St. Joseph’s Cord

10 12 2009

[Originally posted here]

AG, as you may well know from reading her blog, is from New Orleans. Her family hails from a small city some ways away called Opelousas. You can read more about her memories of going to this place here, as well as on other parts of her fine blog.

Her parents were recently in the Bay Area, and her father regaled us with many tales of growing up in a sharecropping family in the Louisiana countryside. Being Creoles, they grew up speaking both French and English, and now having met his mother, I can say that I really don’t know when that gentle woman is speaking English and when she is speaking French. (She makes a fine gumbo, though.) And of course, they are Catholics to the core.

Mr. G told one story in particular that intrigued my sense of the unusual and the extraordinary. As in other places in rural communities, doctors were few and far between. People had to rely on other means of healing in order to cure their ailments, sometimes even in emergencies. Mr. G. told me about “treaters”, people who could pray over people and make them better. One story in particular highlighted the role of these people in that community.

The G. family had an old dog that had the useful habit of attacking and chasing away snakes. Usually, it was quick and agile enough to get out of the way of a snake when it would strike. One time, though, it was not quick enough, and a poisonous moccasin bit the dog in the face. The dog’s face began to swell up and it became mortally ill.

Not wanting to lose the dog, the family called the grandfather who was known as a treater. One of the main tools of a treater in that community was the St. Joseph’s Cord, the image of which you see above, and prayers that go along with it can be found here. After this treater recited the prayers of the St. Joseph’s Cord, the dog became a little better. After three days, the dog’s face returned to its normal size and he was up and about again as feisty as ever.

I thought this story was quaint and uplifting for a variety of reasons. I have always been puzzled in the Gospels as to why Christ could not perform miracles in places where there was little faith. I don’t think an easy answer can be given to this question. Maybe this is why the miraculous is so scarce in our day and age. For the miracle is often the result of faith sown in love, and love is the bond of all things, and it can do all things. As we see in this story, it can even cure a lethal snake bite. In this sense, loving prayer can be considered magical.

being to timelessness as it’s to time,
love did no more begin than love will end;
where nothing is to breathe to stroll to swim
love is the air the ocean and the land

(do lovers suffer?all divinities
proudly descending put on deathful flesh:
are lovers glad?only their smallest joy’s
a universe emerging from a wish)

love is the voice under all silences,
the hope which has no opposite in fear;
the strength so strong mere force is feebleness:
the truth more first than sun more last than star

-do lovers love?why then to heaven with hell.
Whatever sages say and fools,all’s well

-e.e. cummings