When I went to my priest about having frequent nightmares, most of his advice was what I would have expected: praying, scrutinizing my evening habits for potential triggers, that sort of thing. There was also one item on the list I didn’t anticipate. “This might sound like overreliance on a sacramental,” he told me, “but you might try holy water.” Just get a little spray bottle, he went on, fill it up at a church, and point where desired.
“If you wouldn’t laugh, I’d ask for holy water,” Teresa of Avila once said to some fellow nuns when suffering a physical and spiritual affliction. But if the nuns had laughed, they would have no doubt gotten a scolding, since, as Teresa also says while relating this story:
The power of holy water must be great. For me there is a particular and very noticeable consolation my soul experiences upon taking it.… Let us say the relief is like that coming to a person, very hot and thirsty, on drinking a jar of cold water; it seems the refreshment is felt all over. I consider everything ordained by the Church to be important, and I rejoice to see the power of those words recited over the water so that its difference from unblessed water becomes so great.
I recalled this story while taking in the advice, which provoked mixed feelings in me. While I’m certainly not shy about my faith, I also tend to partition off what I guess I’d call its “vertical-facing aspects.” I am the sort of person who finds praying with other people outside of a liturgical context excruciating, and I avoid going to church with people I know. I often tell people I’ll pray for them (and I do), but rarely pray with them and also rarely ask for prayers. Probably the furthest I go in this direction is telling one friend that I have checked in with Anthony of Padua on his behalf. (Like Anthony, he’s having some problems with a book.)
So I stayed a little stuck on this advice. I kept on wondering how I’d feel if somebody clearly made a bit of a joke out of the holy water being in my room. (“If you wanted to keep me out of here you could have just said something.”) Or—worse—if somebody compared it to burning sage or an essential-oil diffuser, about which I would be polite, but irritated.
And then, I was also about to get rid of some furniture—surely spritzing my current bedframe and then putting it out for the trash man was a little callous. Plus there were practical questions: What kind of bottle ought one to get? Should I buy something nice—a perfume atomizer? Would it be a problem if there were traces of perfume? Should I spray my dog, too, for good measure, or should I definitely, absolutely, not spray my dog?