"For those with faith, no explanation is necessary. For those without, no explanation is possible."
– Thomas Aquinas
"Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."
- Rainer Maria Rilke, "Letters to a Young Poet"
Booth cut the engine off in the parking lot, leaving the keys in the ignition.
"I'll be back," he said, leaving his partner in the passenger's seat.
"Booth, I want to come."
"No," he said. "Just stay here."
"Five minutes, that's all." He shut the door on her arguments and headed towards the modest chapel across the lot—well, modest as far as Catholic churches went, anyway. From the outside he could see the colored glass panes forming familiar images he knew as well as the lines of his own hands. After all, he had spent almost every Sunday for thirty years staring at them; they would be hard to forget. It was one of the hallmarks of Catholicism that Booth most appreciated—the consistency. They were all variations of the same tune, so no matter what church he entered he could seek comfort in the familiar, if not identical, images. He pulled on the heavy iron door handle, and it swung open with surprising ease.
While outside it was a bright, breezy summer afternoon, inside the church was dim and thick with the heavy scent of long-burning candles. Light filtered in through the stained glass portraits and the clusters of candles gave off a simmering glow, but aside from that the expansive room was long with shadows. Booth's eyes traced the rows of empty pews as they gave the illusion of converging lines down the long aisle, all the way down to the steps that lead up to the altar. Standing in back of the altar was a life-sized statue of Jesus Christ, with kind eyes and a knowing expression. Arms open, palms up, he seemed to be giving himself to the world—I am here, take the gift.
Booth always found these icons of Jesus much more soothing than the massive crucifixes he often saw hanging at church altars. While it was certainly an effective image, he was much more at ease in the presence of the kind in this chapel. Accepting, understanding, forgiving. When he saw a crucifix, he felt immense guilt—He died for you, this is your fault. When he saw Jesus with his arms open to him, he felt forgiven.
Booth tread lightly down the aisle, as if there were anyone else to disturb. Even though he was alone in the church, some deep childhood fear demanded his absolute stealth and silence—the fear he had as a boy that if he were too loud in church, the Virgin Mary herself might descend upon him and smack his wrist with a ruler for disrespecting the sanctity of God's house. In reality the only smacking he ever got was from his earthly father, but it didn't quell his supernatural fears.
Booth took a seat in a second-row pew, resting on his elbows on the back of the pew in front of him and lacing his fingers together. He rested his forehead against his hands and closed his eyes, and his lips moved silently as he recited words imprinted on his heart from his earliest memory. Our father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name. The prayer came to him effortlessly, as easily as one breathes, and he found that its recitation put him in the right frame of mind for a meaningful talk with God. It was like a warm-up, really, the way a singer glides through their scales just before a performance.
When he visited chapel during the middle of the week, it usually meant they were working on a particularly difficult case. Sometimes Booth would swing by church on his way to work—on a Monday afternoon or a Tuesday morning when no one else would be around to disturb him—and have a one-on-one talk with The Big Guy before he picked up his partner. He liked to do so before he got her and not afterwards, because she would inevitably start an argument attacking his faith, and he would get angry, and it would lead to the tense kind of afternoon he didn't really enjoy at all. So for both of their sakes, he usually did not bring her to church.
Today, though, it couldn't be avoided. In an hour they would be due in court, expert witnesses in a case against a serial killer who had taken the lives of eight young girls—children really, not even old enough to drive themselves to the mall—before the Squint Squad had finally caught him. Booth knew it was him, knew with every fiber of his being that this was their guy, but the defense had built an outstanding case in the killer's favor. They had been battling it out in court all week, and today was their one last shot to destroy any shadow of a doubt that this man was guilty. The defense had expertly lodged seeds of uncertainty in the jury, and if they couldn't convince every one of those people otherwise, a child killer would walk free. Max Keenan being acquitted was one thing—his kills were righteous, if brutal—but this man was a monster, and Booth knew that if they couldn't secure a conviction, the blood of any and every child endangered by this man would be on his hands.
The entire situation overwhelmed him, and it had brought him here. He squeezed his eyes shut as he asked for the strength to make it through the day, the wisdom to say the right words, and most of all the justice that so badly needed to be served. Please, he begged, don't let this guy walk free. He looked up over his hands and the tall statue seemed to watch him as he prayed, head tilted slightly in attention, listening to his nearly inaudible words with a kind smile.
"Nice statue," she said as she slid into the pew next to him, nearly causing him to jump out of his skin. Whether he had not been paying attention or she had been extraordinarily sneaky he wasn't sure, but she had definitely caught him off guard.
"I asked you to wait in the car," he grumbled, giving her a sidelong look as she leaned back in the pew, arms crossed over her chest, surveying the altar before them.
"You were taking a long time," she said. "Besides, I enjoy observing religious ceremonial practices. I find the connection between humans and the supernatural fascinating."
"I thought you said you didn't believe in God," Booth whispered, with Brennan nearly having to read his lips when he said didn't believe, as if by just saying the words he might incur the wrath of the Mighty.
"I don't," she said loudly, causing him to cringe. "By connection I don't mean a literal, supernatural existence. What I mean is the attempted mobilization of imagined supernatural deities by ritual acts."
"Mobilization of… what?" Booth asked, resting his chin on one hand and giving her a thoroughly confused look.
"What you're doing right now," she explained, gesturing towards the altar. "Or, were doing. When you pray, you ask your god for protection, or to somehow intercede in nature on your behalf, correct? To make things go your way?"
"Sometimes," he said.
"Right. That's the primary function of religion in human culture—a means by which humans try to manipulate uncontrollable circumstances through appeal to the controlling supernatural powers. When a culture brings about religion, it's attempting to rationalize the often tragic unpredictability of life on this planet. For example, if a famine causes a food shortage and many people starve to death, that society's religious beliefs might lead them to understand that they somehow angered their gods, and the famine served as their punishment. Because of the mobilization of their religious beliefs and practices, they rationalize that the famine was the will of the gods, not an uncontrollable natural phenomenon, and therefore something they have potential control over in the future if they engage in the appropriate religious observations."
"That's great," Booth said, slightly annoyed. "But what does that have to do with you sitting here talking to me while I'm trying to pray?"
"Well," she said, smoothing the lap of her skirt with her hands. "When individuals like you, who are indoctrinated in a belief system, experience hardship caused by uncontrollable external factors, they turn to the established practices and rituals of that religious system in an attempt to make sense of their suffering. Now we have science as a means by which to understand natural phenomena, so religion should theoretically no longer be a prevalent facet of human culture, and yet millions of people like you still utilize it cross-culturally. I find that puzzling, and by observing you as you use your faith to rationalize your experiences, I hope to better understand the position of religion in modern society."
"So you want me to be your God experiment?" Booth asked. Brennan shifted in her seat.
"Not an experiment," she said. "Just someone I can observe in their religious practices, so that the practicality of religion in modern society might make more sense to me."
"It won't," Booth said, leaning back in the pew and crossing his arms in a mime of her own posture.
"Make sense ," he said. "Not to you, anyway. No matter how much you watch me pray, or how many services you go to, if you look at it like that it's never gonna make sense to you."
"Look at it like what?" she asked.
"The way you do, like it's outdated and stupid, like religious people are out of touch with reality."
"I didn't say you were out of touch with reality," she defended. "I just said that religion is a tool utilized by humans to make sense of uncontrollable situations."
"Whatever. Either way, the way you've got it figured out in your head, you'll never understand it."
"Booth, I believe you're underestimating my intelligence," she said, sounding a little miffed. "I have yet to come across a concept that I have not been able to fully grasp, given the time to study it."
"No, I know how smart you are, Bones," he said. "That's why you won't get it. You think you can break everything down to science, or study it out of a textbook."
"You can," she said plainly.
"Nope," he disagreed. "And as long as you look at God and religion as something you can stick under a microscope or as some anthropological theory, you'll never get it. Not the way you want to." She scanned Booth's face with her eyes, brows tense.
"Then how do I?" she asked. "How am I supposed to understand a relic of human culture that logically should have been discarded during the Enlightenment, when it became obsolete? Something that has no scientific backing, no definitive proof, that people still latch onto as if it were true? How, Booth, am I supposed to understand that?" Booth tilted his chin up slightly, seeming to weigh her question carefully. A slight smile touched his lips, as he gestured towards the altar.
"Ask him," he said.
"Ask him?" she asked incredulously, giving him a look that suggested she did not enjoy being toyed with, if that was his intent. "Is that seriously your answer to my question?"
"Yes," Booth said. "Ask him, and you'll figure it out. But not right now—we've got a date with a jury, and you know how they get when we're late. Come on, let's go." He lifted her up off the pew by her upper arm, and together they headed towards the exit.
As the door was closing, Brennan took a quick look back into the church, down the aisle, to the statue that stood at the altar. Ask him, he had said. She drew her bottom lip between her teeth. Ask him what?
"Come on, Bones!" Booth called out, cranking the SUV's engine to life. She smiled and shook her head, letting the door shut behind her. She'd figure it out eventually.