoted to her, our lady of grubby, attention-seeking children. I am devoted to Blake as well, I go and pray to him too, I tell him stuff. And recently, in a little shop in Brixton, I found a luminous virgin statue. Glowing, she is crushing a serpent under her little moulded plastic foot. She gets a nod in the morning before I do my first downward facing dog.

I have been a pillowcase and tinsel angel. I have whimpered my share of Our Fathers. Permanently etched into my memory is the sparkly navy blue veil I wore when I was miraculously chosen one year to be Mary for the nativity play. I think I knelt, all devout six year old me, overawed, in front of the manger and wished the newborn messiah simulacra could have been a flesh and blood baby. For the sake of authenticity. I know the reason I dance the way I dance to 80’s music is because it is how I danced to 90’s synth praise n worship music in the aisles of the mega church. Arms in the air, heart pounding, moved by the Holy Ghost.

I feel an imposter in all my faith traditions. I can’t remember the words and I have been baptised either too many times or not enough. I don’t remember Bible verses properly. I have not confessed enough and I don’t feel relief after doing penance the way a proper Catholic would. And. I love to kneel, I really love those cushions, I love the tussle with the little brass hook and the thud onto the cold floor after communion. I love sacred ground. I love the gesture of the bowed head and clasped hands. I love little pilgrimages across the city to stand on some holy earth. I like feeling my sore feet, the way they ache when I get to somewhere that could be called blessed. A car park with a resin Mary in south London or an unconsecrated sex workers graveyard in Southwark.

I like awkwardly making the sign of the cross and taking a few breaths.

Copyright Diana Smith 2020

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