Today, I Believe in God, Part One: Paris, France
by Shaun Terry
I genuflected at the end of the pew, making the sign of the cross: the Catholic way, not the Orthodox way. I’d only a few days ago learned that Orthodox Christians go from right to left across their chests. At first, I’d thought the guy was doing it wrong. I’d rolled my eyes, but then I felt a little embarrassed when I realized that everyone was doing that.
The Sacré-Cœur is massive and tourists will about, creating a lot of white noise. The cathedral’s bubbling domes seem to call to foreign spectators. I’d tried to go in from the wrong direction, but a cheery secretarial woman had corrected me, somewhat sarcastically, but only playfully so. So, I’d walked around the whole thing in the cold, the vapors leaving my mouth and dissipating in the air.
I was there by myself, kneeling and just meditating. Well, trying to meditate. I thought about saying the Jesus Prayer, but I guess I couldn’t remember how it went. The different colors of light were all dancing around one another, and I thought about the thousands of people who had to build this thing. Only the Catholic Church in its heyday could’ve built these things in every Western city at the time. They must’ve cost lots of lives, and all that exploitation led to these magnificent monuments. There’s something to be said for the kind of power that can create things that will imbue you with faith. I’m not saying it’s good, but I also don’t want to feel guilty for enjoying them.
Just sitting here, I feel belief seeping into me like water through the membrane of a boiled egg. How could one avoid it? Something about its bigness, all the beautiful stained glass, the paintings, the candlelight—the light in the place is all natural, you know. It’s all sunlight and candles, as though we’re being compelled to acknowledge God’s natural glory. I guess that’s part of it.
I knelt there and meditated. I thought about how there’s something about gathering a couple hundred people in a dimly lit space and being quiet. There’s something magical, something sacred about that. Only the Catholic Church could’ve created all these wonders for us to venerate and absorb and believe in. I felt sin washing out from my skin. I felt myself getting clean. I felt my frailty and I wanted to beg for forgiveness. I felt that God was in there, and that God was a woman. She was the mother I’d longed for and forgotten. But, I didn’t feel guilty. I felt content and a bit tired in a way. I kind-of wanted to stay there forever and just fall asleep and melt away from all the pressures, all the conflicts, and from my more Earthly self.
And, I realized that maybe everyone there was feeling basically the same exact thing. All these fat women and bristly men and people who were missing teeth in unfortunate places and little kids who worshipped footballers were all sitting there, wanting to cry like this young man in the twelfth row. Maybe they were crying, too. I hope so. It feels good to cry, I think, but no one seems to notice.
I haven’t really been religious since the eighth grade, but a place like this certainly makes me feel something. It reminds me that we’re all connected and that nothing is certain. It reminds me that we’re all afraid and we’re all just trying our best, even if we’re all failing in various ways. It reminds me that there are bigger things and smaller things, and that it doesn’t really matter. It reminds me that love is what really matters. I’m such a judgmental asshole, sometimes, but I don’t mean to be. I get so caught up in feelings and in what seems right. I just want to be good, but maybe I should just want to be, or maybe to try to be as kind as possible. Maybe it’s better to be kind than to be good.
I’d been feeling a little guilty for being there. I could’ve used that money for something, but I don’t know what. I’d had no plans, and I was fucking tired of being on campus. I hadn’t gone anywhere since I’d gotten to school. Really, I’d never gone anywhere in my whole life, except for when I drove up to Toronto to see my friend. That’s really the only reason I was able to go because, otherwise, I wouldn’t have had a passport. I guess I chose Paris because it’s romantic or something. I mean, I think every friend I ever had was a Francophile at some point or another, and even though I’d never been one, I figured I should go there if I should go anywhere. Maybe I should’ve gone to Mecca, but I wouldn’t have thought of it before having gone to Paris, so here I am.
I don’t really know why I felt guilty. I’d basically saved every extra penny of scholarship money I’d gotten—not just because I’d wanted to save money (which I did, but why I couldn’t tell you), but because I didn’t really have any friends at school. I mean, I had a couple people who you might call friends, but I’ve only really had three friends in my whole life. I don’t know why. I’m just quiet. I have opinions, but I always think I might be wrong and when I hear someone say their own opinions, I just think they might be right. And, teachers hate when you talk in class and students hate when you raise your hand a lot, so I just don’t say much. Even at home, my mom mostly just watches reality TV, and my dad’s been gone for a while now. I really couldn’t tell you how I spend my free time.
My name’s Joey, by the way.
Anyway, it all gets a little tiring.