Thursday, 27 November 2008
The unconquerable walls
The body of the old church looked pristine. It was so smooth, like the alabaster skin of a virgin bride. Jacob wanted to touch and stroke its walls. He longed to climb it, but he had little knowledge and still less skill when it came to such things.
Jacob had seen a man, on TV, called the human spider or some such epithet. He could climb up vertical structures, tall buildings with almost no footholds or handholds. All the time he’d push himself further, make the acts more dangerous, watch the crowds get bigger. Did they gather beneath him to see him succeed; to tackle this mighty and impossible edifice and defeat it? Or did they gather to see him fail, and hopefully fall to a grisly end? They could tell their friends: ‘I was there, I saw him fall. It took longer than you’d think, you know, to hit the ground...’
It didn’t matter to the human spider though. He said that he never worried why the crowd had gathered, because he knew he would never fall. He would keep climbing until there was nothing more to climb, rather than let himself fall back to Earth.
Looking up at the church again, Jacob stepped back to admire it more fully. He had no idea quite how old it was, but ‘the old church on Bethel Street’; that was the only way he knew it. It had a richness that spoke of the decadence of organised religion; of the Papacy and the secrets held deep within Vatican vaults. And yet, he knew nothing of its denomination, though it spoke stoically of Catholicism. All he knew was that the deep mysteries of faith and belief in the divine were held inside these walls; secure in near darkness, candlelight and the filtered unreality of stained glass.
Jacob longed to belong then, to become a part of this great building, this great Church, this institution of understanding and security. How wonderful, he thought, it would be to be assured. To be certain of one thing in this life; one thing that would make it all worthwhile and take all the fear out of it, out of everything you ever had to do.
He reached out to touch the smooth walls once more. His hand hovered, tantalisingly, over the perfect brickwork but he withdrew, suddenly. He felt something strange, a shuddering, like an earth tremor beginning.
That was enough, he thought. Enough for today, and he turned his back on the perfection of the church and its unconquerable walls. He stepped quickly along the narrow street and off around the bend.