Stains

The church was dimly lit, cold and quiet.  As I sat on a pew a few rows back from the front, I thought about how each of those descriptors helped make this place feel right somehow.  There were candles lit in the front and along either side.  The flames flickered in the drafts that permeated the space, and I was glad for my jacket.  A single light lit the altar.  No one else was present.  It was just me and whatever passed for the divine in here.

Perhaps that seems too flippant.  Maybe blasphemous.  Even so.

I intend no disrespect.  In my experience, most things identified as divine aren’t.  And those that are don’t want obedient pets.  If they had, I’m pretty sure we never would have discovered sarcasm.

The best time to visit churches is always later in the day, in the middle of the week.  By then, most people are so wrapped up in their lives that they don’t have time for things beyond them.  Occasionally an older woman – always a woman – will be there, begging intercession on behalf of her family.  But they don’t want to talk.  They just want to make their pleas in silence and leave.  Usually the only interruption is in the form of…

“Can I help you, sir?”  A priest.  Always looking to be helpful.  Always.

“No, father.  Just having a little chat.”

“Praying?”

“Sure.”

“If you like, I can hear your confession.”  He was on the younger side.  Probably in his 30s.  Still had an earnest hopefulness about him.  A few more decades of listening to humanity’s sins should beat that out of him.

“No, thank you.  Just spending some time, one-on-one.”

“Are you certain?  You know what they say, confession is good…”

“For the soul.  Yes, I’ve heard.”  I smiled, trying not to seem rude.  Not only did he have the hopefulness of youth, he had the insistence of it, as well.  Most would have given up by now.  But he showed no sign of leaving me in peace.

“I haven’t seen you before.”

I smiled again, more forced this time.  “I guess not.  I travel a lot.  Like to visit different churches when I go new places.”

“Oh, very good.  But you do have a spiritual home?”

Concern for my soul.  Hopeful, indeed.  “Certainly.”

“Which diocese, if you don’t mind me asking?”

I did, actually.  I don’t like lying in houses of worship.  Silly rule, I suppose, given everything.  But the little things become important when so much else shifts.  They help us hang on, remember who we are.  Of course, not lying in this case just opened up more questions for him to ask.  Still, no reason to break the rule.  “I’m not Catholic, father.”

“But you’ve come to a Catholic church to pray?”

“God is everywhere, after all.”

“That is true,” he replied, still confused.

“You don’t mind that I came here, do you?”

“No, no.  Of course not.  The church is open to all.”

“Thank you, father.”

He surprised me by finally taking the hint.  He simply nodded and walked away, inspecting the other pews.  If asked, I’m certain he would say he was looking to see if any homeless had wandered in to sleep.  Or perhaps making sure that no one had left anything behind after the last Mass of the day.  I am equally certain he would be lying, so I didn’t ask.  As long as he let me be, I didn’t mind if he wanted to keep his eye on me.

Perhaps the divine was everywhere, though I doubted it would be hanging out here.  But I could be wrong.  And in any event, there was still something about these places where people gathered in search of it.  Maybe they knew something I didn’t.

But tonight had brought me no insight.  No hint of that something greater.  With the priest still trying to appear not to be watching me, I walked out of the church.  I wondered if I could find a laundromat to get some of the stains out of my shirt.

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