My mind was in a hundred different places as I was making my way up the three flights of stairs to my office. My thoughts were swirling with to-do lists, my concentration thrown by the competing priorities among my many vocational pursuits. I am admittedly a slower stair climber than the young collegiates who often spring two-stairs at a time past me, politely nodding in my general direction. It makes me feel old…or at least, older. But, taking the stairs is part of my daily exercise routine, so I trudge up them no matter how I am feeling, nor what I am carrying with me physically or emotionally.
This particular Friday morning, I heard steps quickly approaching behind me. I moved intuitively toward the right and took a moment to unbutton my coat, pausing as if I had deliberately slowed down to do so. While performing this little routine, my attention shifted to the view from the full-length windows emerging at the top of the stairwell. The sky was dark and ominously cloudy, with piercing light cutting through across the city rooftops. It was a breathtaking scene. But, within this landscape my eyes were drawn to a suddenly illuminated green spire from a nearby church. It was the same church, St. James, from which I used to delight in daily office chimes.
The sound of footsteps stopped, and I heard the young man behind me audibly sigh. “Wow.” I turned to look at him, feeling the moment of serendipity which had caught us both. I was about to joke about the “stairwell with a view” when he added, “I don’t usually care much for city scapes, but I have never noticed that green spire before…it’s stunning.”
His words caught me off-guard, since I had assumed he was reacting to the dramatic skyline as a whole. But, instead, it was a simple, aged copper church spire that had caught both of our attention.
We stood there for a few seconds, in silence, surrounded by the scene unfolding in the full-length windows. What an unlikely place to take in a moment of awe. I have often wondered why the building designers had constructed the best view in this entire building inside a stairwell. In that moment, I felt like it could have all been an elaborate plan so that I could get that one glimpse of ordinary, illuminated brilliance on this particular day.
The clouds of my mind parted. I suddenly knew something real, something deep in my soul that was beyond a word, any words. It was the kind of knowing that requires time to sink in before it can fully form as conscious thought. But, unmistakably, it was there.
Outside, the clouds drifted to a more ordinary scene and we nodded to each other and went our respective ways. Walking into my office, I immediately noticed the words of a Mary Oliver poem, “Praying” which I have written on my white board:
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
These are days where I prepare, and wait, and appreciate times to quiet my mind. I will treasure all the moments I can to step inside the sacred space of solitude, to listen to the message unfolding.
The green spire, my doorway.