The mind boggles at the options. The saints had messy curious lives which makes them oddities populating a strange world. I had the paperback books of saints as a child preparing for my communion. I never understood Catherine who was tortured with a toothed wheel and beheaded or Lucy, depicted with her eyes on a plate. It’s amazing these stories were given to impressionable children to read. Knowing nothing other than the name Teresa, (Therese) Little Flower, I chose her. She looked gentle enough. She fit in with my love of the Jesus of a blurry painting of the blond man with the red pulsating heart. At the age of 7 I proclaimed I wanted to be a nun. “You’ll have to sleep on a bed of nails.” I was told. I don’t care, I’ll do it, was my answer. Years later in a film depicting Teresa’s life, she drank the tubercular sputum from an infected lung. My connection through name was permanently severed.
These days I have a book of the saints (Saints, A year in Faith and Art) with golden pages and short biographies. I discovered the namesakes of all the street names I knew in Barcelona, like Saint Anthony Mary Claret ( a confessor to the king and therefore suspect) or Sant Roc, a hermit and healer who was miraculously cured by an angel and nourished by a dog. There is the dramatic, the outrageous about the saints. I like the layer in the religious hierarchy they represent though I couldn’t imagine praying to them to intercede to God for me. Why would I, when, like a good pagan, I believe God is everywhere, within or without. How would they serve as a model?
That brings me to Teresa of Avila, another namesake. In “A Tremor of Bliss, Contemporary Writers on the Saints”, Francine Prose writes “ Teresa claimed to hate writing, to be unable to write, her work is full of self-doubt, of excuses for procrastinations and apologies..Whys is she not-for these reasons alone- the patron saint of writers?” Indeed. So along with my inusuk, budda, ganesh statue, dirt from Latvia, the black virgin of Aglona, and other icons, I try to cover all the bases. I need that statue of Teresa next.
And an old poem, as I’m clearing out papers…
We pointed out the flaws,
Look, a dog as big as a house
in the background,
no perspective here,
But Apolonia painted
Her wig askew
after vodka shots,
and promised love