by Karla Koon
There I stood, transfixed in wonder in the heart of Rome, in one of many glorious churches. In this sacred space, adorned with sacred art centuries old, I was captured by amazement at two marble steps leading up to a chapel off the left side of the church. As I gazed through the shadows of the sanctuary, each marble step seemed to reveal a perfect half-moon cut out in the tread of the step. I began to walk with increasing haste towards these marble steps with very American thoughts of practicality and concerns about safety. My concerns were affirmed upon closer inspection. Not only was there a divot from right to left in each step, but a dramatic slope from front to back, that if not careful, could be tricky to navigate.
There I stood, inspecting these two marble steps, as if I were going to look for the Sexton to fix them, or take it up with the church’s Buildings and Grounds committee. I was so entwined by my own thoughts that I did not notice that Mass in that chapel had just ended and throngs of people were heading my way. With a quick slide to the side, I made way for the faithful to descend those two steps. My traveling companions quickly ascended into the chapel and made their way to a specific icon of interest, urging me to following. Suddenly, I realized something about those two marble steps. They were not broken, in need of fixing, but rather evidence of footsteps of the faithful who had come before me.
The faithful ascending and descending those two steps over centuries had worn them down, but also exposed a clear path. I tried to imagine all those entering that chapel before me, some of whom were believers and seekers; Italians and tourists; grief-stricken and healed; rich and poor; powerful and oppressed; sinner and saint. Each person with their own story of faith and reasons for entering the chapel. I knew that many entered to pray, worship, and glorify God, but I recognized that some may have come doubtful, angry, and wounded, as a last-ditch effort to find elusive peace.
There I stood, about ready to wear just a little more marble off of those steps. My foot rooted itself to that marble, as the Holy Spirit grafted my soul into all those who had passed before me and to those yet to come. I paused in prayer, in communion and in gratitude.
This memory resurfaced in my heart upon reading today’s scripture passage of 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10, specifically verses 2-6:
We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake.
With my foot poised to take those steps of gratitude, I ascended in thanksgiving with a deliberate stride into the chapel. The path was made imperfect, but God’s perfect love and faithfulness endures.
Karla Koon is a Worship Leader and Eucharistic Minister at St, Andrew’s Episcopal Church, in the Greenlake neighborhood of Seattle. When not serving at church or working as the Director of HR Operations and Administration for Catholic Community Services of Western Washington (Catholic Charities), you can find Karla, reading, quilting, golfing, hiking, kayaking, and gathering with friends and family.