The church was empty when he walked in. The doors, heavy and withered, creaked loudly as they opened, welcoming him into what seemed like a portal to a different world. He had never been in one of these before—he had heard stories, read descriptions, and imagined the splendor, but what he saw defied anything he could conjure up.
The ceiling rose to the sky with stained glass windows depicting images of a bearded man and a veiled woman. The light that filtered through the glass painted the interiors with colors that moved in sync with the movement of the clouds against the sun outside. In the crossing, between the transept, flecks of dust danced in the light from the dome windows. Mosaic tiles that covered the walls with portraits of old men were nothing compared to the gold and stone sculptures in the spandrels and pillars; scrupulous figures of women and cherubs leaped off the arches, each of them with eyes facing upwards at the varicolored fresco on the ceiling. While faded and interrupted by cracks, the ceiling’s oil painting was still a sight to see. Illustrated were clothed men and women, all looking at the centerpiece of the artwork: an old man with a white beard, wearing an ill-fitting white gown with a purple sash.
It was not just the degree of magnificence that startled him but the hum—an unfamiliar calm that swept over him, a silence that echoed. He was alone in this otherworldly fortress; a once lively place of worship had become a graveyard of abandoned faith.
His great grandmother was senile when it came to most things but never more coherent than when she spoke about her god. He would visit her every week when she was in the hospital, and she would have a rosary wrapped around her fingers and a worn Bible on her desk. She told him about God and Jesus Christ, but he treated them as an urban legend, like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. He used to wrap his small hands around hers—stippled with bruises from all the needles—and entertain her wild imagination. He remembered the big flood that wiped away humanity except for a man named Noah and his family. (“My teacher told us about extinct animals. Is that why they’re not here no more? Because they didn’t make it to the big boat?” he had asked. She laughed but never really gave him an answer.) He remembered the story of Jesus, born of a virgin. (“What’s a virgin?” he had asked. “Someone who hasn’t had sex yet,” she had replied.) He chalked up these stories to her impending insanity until his first history class in middle school. Today, Muslims, Christians, and Hindus had become history lessons, relics of the past that, for some reason, could never infiltrate the present.
The church was intoxicating, an artefact of a bygone age that stood the test of time. This was a symbol of human mortality, a show of weakness and a towering display of humility. And how weak he was right now.
He sat in the front pew, directly facing the altar. He knew how to fold his hands and bow his head, but he didn’t know how to talk to God. The concept of praying was only taught as a symbol of history’s old charm. He rested his knees on the kneeler; the old padding huffed as it felt weight for the first time in decades. He rested his elbows on the platform in front of him and folded his hands.
“I’m going crazy, but I’m desperate,” he whispered. “I don’t know if you know—apparently, you’re supposed to know everything—but you need to save my wife. Do something. Anything.”
He tapped his folded hands on his forehead and felt a wave of relief. For the first time, he was powerless—possibly even blameless.
He looked at the altar and saw a sculpture of a man, helpless and limp, in the arms of a woman, and thought back to the first night of his wedding. He had scooped her up like they do in movies, and took her to the bedroom. Except he didn’t account for the width of the door, and her head banged against the frame with such force that she scowled in pain. But while he panicked, she laughed and hugged him tightly, reassuring him that she was alright.
He felt his pocket vibrate. It was a message from his mother—she’s ok, it read.
And then he cried, a sniveling sob that shook the silence of the spiritual palace. Whether it was a coincidence or a blessing crossed his mind, but wasn’t of importance. He cried and cried until the windows no longer welcomed the sunlight—until he was left in the dark, alone with his prayers.