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Water, water everywhere, and all the boards did shrink, Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.
Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.
Water has given life to the thirsty body and has been a burying ground for many soldiers and travelers as well as Nuns in a convent. When Adoniram Judson told a Missionary Board he would go to Burma, it meant taking a young, tender wife and a precious baby into a land where no Christian foot had ever trodden.
Rangoon was the City of the Golden Sun. It was the city of temples, priests, superstition and tropical heat. It would perhaps welcome this couple with their white-faced baby, that is, if they could endure the long voyage across the ocean and reach Burmese soil. However, that little bundle of sweetness slipped from them. Death tore from that brave couple the gift of God that was so briefly enjoyed. The ocean liner became their funeral parlor. They lowered the Judson baby into the sea where the briny deep became its grave. Burma would then receive a couple seasoned with tears, agony and self-denial. Their ocean journey was their extra-curriculum for Missionary endeavor.
When five young men, all fine specimens of manhood, took their young wives and children from America to Ecuador they had but one motive in mind. They wanted to reach those uncivilized; heathen Indians for Christ. They were informed that these Indians belonged to a savage tribe. They specialized in shrinking heads after they killed a person with strange and various ways. Their children were taught to endure pain without crying and whimpering. They could stealthily move through the jungle with their bows and arrows, never breaking a twig or making a noise to arouse the white man’s suspicions.
The missionaries learned to trade with the Indians by circling this dry riverbed and then letting down certain gadgets in a bucket from the plane. The Indians took things out of the bucket and put in their trinkets in exchange. The Indian women seemed to be easier to civilize and Christianize. While they tried to teach them the Gospel, many warriors appeared at the jungle edge and moved in on the missionaries. Fear gripped the heart of the missionaries as they radioed back to their wives, “They are coming. We will tell the results later.” However, they never called nor spoke on the radio again.
Each missionary was pierced by an arrow. The army had to go in with machine guns, and spray the outskirts of the jungle and then carry away the dead bodies for burial.
Again, old man River had moved over and left a sandy beach head so that the uncivilized could be contacted and told of the love of a Savior. Yet, what seemed to be like a golden opportunity given by divine providence proved to be the white man’s slaughtering ground. The riverbed was an open target. Death again was victor.
Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico is an outstanding attraction for tourists all over the world. Approximately 500,000 people at least annually take the three and one half hour tour down the narrow passages to view the stalactites and stalagmites and rock formations in the King’s Palace, the Papoose and in the Queen’s Room. Down into the dark recesses of the Caverns they intently listen to lectures of how this unusual phenomenon was brought into existence many millions of years ago by a cataclysm, and how the flood waters finally receded while the earth belched and rolled in a violent earthquake.
A flock of bats, several million in number, make the caves their home this day, coming out only at night to feed on insects outside the cave. This huge mass of bats coming out en masse gave the secret of the Cave away to man, and thus brought about man’s exploration.
While traveling down the eight hundred feet under the ground at Carlsbad, I had many memories of the tunnels, narrow passageways and dungeons in the convent. The cold and clammy atmosphere, coupled with the twenty seconds of complete darkness and silence, made a vivid sequence to my convent days. As the lights came back on, I almost felt as though I would hear the Mother Superior call out, “Sister Patricia!”
I watched and listened to the tiny drops of water tumbling down from the caves ceiling. They formed icicles or made some grotesque form on the floor. I bowed over the guardrail and peered into the “Devil’s Bottomless Pit.” There, I listened to the hidden stream of water trickling through the cave. It really flooded my soul with horrible memories.
Many days while I lingered between death and life in the dark, dirty dungeon beneath the surface of the ground I could hear water trickling.
In one convent in Mexico, mentioned in a previous chapter, we were told how the vats that pulverized the bodies of disobedient Nuns opened as trap doors to the river below.
In our convent we had an image in the form of the Virgin Mary called the Iron Virgin. When a Nun was past redemption or had been judged worthy of death the Mother Superior took her to this iron statue that looked like a petrified mummy without hands, arms, legs or feet. The head and bust formed a perfect replica of the pictures and images we held in the highest honor and esteem, representing Christ’s mother. This image stood upright and had the shape and the form of a woman, the perfect size for a Nun.
The artificers who shaped and chiseled out the Iron Maiden decided to fill her abdomen with huge, sharp knives instead of cement and plaster. The Iron Virgin appeared to be harmless and was venerated. Then the Mother Superior stepped on a little foot-pedal and the Iron Virgin sprung open to receive another Nun condemned to death. The poor Nun didn’t know her sentence until it was too late. The Mother Superior shoved the culprit forward and the Virgin rapidly and automatically clasped and closed in on her. Immediately the dozen or more knives pierced through her body. The bloodcurdling screams diminished quickly as death in its awful silence soon took over.
The Mother Superior then tripped the trap door at the base of the image that permitted the punctured, ripped and sliced body of the Nun to drop out of sight into the stream of water that ran below. Who knows? — perhaps the stream led into a river, lake or ocean. A Nun’s sliced body would have made a delicious meal for fish and other water creatures. One thing was certain. Had they looked, the authorities would never have found her body. Her dissected body was an easy prey for any carnivorous, cold-blooded aquatic animal.
In a past issue of Life Magazine, an article entitled “Ripley Auction” told of rare and unusual antiques being sold for fabulous prices. Mr. John Arthur, a red-headed New Yorker, was the busiest bidder. He previously bought the world rights to Ripley’s Believe-It-Or-Not in addition to Ripley’s Chinese Houseboat, Monlei, and several van loads from Ripley’s home.
At this auction, he purchased several items for $50,000.00 including a statue of Saint Patrick, also a torture device called Iron Maiden. This was pictured in Life Magazine being opened wide with sharp knives protruding sideways. Mr. Arthur stood in the image in back of the knives for the picture. This Iron Maiden was almost identical to the one we had in our convent.
As I looked at the pictures in Life Magazine I couldn’t help but wonder from what convent it came. Also, I wondered how did it ever get into Ripley’s possession.
Sometimes we got very thirsty, especially after some severe penance that resulted in our isolation in the infirmary with a raging fever. More than likely, however, that was when we didn’t have a drop to drink.
I remember being held with my hands in front of me as someone held my nose while another Nun was instructed to pour dirty water down my throat. Since they held my nostrils tightly and I had no hands or feet with which to fight back, they continued to pour until I became nauseated and deathly sick, but they did not stop. My stomach swelled and I felt as though as though my bladder would burst. They finally decided I had enough. I broke out in bold hives all over my body adding misery to misery.
These horrible sufferings might have been inflicted on us as a regular penance so that we could obtain perfection and holiness, or greater love or humility, or greater piety. Still, we may have been subjected to this suffering for having disobeyed some rule of the convent, or having refused to submit our bodies to the lusts of carnal priests.
One particular time we washed a lot of bloody cloth out of the bathtub that was actually a metal horse tank. After this task was completed, Mother Superior told me to climb into this cold bloody water while I was dressed only in my nightgown. She then placed one hand on the back of my neck and the other on my stomach and began dowsing me face forward several times. I fought the water, having tried to not inhale or swallow the filthy stuff. But the harder I tried not to, the more I swallowed. I became strangled and started coughing, thereby gulping down the unsanitary, putrid water by the mouthfuls. After several dunkings, Mother Superior and her helpers took my blue, limp body from the cold water in the chilly tub and whipped me. The whip consisted of several straps very much like an old sewing machine treadle belt. The thin, wet, muslin gown didn’t ward off the blows too well. They beat my wet, shaking body until I was black and blue and I finally fell to the floor in a faint. Nevertheless two Nuns tried to hold me up while the other wielded the whip.
Also in the penance chamber was a deep hole, much like a drinking well. I peered down this hole and wondered what would come next. I soon learned, as well as the other Nuns who received the same treatment.
I was placed in the hole while the other Nuns started the bucket brigade. As each Nun marched by, a bucket of ice-cold water was poured on my nude body. This was to break my will and make me more obedient and humble. After several pails of water had been dumped on me, Mother stopped the water bucket procession and brought me out. My teeth more than chattered. I was almost frozen to death. My body shook as though I had a convulsion, and I suffered many days from the chilling episode.
One day, having known it was my day to scrub, I approached Mother Superior and said, “Mother, may I be excused from scrubbing today?” I reasoned within myself, “Huh! Maybe another Nun would take my place that day as I held up my inflamed, cracked hands for her inspection.”
She replied, “Come with me. I’ll do something for your hands.”
After proceeding to this particular place, she made me stand still and wait She had another Nun mix some lime with water, after which she forced me to kneel down and place my hands in the solution. My hands felt as though they were being bathed in lye water They were already cracked and opened and inflamed, so the lime solution seeped into the cracks, and caused them to burn as with a fever. It wasn’t long after this that my hands bled.
Finally, she permitted me to rise and to take my hands out of the pan. After reprimanding me for complaining, I was ordered to return to my post and do my scrubbing. And scrub I did!
Did it matter if the scrub water contained germs that might endanger my hands to a worse infection? Or did it matter if a little blood oozed into the waters? It was soon discolored anyhow.
In the foregoing paragraphs, I’ve tried to describe the power and force as well as the beauty and the terror of water. It can be very calm in deceitfulness.
In closing this chapter go with me to the riverside. A crowd is gathered while a preacher walks slowly out into the stream. Another follows and another until a group dressed in white are standing waiting to be baptized in the lovely name of Jesus. Listen to the group on the shore as they sing:
“Shall we gather at the River, Where bright angel feet have trod, With its crystal tide forever, Flowing by the throne of God.”
Now come with me to that first pearly gate in the New Jerusalem. As it opens, walk with me down Glory Avenue until we reach the throne. Then view that crystal stream of water proceeding forth from the sanctuary of God. Listen to these saints sing!
“On the margin of the river, Washing up its silver spray, We will walk and worship ever, All the happy golden day.
“Ere we reach the shining River, Lay we every burden down, Grace our spirits will deliver, And provide a robe and crown.”