I rubbed my hands together to warm them. It was cold outside in the sunlight, and colder inside the great stone cathedral. The nave had great arched walls allowing for windows which reminded us that this was not the typical basilica lit only by candles and bleached florescent bulbs. The light was brighter, but the icy chill still clung to my hands as I touched the wooden bench in front of me.
The smell of distant candles brought to mind the glowing walls of churches and hermitages high in the mountains. These candles symbolized the hope of someone. Someone was lighting the wick and wax to give a body to their prayer. I could smell their hope. A hope that this act was worthy of some measure of grace. A hope for anything, anything to offset who they knew they were.
We sat down on the smooth wooden bench, perhaps taking someone’s seat, but probably not. This morning we were just observers, not participants. There were plenty of places for the seekers to sit and partake in the ritual of this morning. Perhaps at some point in the history of this monastery every bench had an occupant. But not today.
Footsteps fell behind us. The scrape of a cane was noticeable along the cold marble floor as more elderly worshippers gathered closer to the priest in order to hear what would be said today. Perhaps today would be the day there would be peace. Perhaps.
Some greeted friends as they shuffled past. Some merely slid into a seat, contemplating the figure of Mary. Her prominence before them was accentuated by her outstretched hands, welcoming them in. She seemed human yet exalted. Accessible yet sacred. Perhaps she could sympathize with them? Perhaps she could speak to the Son on their behalf? Perhaps she could share her abundance of grace with those who so desperate needed it. Perhaps she was their hope. Perhaps not.
From somewhere in front came the mournful melody of strings and song. This lone guitar shouldered the burden of carrying the frail voices and their heart cries. Cries of need and brokenness. Pleading cries for rescue and help. These hewn arches had heard many a song. Within their mortar dwelt the tears and fears of those seeking to escape themselves. Today the elderly lifted their similar prayers. Was it from obligation or custom? Was it from a broken heart? Who was I to judge? I could never see in others where I fear to see within myself.
And then the spell was broken.
The failing microphone set my teeth on edge through its grainy repetition of an ancient prayer. This place was not designed to need a microphone. But of those who prayed and those who heard, there were few who could do so without help.
We quietly exited through the low door in the back. Mary’s arms could not reach us where we were going. For those who depended on her, it must be heartbreaking.
The figure on the side wall caught my attention. Christ’s arms were spread as well, but they were not free. Nailed to a tree, he hung alone. If he is still there, he is no hope to me.
But he isn’t. He is free from death and its sting. He has risen indeed.