Light of every imaginable color dappled the whitewashed planks. I tiptoed, pausing to watch the shifting colors beneath my feet. The rainbows swam, and somewhere high above my head a rafter began to creak in protest to the sudden gust of wind—wind that set the trees outside swaying and threw dancing colors at my feet, fractured and projected by the stained glass. I found myself near the front, but not quite. Too modest and self-conscious to kneel at the worn carpet stairs, I slipped instead into the second pew at my right hand. Why the awkwardness? Hundreds, surely, had knelt in that spot. More likely, it was the thousand thoughts and memories swirling through the air like so many dust motes that gave me pause. There were shadows and years close beside me—sitting next to me—and they hung back in silence, watching me. Somehow, it did not seem fitting to waltz in and make myself so at home. I slid into the pew, bowing my head and squeezing my eyes shut as I did.
I’m not a believer in the so-called sixth sense, but I felt the hair on the nape of my neck prickle and a long shudder scurried up the length of my spine. I knew he was sitting next to me, before I even opened my eyes. And yet somehow, it wasn’t startling to see him there. He belonged, as much as the stained glass, the dappled light, the hardwood pews, the carpeted stairs, and the plain wood cross. His presence should have surprised me, but it didn’t. Actually, there was something marvelously calming about the way he fit so well into the surroundings. Fit into? No, not quite—he was part of them.
“All may approach, sister. There is no separation, save the insurmountable walls you’ve built up within your own heart and soul.”
“They crowd my mind, brother. They keep me back.”
“Perhaps you should not give them reign: it’s a dangerous thing. Pray for strength, little sister, and ask our Father to tear down the walls you’ve made.” He smiled, and the crow’s feet beside his milky eyes crinkled.
It wasn’t the weight of the years and the souls that once filled the chapel—it was not these that blocked me. Raising my eyes once more to the carpeted stairs, I understood. There were briars. Horrible, thorny bushes—wretched. The kind that gleefully snag on the thinnest thread of clothing and find no greater delight than in tearing at exposed flesh. They crowded the isle and surrounded the front most pews, rendering passage to the stairs and the cross impossible.
“I can’t uproot the thorn trees, brother. Believe me, I’ve tried, but they only come back thicker, stronger, and crueler.” Even I could recognize the note of plaintive desperation.
“When did I say anything about you uprooting them? When did I tell you to pluck them up and cast them into the fire? You can’t.”
“But what should I do?”
“You know what you are to do.”
“I can’t. I’m not good enough.”
“He is sufficient.” The ancient eyes wandered to the cross, then focused back on my face.
“Maybe I won’t like them being gone. Perhaps just sitting here is better. Maybe I enjoy them sprawled there, though they block me. Maybe… maybe they’re not even a block at all.”
“Do you really believe that?” He inquired quietly.
“… no. But it would be almost easier if I really did.”
“I don’t know how.”
“Your soul knows how, e’en though your mouth be too weak to find the words.”
I squeezed my eyes shut again, ignoring the tears that had begun to seep between my lashes—and I prayed. I prayed for the briars. I prayed for those ugly, pesky, hideous briars that forever crop up, tangling the path and tearing at my feet. I asked Him to take the briars away, to uproot them and cast them aside. I gave him all my ugly, wretched briars.
I opened my eyes. The stained-glass chapel was gone. Once more I was among ruins. Standing stones, half-buried wood, and the remains of a few steps leading up to… sky. There was only sky where the cross had hung. I knelt at the steps, and cursed the sharp prick of pain from the briar barb that embedded itself in my knee as I did so. Briars. There were still briars. But there were not so many as before. There were only a few, and even they look pale and sickly. Gently, I traced the outline of the thorns with the tip of my finger, pushing aside the brush and twigs—hidden, cradled, and sheltered, a tiny rose greeted me.