In Pittsburgh, I'd been used to slipping into St. Paul's Cathedral from time to time. I was emphatically not calling myself a Christian. It was the summer after I'd graduated high school and I was trying my best to stay clear of the God who had made my mother so crazy. I never told my rigid Church of Christ mother that I'd just edge into the cathedral when the place was mostly empty to absorb the atmosphere, to the drink in the light of the stained glass windows, and to listen to the trickle of echoes trace the vaulted ceiling. I found the infusion of burning candles, the aroma of incense--and the absence of my mother--enchanting.
As we neared the steps of Cincinnati's cathedral, I started showing off for Richard by reciting a poem I'd written on the subject, but I couldn't remember it all. Richard's background was mostly Quaker and Church of Christ, although he'd been around many Protestant denominations. He didn't avoid any of them, but he indicated he'd never been in a cathedral before. As we walked closer to the spire of St Peter in Chains, I stated my intention to go in and dared Richard to join me. I watched his face to see if he was afraid or uncomfortable. Not at all. He was genuinely curious, yet respectful.
He never was one to turn down a dare, so we went in.
The architecture of St. Peter in Chains is Greek, not gothic. The windows are not as much a focal point as in some churches, but the twelve stations of the cross painted in terra cotta, black and gold are striking. They resemble the style of painting found on Grecian vases. The mosaic of Christ rising above the altar is compelling.
Richard and I spent some time in silence taking in the sights and scents of the cathedral. I don't know if he was praying, but I was not making any effort to pray. I guess I was just feeling sort of empty, wondering how far I could get from God.
We walked the stations of the cross and talked about what we saw in hushed voices. Before we left the church, we approached a rack of a couple dozen votive candles,each of them set in red glass. I really did not know the correct thing to do, but I bluffed, challenging Richard to light one as I lifted up a match. "For the one I love, far away," I said as I lit a candle, as though making a toast. He nodded his head, smiling gently. He did the same. "For the one I love, far away." We put some money in the box and left before anyone had a chance to confront us.
Richard looked over his shoulder as we left.
It has taken me a long time to realize that "the one I love, far away" was not my high school boyfriend, although I ached with the loss like any college freshman. Whoever called me then, calls me still. If you think of me, light me a candle for the journey home; I'll light you one, too.