As I walk a cobbled street, I come upon the door of an old cathedral – slightly ajar. I walk up the stone steps and push it lightly and step into a cool, dark, quiet space. It is coated with the prayers of ordinary saints, the hopes of generations of work-a-day people.
I step inside the echoes of life at shoe level – where the rubber meets the road, where the in-and-out of daily breath marks the flow of life. I step inside a hollow space, filled with the hopes and dreams and urgent pleas and wonderment of pilgrims who have come this way before. Their echoes pound against my heart, helping me know that I am not alone in my aloneness.
I move down the aisle and slide into a pew just a few from the front. I see the simple icons manifest in flaking paint and rough wood. I understand the comfort in symbols – in symbols of symbols – that steady the soul. I feel the constancy in protocols that structure devotion and give it expression, seeking hope in the midst of confusion. In their presence I recognize my own awkward genuflections as efforts to embody faith and, through that, to find the path home.
I sit on the pew, and breathe the moist, still air and try to let the prayers of the centuries coat me, too, just as they coat these walls. I can imagine them falling on me like a light dusting of snow. I shiver, a bit, beneath their touch. The voices that uttered them may now be buried in the graveyard just outside these doors – but they still speak to me … and to you, Oh Holy One.
Have you gathered them in your embrace? Are they cuddled in your lap? Do you kiss the top of their heads as they snuggle close? Or do they stand strong beside you, having stayed the course, having used the encounters with life to grow their own souls? Is theirs the triumph of a steady life, of embodied grace?
Their prayers have drifted around me. I can almost touch their essence. I close my eyes and I am joined by these quiet souls, finding their familiar pews, smiling quietly at one another, nodding and sometimes giving each other a hug. Hands reach out to touch and connect a web of life that exists beyond the breath.
Hidden in the muddle and mistakes of each day, there is this connection of care. It glistens at the edges and holds the whole.
I pull a small cloth bag from my pocket and gather a bit of the dust of their prayers into it. I pull the strings tight and put it in my coat pocket, next to my heart. I make my way back out of the cathedral and into the street, where the day has begun to stir.
A breeze claps me awake, and as I move down the steps into my day I pat my pocket and a tiny cloud of prayer dust escapes. It glistens in the sun. Some clings to my fingers, so that when I touch another soul today, I can pass on a glimmer of that heritage of faith.
I do hope that is true.
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