(OSV News) July is one of those months. The heat of summer sets in and elderly uncles come to visit and delight in declaring — with an hourly gasp and a wipe of the forehead — that “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity!” He’ll persist even after some smart-mouth growls that the inside of an oven is pretty dry, but still an unpleasant place to sit.
He’s right in one sense, though, the oven doesn’t contribute to the lives of water-loving mosquitos that God willed into being (though he alone knows why). The ever-thirsty, light-attracted bloodsuckers make eating al fresco while watching a sunset some unattainable fantasy and chase indoors those trying to find a bit of a breeze to go along with the cool beverage becoming slippery with condescension.
On retreat once at a Minnesota abbey, I became entranced by the song of a loon making its mournful call from the woodside lake on beautiful Benedictine grounds. Lingering there, I didn’t even feel the attacks of a million mosquitos feasting upon my legs and feet and somehow even feeding through my clothing. It was only the remarkably painful bites of the Minnesota black flies (a hitherto unknown wee buggy I’ve never encountered anywhere else) that finally drove me indoors. Their welts were no fun, but the mosquito bites that emerged hours later had me up all night, scratching and begging heaven for relief.
The next day I asked a cherubic-looking monk just exactly who might be the patron saint of mosquito bites, and whether the community might not be wise to erect a statue, a shrine, perhaps an entire building to him or her in hopes of chasing away “these foul creatures ruining your otherwise lovely place.”
“Ah, the mosquitoes.” He smiled and projected a look of knowing tinged with such ethereal bliss that I really wanted to smack him. “The black flies leave big holes on you, you know,” he said, “and they’ll be weeks annoying the stuffing out of you, just so you’re aware. But the mosquitoes are special.” He was nearly beaming, now — the very model of a be-robed religious mystic. “In July we re-acquaint ourselves with the lovers of the precious blood in all their flying, intrusive glory, and thank God for them!”
“Oh, I don’t think so.” I sat on a bench, the better to scratch at my ankles. “You should sell some bug spray in the gift shop,” I advised. “Books and T-shirts and medals are all well and good, but along with penicillin, God permitted “Deet” to be developed, right? To kill the freaking — ” I stopped myself, trying to be good. “To kill the … the hungry little bloodsuckers, and put them, and us, out of misery?”
“You’re very murderous,” the monk smiled some more. “Do you advocate a genocide to solve your distress? A mass-killing of a species for your own comfort?”
“Yes!” I confessed with curled lip. “What are you, anyway, a FRANCISCAN?” With not a scintilla of repentance I declared death to all mosquitos. Channeling the Wicked Witch of the West I added, “and their little black-fly pals, too!”
He seemed to think that was very funny. I can still hear his chortling laughter. “You’re a Benedictine, you know. Practice your conversion of manner. And listen to St. Paul,” he added as he walked away. “‘Give thanks in all circumstances!'” (1 Thes 5:18).
It’s taken years, but through prayer and reading — and a lot of sultry summer nights spent indoors — I’ve finally found a way to generously spin a kind of thanks for black flies and mosquitoes, but it’s a near thing. Of the giant, long-lasting holes the flies leave in our skin, I consider Leonard Cohen and allow that maybe — perhaps — the holes, like spiritual cracks, might be “how the light gets in.”
Of mosquitoes, I have offered thanks to Christ Jesus, the Incarnation of the Creator, font of all mystery. It is not a gracious thanks, but I try: “Thank you, Lord, for the stupid, mindless, miserable, greedy mosquitoes, which in July remind me to meditate on the salvific and instructive graces to be received by your Precious Blood.”
I still slap mosquitoes when they land on me. But when I see my own blood (or the blood of a just-bitten loved one) beneath their tiny corpses, it is good to whisper up a “sorry God,” with my first breath, and a mostly sincere “thank you” in the next.