Art adorns every wall, every window, even the ceiling. It's a bit disquieting, but it's glorious, too. It would take an eternity to sufficiently take in every line and image. In the front and center of the room, behind the pulpit, is an image of The Crucifix. My heart immediately swells with reverence and love. I make an effort to think of Him every day, but this is where I come for some real quiet--real peace--so I can truly worship. I almost didn't notice the young woman sitting in the second pew.
Most people don't really like to be interrupted in here, myself included, but she doesn't seem to be praying; she's leaning forward, her face in her hand, her elbow on her knee, her eyes seemingly pointed to the floor. I shuffle slowly around the walls, pretending to read Spanish prayers that I don't understand, until I come full circle to sit a few feet to her right.
"I think it's incredible," I start. She straightens up and turns her head to smile at me.
"Yeah, it is."
"This isn't the chapel I regularly attend for mass, but I like this one better because it's prettier than mine," I say sheepishly. She nods and turns forward again. Maybe she really doesn't want to be disturbed, but I'm just so desperate for a like spirit--one that looks like they might be struggling, too.
"Do you usually attend here?" I ask at the same time as she says something:
"I'm not--" she stops and says, "sorry." I wave her off and tell her to finish. "Um, no, I don't go here. Not anywhere, really. Not anymore. I'm not really sure why I came here, actually."
"Oh," I bite my lip. She looks like she might cry, so I ask, "Are you okay?" She inhales deeply, looking up, and then lets it out sharply, filling the cavern with a loud laugh.
"Yeah, I'm okay," she shrugs and turns to me again. She must have seen my face before I could hide the grimace because she apologizes and puts her hand over her smile. "I'm good," she whispers this time. "I think I've found some peace of mind."
"Yeah?" I ask, curious. "How?"
"I've had a bit of a realization within the last week or so."
She sighs and cracks a few knuckles, looking uncomfortable. "I just...well, I'm not even sure if I really mean it," she qualifies. "But I realized that I might not believe in god."
My heart sinks.
"That is...I'm sorry," I mumble. The aged structure around us creaks ominously.
"I'm actually okay though," she assures me, slightly bemused. "Maybe I should feel like I'm losing part of my identity, but...I don't know. I guess it's just nice to think about living a life that I can fill with my own purpose. It's... liberating."
I don't say anything, because I really don't know how to respond. I mean, how...miserable! How terrifying to think about God not being up there, loving and looking out for us. How meaningless to think about not being accountable to Him at the end of the day. How lonely to think about being...alone. "So, maybe you came here as a last resort?" I suggest. "To give Him one more chance to prove Himself to you?" But she shakes her head.
"I don't think so," she says slowly. "God really doesn't have to prove anything to me if he doesn't want to. I think he might be fed up with me anyway," she says, amused, then adds, "If he's there."
How badly I want to insist that He is there! He's here! I could feel Him the minute I opened the doors, and I feel His love when I see The Crucifix and think about the sacrifice He and His Son made. For me. I feel Him listening every day as I pray. Maybe I could pray for her--
"I guess I came here because I knew it would be quiet," she says, not rudely, but as if she could sense my itch to testify. She closes her eyes. Breathing slowly.
"Me too," I say, because it's true.
Several moments pass then, and we sit together in this fortifying silence that we came for, each seemingly moving toward different extremes, but both mere enough to appreciate the significance of... "it all"
Her phone buzzes, waking me from my reverie. She takes it out of her pocket and looks as if she is about to answer it, but then glances at me, embarrassed.
"I'm sorry," she says, and ignores the call.
"I appreciate it," I nod. And then, slightly annoyed, I notice that she's started texting instead. I turn forward to relax and focus again. She eventually puts the phone away and begins to observe the vast space. I must admit, it can be pretty unnerving in here. Solid, and...overwhelming. But for me, it's in a good way; the life, lessons, and love of Christ and God come at me from every angle in here, making it near impossible to ignore. A quote from a life-changing book I once read comes to mind:
"Once torched by truth, a little thing like faith is easy."
This is my Truth.
I look back to her, but she is already watching me. I thought I saw some emotion on her face like longing, or desperation. But she blinks it away and whatever it was is replaced surely with grace. She thanks me for talking to her as she stands and puts on her leather coat.
"Maybe I'll see you here again," I invite her. She squints and rubs her lips together.
"Probably not," she shakes her head, and smiles one more time before leaving. A few seconds pass until the wooden doors slam and echo with finality. I kneel down on the stool in front of me, clasp my hands together, and drop my head.
I thank God for my life, my family, the opportunities I have--I am indebted to Him for all of it. I even sincerely thank Him for the crisis in faith I recently overcame, because I know it will make me a stronger and better follower.
And then I think about this girl, with her green eyes that I searched in vain for a sign that some light has since left her as she left God. I wonder if there is some other Truth that she has found. I wonder if I should pray for her to be able to find mine.
Lord, I begin, but I'm undecided. I raise my head to look at a painting of Christ descending from heaven into an exalting world. An endless, giving world. And I think I understand what she wants:
Lord, You don't have to worry too much. I think she's going to be just fine.
For Tamsin, who is always asking questions,
and David, who inspired me to ask the right ones.