Praying The Steps

Tonight [or this morning, however you like it] we left the house at 12:30am to go walk up a bunch of steps. But they're not just any steps. These are part of a sacred tradition in the lives of thousands of Cincinnatians. They're so hallowed that they're even getting a million-dollar makeover sometime in the next few years, despite the fact that they only see major traffic one day a year.

The Good Friday tradition of "praying the steps" is one of the best known spiritual events in the city of Cincinnati. The ascent of the 85 stairs from St. Gregory Street to the Holy Cross-Immaculata Church in Mount Adams, is a tradition that dates back 150 years. The priest at the church explained the history in a recent Cin Weekly article:

"The whole story seems to be that in 1850 our Bishop Purcell (namesake of Purcell-Marian High School) was returning from a trip from Rome when his ship encountered a very terrible storm. People wanted to gather together and pray, and during that prayer he apparently promised God that if they were saved from the storm, he would erect a church at the highest point in Cincinnati.

"So, when he got back, he erected a cross at the top of the hill, marking the place for the church. From the beginning there weren't many streets up here, so people used to walk this mud path up the hill, especially on Good Friday to pray. Then the city built steps all over Mount Adams because it was a way for people to get up here.

"The church building was finished in 1859. The steps began as wood, then concrete - actually the city's supposed to redo them again." And it's been a Catholic tradition ever since.

I know what some of you are already thinking. Steve: you're not Catholic. That is correct, but after much thought, I don't give a rip. Nobody forced me to pray to Mary, so all was well. And the whole climb took over an hour, so an hour of prayer never hurt anyone, especially me.

I always wanted to pray the steps, and when we moved to edge of Mount Adams I was certain we'd make it there. With Kaelyn coming early, I thought this might be a family tradition that we could start this year. The weather was perfect for it, and Kelly suggested a nighttime trip as opposed to daytime. So we packed up the sleeping baby in the car, parked a block away from the church, loaded Kaelyn into our handy-dandy baby backpack, and headed on up.

There was a good crowd there already; we saw quite a few young people who were joking right up until they reached the foot of the stairs and then got silent. Once you hit the stairs, there was a calmness that came over the observers. I swear, the trek was about as moving as some of the experiences we had in Israel. Standing on each step, holding my wife's hand with my daughter snuggled on my chest, offering prayers of praise to God was wonderful. It was a great night.

Three observations:

1) What a way to start off Good Friday! I rarely have stopped to observe the day that Christ was crucified. We Protestants tend to jump right past the day and get Jesus out of the grave ASAP. I'm forever grateful for an empty tomb, but I hope I can always take the time to be somber because of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. His brutal death is my reason for hope. That's why the day is Good, but it first had to be horrific for it to end up Good.

2) Not being Catholic was a distinct disadvantage when it came to the journey: no Hail Mary's or Our Father's to throw out. It's a little intimidating, thinking that you have to come up with something for each of the 85 steps, but once I started praying I almost wanted to slow it down a bit. There's been too much to be thankful for this year.

3) Kaelyn did really well. About two-thirds of the way up she started getting antsy. Kelly had brought an emergency bottle, with only a small amount of milk, which the little girl downed in no time. She then proceeded to fall back asleep. I'll brag: everyone was looking at her because she was so cute. Who knows: she might be the youngest person to ascend the steps this year [I'll take the assist].

I'll wrap this up with a beautiful photo of Kelly and Kaelyn with the church in the background:

What a wonderful night!