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Copyright © 1998 by T.A. Delmore


This article appears in Vol. 1 #1 (Winter 1998) of Men's Voices journal.
 Men's Voices: So men can find their voices and speak their truths

T.A. Delmore is the author of Ecllipsing F: Crow Poems in Three Parts
The Dark Indigo Current book cover


How long have I had these marks? It was one thing to see them on Jesus or St. Francis. There was a distance and they were paintings. But this one of Padre Pio, a photograph, and in my lifetime, it makes me shudder. At best I could conceive diligent prayer and service, and the stigmata being the result.

Now I had tendencies in the same places and I had reasons for such marks on my body. Shoveling, using the hand edger, put marks on my palms. The ones on my feet were the result of wearing my brother's hand-me-down shoes. They were his fit, not mine. They would itch like skin blistered and peeled, but it went away or I got used to it.

It was during a session with a directee that I felt something on my side, damp and sticky. By feigning concentration I leaned forward and hugged myself much like the way I held myself when I had ulcer pains. There was no throbbing of hands or feet, just a sticky pain. My directee continued on about finding God in all things. When she left I went to the restroom to see what was going on. Slowly I lifted my shirt and turned to my left to see this slit on flabby skin. Like Thomas invited to touch, I worked my finger around, a boy enamored with his first touch of a girl's nipple. Now I was confused, this mark was right where a neighbor had poked me with a piece of hot plastic, and left an indentation. There seemed to be a growing domino effect of worry, and "why me?" is all I cold say. Victor Frankel says if there is a "why" you can put up with any "how."

I had done enough reading to know the stigmata happens, even to "common folks." This was a call or warning, right to the flesh.

It was Wednesday, the scheduled staff meeting. Could this be work related? The pastor always joked that all he needed was one bleeding statue and all his money worries would be over. He has a live staff person, what could be better? I left a message with my spiritual director. I mumbled something about the stigmata. Before entering the staff meeting I touched myself to make sure I had enough Band-Aids over my wounds. Check-in seemed to be a good place to mention my problem…predicament. I trusted this group, but this will drop them to a new place. I had time, though. They were going the long way around to get to me.

When did I first notice this sensitivity of my body? Wednesday's child is full of woe. I had an ulcer at the age of nine, no, edging flagstones, hand clippers along our never-ending fence, holding the handles at bad angles. Shit, I've been through this rational stuff. Enough!

One person away from my check-in. I raised my hands from my thighs. There are two marks of red. I feel a line of blood moving to a crease on my thick skin. "I have the stigmata." Not yet my turn. As I look at these friends,…co-workers…it's like I just said something that put reverence on hold and X-Files reruns on the table. I raised my hands with elbows resting and turned my wrists. The two in the group that still had lingering effects of pre-Vatican II looked at my side and blessed me. Someone said, "Feet, too?" I nodded. "Any suggestions" My lame effort at an icebreaker. A look of ardor-confusion was on all their faces, but one. Pastor Jim was still in the realm of the skeptical. I began to imagine evening prayer, my hands wrapped in bloody gauze as I raise the incense toward the crucifix walking prayerfully and painfully around the chapel. I worry about the Filipino women who tend toward the charismatic, and fainting. There is still a silence and I began to wonder if I should have said anything. All the things that might give insight or peace of mind were not spoken or just passé. I am handed tissue for my palms, the blood on my side slowly drying to a cracked river.

"We can use you…this!" All eyes were on Fr. Jim. "Someone get an alb! Let's go to the sacristy." My shirt was taken off. "Shouldn't we petition Rome or something?" Another lame attempt at humor. Fr. Jim shouts, "Let Rome come to us! Take his socks off, wash his feet! God! Wait 'til Holy Thursday! We'll have a lottery to see who gets to wash Tom's feet!"

It was unraveling. Somehow another string in this ball of my life got pulled. I was being sucked dry of religious significance, by a church with dwindling finances and faith gone awry. Like Cinderella surrounded by mice, I shook, in hope they would tumble away or at least see what they were doing. I was being pampered for wealth, not sympathy. The Money was the right color in the wrong Liturgical season. You could never inject green into Lenten purple. This, by God, was no Ordinary Time.

I went back to my office, no shirt, no socks. My Spiritual Director had called back, leaving a message on my voice mail, confused, and something about being susceptible to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, yes, not these friends.

I put my elbows on the table and my pre-scabbing hands together.

"How much," said a voice, "how much must occur to know that I am God? I sensed anger surrounded by sadness. "What is this relationship that you want with Me? Do you see Me in others or are they all money-changers, too? Do people see Me in you?" I unfolded my hands, my shoes and shirt were on. I had a quick feeling of leaning out the window and asking a boy what day it was. The black spiritual kept humming in my mind: "Keep your eye on the prize." Fr. Jim leaned into my office, "ten minutes to staff meeting, Tom. Did you cut yourself?" I looked at my hands, side and feet. He pointed to my cheek, "It must have happened when you were shaving."

Tom Delmore is a poet, author of Eclipsing F: Crow Poems in Three Parts, and a spiritual advisor in a Seattle-area parish.

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