Guerilla Catholicism

Sometimes religion comes at you from the unlikeliest of places. We are accustomed to the subway preachers and the greeting card sermons of certain American heads of state and stumping political candidates. I see South Americans in my neighborhood cross themselves whenever we pass St. Joan of Arc on the bus. However, there are some places you just don’t expect to find it.

For example, the other day, my husband was paying for an Ambien prescription and was leaving the counter when the pharmacist asked him, “Are you Catholic?” Apparently she was tipped off by his last name.

Yes, he said, he was raised Catholic.

“Oh,” she said, “Well if you pray, you might try praying to the patron saint of sleepers.”

It was a sweet gesture, to be sure, meant in all earnestness and out of a sense of neighborliness, but I thought it a bit odd and maybe even ironic. I don’t consider it a resounding endorsement of the drugs she is dispensing when a pharmacist suggests dosages of prayer as treatment. I can imagine, in a generic way, that prayer and meditation might help bring the body to a calmed, centered state, better able to sleep than the stressed-out, jittery creatures we have become. But from the medical profession it sounds kinda like: Give it up, buddy. Better start saying your prayers.

It was a saint he had not heard of. (There are so many of them.) After a little bit of research, all I could find was the legend of St. Dymphna. Her name is occasionally invoked, apparently, in matters of sleep disorder.

Hers is another one of those heartwarming tales of human misery so popular among we Catholics. Family values stuff. Her mother dies, and her father is unable to remarry to his satisfaction. He takes a fancy to her, she being the next best thing genetically, and tries to rape her. When she refuses him and fights back, he kills her in a rage.

I guess what we learn from these stories is that it could always be worse. That must be where we derive the comfort of prayer. I can’t sleep, but it’s not like my dad is trying to do me. So … who am I to complain? Let’s just see what’s on TV.


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the untallied hours

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