Oklahoma Hail … Mary?

OK-MaryWhile riding out a hail storm in southeast Oklahoma, it didn’t occur to me to recite Hail Marys. Although raised Catholic, I have become Lutheran by osmosis, so I don’t often think of praying to the Blessed Virgin. However, I did call upon the Lord a time or two. Not aloud, but in my mind I found myself repeating, “Ride with us, Lord” and “This is not how it ends.” I did not think my husband and I were meant to meet our maker along a four-lane divided highway in the Tornado State on a recent April afternoon.

I confess: not often am I called to prayer in the middle of the day. But as we sat pulled over in our pickup truck, flashers on, waiting along the shoulder with countless fellow travelers, it seemed the thing to do.

Let me be clear. I am not the one you want leading devotions. I’m just not very devotional. I don’t do freestyle praying very well. I tend to stick with the prayers I learned as a child — like “three Our Fathers, three Hail Marys, and a good Act of Contrition right now” (the standard penance for my Catholic grade school confessions).

But freestyle pray I did, silently, as I held my husband’s hand in the truck. We had to stop twice along that Oklahoma highway to wait out the ominous clouds, blinding rain, and hail stones dinging all around us.

Other than a good scare (on my part; Dear Husband was cool as could be) and a few small chips in our windshield, we survived unscathed. Did my half-assed praying have any effect on the outcome? Not sure. But to hedge my bets for the next emergency, maybe I’ll recite a Hail Mary — or three — right now.

Laura Sternweis


40 Past Elvis

I’elvis-clockm not an Elvis apostle, or even a disciple. Although I’m a fan, my devotion to the King has never reached religious proportions.

Granted, in my teens I was a bit Elvis obsessed. I was 15 when he died on Aug. 16, 1977, and at the time the loss affected me deeply. But life went on and so did I. I never became Presley possessed.

Yes, I still like his music, and I still have a small assortment of Elvis crap — records and CDs, a few books, a clock, and some figurines that my mother gave me. But to finish the analogy I started with, in terms of Elvis Presley, I’m more like an occasional Christian who shows up in church on Christmas and Easter and calls it good.

Another year has gone by, and now it’s 40 past Elvis. Time to pay my respects once again.

Laura Sternweis

Spring Break with Jesus

When you’re standing ankle-deep in the Atlantic Ocean and a young woman with a Bible asks if you’d like to accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior, what should you say? What the hell? That was my reaction, though I was considerate enough not to voice it aloud.


The woman with the Bible was convinced that Jesus was right there with us. I was skeptical. Being a savior is a lot of work and he likely had other things to do. I’d already seen evidence of far worse sinners than I on that Florida beach. I thanked her, but politely declined her offer.

During spring break 1982 I was a 20-year-old college student who’d hopped a frat bus to Daytona Beach with my best friend. She had won two round-trip tickets as first prize in a college dance marathon. She asked me to be her guest, and my parents agreed that I could go. So with my suitcase and $200, I was ready for adventure.

Wisconsin to Florida is a long ride on a bus with drunken frat boys (and college girls, to be fair). My friend and I hadn’t thought to bring any booze, good girls that we were, so other than a few swigs from a passed-around bottle of ginger brandy, our bus ride was alcohol free. Many hours later we arrived unimpaired at our hotel, a low-budget, beach-front, cinder-block edifice. We were pleased to find our room had a balcony with a view of the ocean — if you turned your head to the right.

There’s a lot I remember about that spring break. We packed 6 girls into our hotel room with a kitchenette and one bathroom. We ate cheap — bologna and hot dogs from the 7-Eleven down the street. We rationed our money so we could afford more important items — barroom cover charges and beer. We drank a lot and danced a lot and partied with guys from other colleges. Forget the frat boys from our bus — we wanted no attachments to follow us back to school. We stayed out late, cavorted in the ocean, fell asleep on the beach, and cultivated a fine sunburn.

I’d never been so far from home before. Sometimes I walked alone along the beach to contemplate that fact and wonder what my future would hold — as I did the day the woman with the Bible walked up to me, read some scripture, and asked me a question.

Of all my memories of that spring break 35 years ago, standing in the ocean with the woman with the Bible is the most vivid still. So maybe I did spend spring break with Jesus, at least part of the time.

Laura Sternweis

Lutheran by Osmosis

wedding3shotI like to tell people that I am Lutheran by osmosis. That’s what can happen, over time, when a Catholic girl marries a Lutheran preacher’s kid.

We were married 27 years ago in my hometown Catholic church by the parish priest and a Lutheran minister — my husband’s father. According to my mother, with both a priest and a minister pulling the strings when we tied the knot, our union was sure to last. Our ceremony was pieced together from both the Catholic and Lutheran wedding services to make both Reverends happy. I added in songs from “Godspell” (“All Good Gifts”) and “The Sound of Music” (“Edelweiss”), along with Pachelbel’s Canon in D, to make me happy. (The preacher’s kid just wanted to marry me and didn’t much care about the details.)

By scientific definition, osmosis means the movement of fluids through semipermeable membranes seeking a state of equilibrium. It also can refer to subtle or gradual absorption or mingling (thank you, Dictionary.com). Religious osmosis happens gradually as well — an awakening here, a revelation there. To be fair, my osmosis probably started long before the wedding. In grade school I wanted to be a server for Mass, but in the Catholic church of the 1970s that job was reserved for altar boys — which really ticked me off. In the mid-1980s post-college, I still considered myself Catholic, though I was questioning the point of the whole Canon Law thing. Before our kids were born, my husband and I joined a Lutheran congregation and became regular church-goers. Over time, some of that Protestant Reformation stuff began to make sense to me. Ten years ago at my father’s funeral I realized I wasn’t Catholic anymore; I no longer needed that much incense or ritual.

However, to this day I’ve never renounced the Catholic church and I still respect the tradition. I’ve never experienced a religious conversion or epiphany … just osmosis. I guess I’m in a state of spiritual equilibrium.

Laura Sternweis