It was either Lent or Advent. One of the two. I know this because we were getting ready for a school-wide penance service.
All of Ms. Q’s 6th grade religion class was seated in a circle on the floor. Ms. Q. was at 12:00, holding a bowl of the most disgusting concoction I’ve ever seen: canned liver-flavored dog food mixed with sauerkraut.
“If ANYONE moves a muscle, if ONE DROP of this gets on the floor or if ANYONE puts this on anyone else, you WILL get detention. Immediately.”
Boy if that doesn’t strike terror into the mind of an 11-year-old. Let’s hope I really was the teacher’s pet in this case.
“Now hold out your hands.”
Oh, gross. Must we?
For the first time in, like, ever, you could hear an ant crawling.
With the fear of God in our hearts, each of us accepted that gross pile of crap. Ms. Q. explained,
“This is what sin looks like on your soul. When we go to Confession, it’s like taking a shower. God washes away all that gunk.”
I’m sure she was more eloquent, but that is what I remember. I also remember being in girl’s room afterwards, scrubbing my hands and bumming lotion and hand-sanitizer off my cousin who was in 8th grade at the time. (1999 was the year of Bath and Body Works mania, thank God!)
Some say that Ms. Q. was out of her mind that day- but I’ve always considered this a stroke of genius. Sin is ugly. It really is. And even though an 11-year-old might not be able to understand all the consequences that sin can bring later in life, she can understand that something that smells and looks like worm-infested vomit isn’t something she wants in her life. In fact, 16 years later, that inner 11-year-old can still remember the smell. And though my understanding of Confession has since deepened, the thought of a spiritual hand-washing still motivates me on occasion. (If you’d like to read some deeper, more adult thoughts on the subject, click here.)
Thank you, Ms. Q., for instilling in me a sense of spiritual hygiene. And, um, pass the lotion, please.