My new teaching assignment (the one that had me move to the frozen north known as OHIO) has its ups and downs, but one of the definite ups for me has been the religious affiliation of the university where I teach. There’s a small, quiet chapel at the bottom of my building. I am there several times a day.
I’m not a fanatic, not a fundamentalist whacko that spouts rhetoric and plans for world domination (at least most of the time). But having a place so conducive to contemplation and silence is a gift, so, like the good person that I’m not, at random moments in the day you can find me hangin’ with the Mother of Good Counsel.
It’s down a dark-panelled hallway that smells like a candle recently blown out. As my office building is also home to some retired religious, it also has that odor specific to old men- somewhere between cooled tobacco, faded aftershave and wet wool. Mix it in with the dried flowers left at Mary’s statue and the ancient odor of people’s tears, sweat, and prayers, and you have it.
It’s like my morning java- I go first thing when I arrive, harried from the dressing-lunchmaking-rushing-out-the-door that is my morning, and leave my things just outside the chapel. I smooth my hair, leave my coffee, and walk through the stained glass doors.
There’s usually no one there. I cross to the nearest prayer bench and kneel.
And then there it is. I am alone- something I’m not, most of the time. I am silent- something I’m definitely not most of the time. I can hear my own breathing. I focus. I calm. I breathe a prayer into the dim light.
It’s a precious gift, this time, and I am thankful for it. I feel like I’ve discovered a place out of time and space where I could get lost and never be heard from again. I’d fall into the soft upholstery, and years later they’d find my image burned into the pew like the Shroud of Turin.
Whispering in the darkness, talking to God, listening in the silence.