When I was young, I prayed in church with all my classmates, the chorus of our little voices stringing through the wooden pews and rolling off the chapel walls like sweet but unintelligible music. I might’ve prayed for absolution, but didn’t know for what. I probably prayed for something that I wanted, some material desire beyond my tiny reach. I knew the verses well enough, and I’d kneel on the crimson vinyl of a thinly padded pew and mumble the Hail Mary beneath a marble copy of the Pieta tenanting an inaccessible balcony above the vestibule, draped in shadows so to hide her sorrow. A single stained-glass window let in light that broke across the pallid carpet like dismantled rainbows.
I remember one day praying blankly, the Our Father echoing in high-pitch monotone through the room so that the words repeated by the walls became confused with the words that I was saying. Forgive us our trespasses, and above us constellations of dust purled beneath florescent bulbs, dancing offhandedly to our tedious incantation. I remember that, but I don’t remember what I held in mind–and lead us not into temptation–only that I said the prayer, and the somber words spun somewhere high above me with the dust. When mass was over, we poured through the steal doors outside where recess waited. Give us this day, our daily bread.
One evening not long ago, I sat in the Gothic church near my home. It was almost empty, and the few voices I heard only when a whisper would stream across the nave sharply and dissolve. Darkness swelled between the candlelight, moving lazily to offer momentary glimpses of a Christ in suffering. I didn’t pray a word.
As we forgive those who trespass against us, and flashes of the gold-trimmed columns coerced my eyes toward the oculus painted in the dome. And maybe it’s the silence that says the most.
I’ve been a praying person. Today I go to churches for the quiet echoes that they speak, the ways they play with light and silence to make sober moments of a day confused—thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven—the voices that I hear in prayer who have their faith in words. But I don’t pray for absolution.