I have debated about whether or not I should write this post for a couple of months now, but today I decided to go ahead and at least start it. If you are reading it, then I decided to publish it, but I don’t know if I’ll get that far. What I do know is that it’s a pretty big coincidence that I decided to start writing about Our Lady of the Light on the 14 year anniversary of my witnessing those magical lights in Norwood, Oh.
photo credit here
I was raised Catholic: I went to private Catholic school until I was in 4th grade; moved on to CCD when I transferred to public school; took my first communion, confession and confirmation – all of the sacraments leading up to becoming an adult in the church. We went to mass every weekend. Somewhere during this time I dyed my hair a reddish-purple color and decided it would be a good idea to wear combat boots to my confirmation mass. I was rebelling in the only way I felt like I had the power: my appearance. My parents’ thought it was important for me to take all the Catholic sacraments while I was in their care. I was adamantly against being Catholic from the age of 14 (when I made my confirmation) until a couple of years ago.
Both my mother and father come from Catholic families, although somewhat different in the ways they practice. My father is from London; his father is from Ireland and his mother is from Scotland. My father took all of the Catholic sacraments and went to church with his parents. I don’t know much about my grandparents’ beliefs, but when I was a teenager during one of our visits to London my Grandad stated that if Christmas mass was longer than 30 minutes he was leaving. He was my Catholic hero moving forward! My mother’s family was what I deem ‘super-catholic’ but not in a ‘hell, fire and brimstone’ kind of way. My Grandma is an open-minded woman and didn’t subscribe to the old ways of the church so I was fortunate enough never to get any of the Catholic guilt I hear so many people speak of. Instead, my Grandmother helped in the community at the Dakota Center and was one of the founders of the Christian-Jewish Dialogue in Dayton, OH.
Shortly after I dyed my hair reddish-purple, started wearing combat boots and renouncing anything Catholic (which also equalled God), I started getting into tons of trouble. I was the kid many parents warned their children about. I ripped through my family like a tornado and caused all kinds of problems for not only myself but many of the people I loved. Fortunate for me, I turned a corner in 2002 and grew up.
I was a mess…
During my troubled times, my family prayed for me and tried to influence me in positive ways. I was still on my anti-Catholic kick but I would almost never say no to my Grandma, so when she invited me to Cincinnati to see Our Lady of the Light I went, without complaining.
In the 90s in the southern Ohio/northern Kentucky region there was an influx of religious apparitions and sightings, many closely related to Mary, Jesus’ mother. Cincinnati had its own apparition: Our Lady of the Light. People claimed that a statue of Mary would appear as if real, often people would say it was real, and lights would flash throughout the sky at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit church at midnight from August 31 into September 1. A visionary from Kentucky also received messages from ‘Our Lady’ which were announced during the evening of the 31st. The most publicized account of the Mary statue transformation was from a woman who took photos of a statue but in between photographs the statue came to life. The woman was able to take photos of the real Mary. The statue transformation and the viewing of the lights took place at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit church in Norwood, OH.
I flew into Cincinnati from Birmingham, where I had moved when I was a child. I spent the first 9 years of my life in Ohio where my mother’s side of the family was from. My Grandma, aunt and cousin met me there, we ran to Subway to get sandwiches for the evening and then headed to Norwood to spend the evening. We sat amongst thousands of people praying and singing Catholic hymns in front of the large church and chit-chatted with our neighbors while we awaited midnight. At some point during the evening I saw something which appeared to be a woman in a window, which I shared with my family. They claimed it was a vision, I said it was someone who worked for the church. I was extremely skeptical of the whole event. Around midnight, people started seeing flashes of light. I didn’t see anything. I sat, wondering what I was missing, as the people around me prayed and ‘oohed and ahhed’ at the lights.
Throughout the evening confessions had been taking place with priests in tents on the church grounds. I hadn’t gone to confession in probably 4 years, at least since my confirmation when I was 14 (I was 18 at the time). My senior year in high school had been a tumultuous one and even though I had been making some pretty bad choices, I still had a pretty good moral compass and I had been struggling with guilt. I knew I wanted to get some things off my chest so I decided to go to confession. The lines had dwindled down since the lights had started amongst the crowd and since I wasn’t seeing the lights, I thought it would be a good time to visit the priest. I stumbled through my heavy confession, the priest gave me my penance (which I wasn’t too happy about by the way!), and then out of the corner of my eye I started to see what looked like flashes from a camera. I thanked the priests and walked back towards my Grandma and the lights became increasingly intense.
By the time I reached my Grandma there was no way I could ignore the lights. I told my family I saw them, but that they were just camera flashes. My Grandma adamantly disagreed with me and said they were Mary. I was still skeptical. My aunt said that she saw them darting through the crowd and that camera flashes couldn’t do that. I disagreed but shortly thereafter I saw the same thing she did – flashes flying through the crowd.
The lights start at the 5 minute mark in the video – and they truly look like flashes from a camera. What do you believe?
I can’t remember much of the summer of 1999 – and I honestly can’t remember much about how Our Lady of the Lights affected me. I know that I didn’t make any monumental changes in the way I lived my life. (Although my aunt did – she quit smoking that evening and hasn’t picked up since.) I returned to Birmingham and kept doing the same old thing I had been doing only it got worse. By the spring of 2002 I was a complete mess and decided to move to Baltimore with my family and attempt college. Lucky for my family and myself, 2002 was the magic year and I’ve been on the straight and narrow ever since.
I had a hard time researching this post. I couldn’t find much about Our Lady of the Light. The internet wasn’t as popular in 1999 but I thought surely someone would have written about it since then! What I was able to find in this article was that 1999 was the final year of Our Lady of the Light, so there has not been much written about it since. My experience will be one of the few out there!
So this leads me to why I’ve been so apprehensive about writing this post. I still twitch a little when people start to talk about Jesus and Mary and anything else specifically Christian related. I don’t know how much of this has to do with my Catholic upbringing and how much of this has to do with living in the Bible Belt for as long as I did (12 years of being ‘saved,’ being told I was going to hell if I didn’t change my ways and seeing billboards that stated “Go to Church or the Devil Will Get You” can be grinding) but I still have this reaction. I believe in God and when people talk about God, using the word ‘God,’ I’m totally fine with it – but when people switch to ‘Lord,’ that’s when I start twitching again.
My aversion seems to be totally Christian. I have been living in a Buddhist/Shinto society for the last year and a half and not once have I twitched when someone in Japan has mentioned their beliefs. I also seem to seek out non-Christian beliefs and want to learn more about them – hence all my visits to shrines and temples since I’ve been in Japan. I don’t pass up visiting a historic church, but I’ll always choose an Asian religion over Christianity. Yet… I’ve recently had some changes occur in how I perceive church and Christianity.
I regularly pray and meditate and find that it keeps me more balanced in my life and connected with my Higher Power. Since being in Japan I visit temples and shrines to meditate and if one isn’t available I’ll go to the beach or somewhere scenically beautiful. I’ve begun to wonder how I’m going to keep this up when I’m in America. I live near the water and some mountains, but they aren’t at my fingertips like they are here in Japan. We also don’t have any temples or shrines in my area of the country, so those will no longer be available to me. So maybe I’ll have to settle for church – wait a minute; did I just think that?! I have become open to the idea of visiting places that people deem holy or spiritual and finding my own version of spirituality there – and an American church could be just that place.
In just six short weeks I’ll leave the land of temples and shrines (Japan) for the land of cathedrals and popes (Rome) then to the land of big houses and chain restaurants (USA). All of my life experiences thus far have shaped my growth and only time will tell what my next spiritual step will be.
Have you had some kind of spiritual experience, or is someone else’s faith strong enough to carry you? (Like my belief in my Grandma’s faith.) I’d love to hear about it!