catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 20 :: 2013.11.01 — 2013.11.14



Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from the first chapter of Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2012). Learn more by visiting the author’s blog.  Reprinted by permission of the publisher; all rights reserved.

The cathedral is cool and dark after the bright sun of the street. The center nave is shadowy, and stretches high. My eyes follow a marble pillar up to the vaulted ceiling. The surroundings feel like a too-formal friend, but one I’m pleased to see. My love of sacred space has broadened over the years. I may still resist kneeling, and I have never made the sign of the cross, but I love being in sacred space where I might catch the divine presence, lurking.

But this sanctuary feels like a tomb. It must be all the marble, pale and translucent, like it’s cooling something dead. The stained-glass windows add a bluish tinge to the air. The only sense of warmth comes from the banks of candles flickering in their red glass holders.

Every time the door swings open, I feel a little sweep of street heat from the warm September day. People enter singly or in clumps: the faithful with their hopeful eyes, the jaded with their shopping bags, the curious with their craning necks. I step into the flow of traffic down the aisle. Side chapels beckon, each one promising a special path to the divine. I look, not at the statues or icons, but at the people who pause before them, who kneel, who light candles with long matches. All these trappings are unfamiliar to me, but I know they’re the stuff of pilgrimage. I feel suddenly nervous and hot. I stop and lean against a pillar. The marble is so cool it feels damp. I turn my back to the pillar the way my cat would, pressing the length of my spine along the cool stone, rotating ever so slightly around the pillar.

Candles in a wrought-iron stand come into view, glowing rosily. Two women whisper and grin in front of the candles, their happiness palpable. They’re dressed in Bermuda shorts and t-shirts; one shirt proclaims I♥NY, and the other has a picture of a lighthouse. The lighthouse woman poses in front of the glowing candles, and I stare at the front of her shirt, trying to determine whether the lighthouse is one I know from Delaware or Virginia. Before I can decide, an Asian woman in a business suit steps in front of me, blocking my view. Even though the woman is small and the space cavernous, she is so close that I can hear her impatient exhalation. I glance at her feet, expecting to see high-heeled toes tapping, but she is wearing Converse sneakers. As soon as the women in T-shirts finish their photos, the businesswoman swoops in, lights a candle, genuflects, and leaves.

I feel strangely bereft. Everyone else seems to have gotten what they came for and moved on. What have I come for?

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