“Pontius Pilate.” Fiction. Based on a True Step Work.

Inspired by Holy Stairs

“Pontius Pilate”

Fiction. Based on a True Step Work.

by Mingjie Zhai

This journal entry is inspired by true events. Some of the characters, names, businesses, incidents, and certain locations and events have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes. Any similarity to the name, character or history of any person is entirely coincidental and unintentional.

Trigger Warning: our program often motivates people to discuss their trauma. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, please, take a step back to address emotional flashbacks and trauma before continuing to push yourself. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 or the National Suicide Hotline at (1-800) 273-8255.

Dear Rylie,

Per your request I’m beginning to let go of the fantasy that you’ll somehow pull me in for a third kiss if I somehow show up at your front door.

In my fantasy, I would knock on your door and you open the door as a single man. I would come as a pleasant surprise; You would be shocked in a good way, but you would mask it in prideful anger. At first, you would act like I violated your privacy, but I would apologize for acting inappropriate before you can say anything. Then you’ll look and my sincere light brown eyes and my pursed lips, and you’ll pull me in for a kiss.

I’ll explain that I’ve been thinking about you since our first second kiss. I would confess that I don’t know it all, that I’m willing to get honest and authentic around you, that I’m willing to let my walls down and put my claws back inside my paws.

The Ghost of John Keats

Yesterday, the ghost of John Keats told me life is too short to be stuck in sad. Instead, I should do what he did. Instead of writing an entire book of poetry about unrequited love, something Keats is painfully familiar with, I should publish my diaries.

I can totally see how you have left the faith because those who proclaim Christ or any other religious affiliations can still act like an asshole. Perhaps, the religious types that are worst, because they claim the ideal while falling so short of it.

Who wouldn’t put some distance when they know they are being revealed in stories?
Yet, there is a silver lining to this: I would say to you, “I’m sober thanks to you. I’m more at peace everyday, and the demons of lust and gluttony are beginning to loosen their stronghold over me.”

I’m recovering. It is Drinker’s Den where I tap into my dark humor and where I take responsibility for my actions …someone in the rooms said that once you take alcohol out of the alcoholic, you are left with the ic.

and you called it out: “you’re sick.”

But your ugly truth was exactly what I needed to hear to get better. I was willing this time. What changed? I started falling for you…after the second kiss.

I told a room full of strangers how I pushed you away. I told them as soon as I realized that I was falling in love with you, I knew to do all the things you’re not supposed to do when at the beginning stages of dating. I told them I texted you on Facebook in an attempt to make it seem like I’m some out of control manic and obsessive girl acting crazy…well maybe that part of me was true, but I’ll admit that I was secretly delighted that you were a bit scared of me, because I was terrified of you.

I didn’t like how I could fall again, so then I thought I’d really show what prowess and power I had by sending food to your work when you never told me where you worked followed by a four page letter basically saying I can’t stay. The room laughed and then when I told them you said I was crazy, the room laughed louder.

And now that I revisit the first two steps of the Twelve Step program everyday…
Step One: that I’m powerless over my addictions including you…and
Step Two: that God can restore me to sanity.
I’m just ready to publish my next book and dedicate it to you.

Then I’ll move forward, because that’s all I can do. I can only clean my side of the street. I know you have a lot of work to do as well—the type that helps you find your true north…not the busy distraction and avoidance kind of work…but the kind that goes straight to the root—The way out is in but you don’t need a mother or mentor out of me…you just need a compassionate friend to listen to you without judgement.

I had a lot of judgements.
Judgements against you.

Yesterday I judged the man who managed a basilica overlooking the Spanish Steps in Spagna. He scolded me for having Roxy inside the Basilica. Then he scolded the lady beggar perched outside of the church door. After he yelled at her, I asked him if he knows Jesus. Well that could be said of me as well. Everybody is terribly flawed, sick, and full of false humility and false pride.

When I walked down the Spanish Steps I saw stores with expensive clothes, perfumes, and jewelry worn by lifeless mannequins. People stared in with their expensive cameras and bags of clothing as people passed by the woman beggar whose head was kow towed on the concrete as if she was part of the mannequins displayed.

I know exactly what you meant that evening when you shared how you saw a man throwing up and a nurse sitting next to him was unmoved, smoking a cigarette. I wondered…did you do anything?

We’ve become apathetic, perhaps numbed by the shock of violence, misery, and death all around us.

I believe we are in purgatory. The good news about purgatory is that we all have a chance to redeem ourselves, and I believe I’m close to finding a path.

You once asked me to pray for you to get you out of hell. I’ve been doing that in between the silence of the lonely moments, when I pass an orange cat, or when I see the orange sash somewhere in a painting. Remember that day you showed me your UK passport and I took it and pretended to throw it out the window? Your face was one of timid shock, but I was just messing with you. Well, I’m clinging to this hope that this time you’ll mess with me—that perhaps, like the passport, you’d pretend you’re throwing it out the window when in reality, it is the most precious thing you want to hold onto—for safe travels, for a sliver of freedom, perhaps a silver lining among the tragedy. Perhaps you can call my sister and my dad again to explain how crazy I am still for not giving up on you after almost two years.

Stubborn silly girl that I am.

Still, I won’t apologize for loving you.


A Young Artist

You’re sitting inside St. John’s Basilica reading James Joyce’s A Portrait of a Young Artist, alone among the glory of this prestigious holy portal.

You realize there were many moments in your life when you were among a crowd yearning for an escape, that what you really wanted to do at the time was to do something like this—to just be in quiet contemplation, reading a crazy book about a crazy boy who knows too much of the world’s craziness in peace.

You listen to “Sunflower” ? while inside the Vatican and it sinks in.

The Good Shepherd is now the one serenading you:

You’d be left in the dust, unless I stuck by ya.

The Steps

You took your time, even when people started passing you.

The thing about the Holy Stairs, also known as Sconta Scala, is that it’s supposed to be uncomfortable since it was the very steps where Jesus walked up to Pontious Pilot, already wearing the crown of thorns, whip stains seared on his back, bleeding down with sweat as he walked up to receive the unjust condemnation of death.

Pilgrims are supposed to pray and meditate on their knees as you inch your way up the white marble steps, shins, knee caps, and all. You watched others do it before you got down on your knees. Once you begin and after the first few steps, you felt the flow and your crown chakra tingle…

The Confessional
Earlier, above the Sconta Scala

You found the courage to step into a confessional.
Your first one.

As soon as the door closed behind you and the Priest sat back, you told him that you would probably cry.

He gave you tissues and you told him the truth.


When you were done talking, there was a brief pause.
He tells you to trust in Jesus.
He tells you that you are absolved of all sins.

You snot into a few more tissues you ask for.
On your way out, you felt a spiritual relief.

You had to hear it from another vessel of God even though, in your heart of hearts, prior to stepping into the booth you were already absolved. You had two water baptisms because after the first time, you had backpedaled. Even after the second water baptism you backpedaled again. But now, you’re at the confessional. Liquid grace.

You needed the reminder because you know the problem isn’t whether or not God forgives you, but whether or not you can forgive yourself.

The Black Heart

You saw Mary Magdalene in black, wearing a black heart pendant, holding out a white handkerchief, with a deeply pained look on her face.

It was a look of incredulity. How unfair, how cruel, how bitter to kill God himself, which goes to show that even if you were perfect ?, it would still not be good enough. The first sin of covetous is still the battle we fight inside “not good enough” and that is what ultimately killed God’s son—the enemy’s envy when cowering before perfect love.

Marble White Steps

The Scala Santa Steps were wavy, like the wrinkles of an oak tree, except it is made of marble. They were supposed to have covered the steps the day before but for some reason they did not cover it when you arrive the day after.
Wait for the rabbit— “I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!”
When you begin inching forward with your knees, you realize that you are just on time—God knows you well enough to know you’d be late for this, so he extended a day for you to be on time.
One step at a time.
For slow rabbits like you.

The walking up represents Jesus’ passion—God’s knowing of just how hopeless it is for the rest of us without God’s love and grace. The game is rigged. Terribly rigged. Perhaps, it is these steps where Jesus walked up to Pontius Pilot that God truly had compassion for the plight of all human existence who are infected by the original sins of doubt, envy, and fear—the weight of fibannaci’s sequence spiraling downward into hell and those were all the revelations of God’s understanding of the impossibility of winning this fight without His forgiveness.

“Forgive them, for they know not what they do,” Jesus tells God.

And that is the revelation you received kneeling up these marbled steps. You wonder where on these marble steps his blood, sweat, and tears landed.

The leftover waters washing baby Jesus could heal lepers. Your camera bag was broken open when you tried to close it, but because it was broken open. In this bag the Red Nikon, some used up tissue, and your flashcards with a pen inside shows.
Heaven’s Trump card.

Jesus’ 11th hour—his do and die time. Put up and shut up. Bad guys were excused so their time in purgatory extends its sentence, but Jesus’ time to go back home has come.

You wonder if he was elated or terrified. Since he is fully human, you’re pretty sure terror was present while He had 100% faith. This is how quantum physics are able to see the one inside the zero. He feared the pain but elated in the passion.

You fight to focus just on hearing Christ speak to you.

Be still and know that I am God.

Don’t rush. Don’t push.

You ignored the advice earlier, eager to get started on these steps. That’s why the zipper snapped. Now with all your “stuff” exposed going up these holy stairs that has been hidden for the past 300 years now open for you to walk up the same steps Jesus walked, you hear a voice say to you, “why do you burden yourself with things? Isn’t it tiring? You know you will carry none of these when you come home.”

Then, you pay attention to the thoughts coming through— “how embarrassing,” “dang, I have to carry this bag awkwardly on the way back home” and the irritation crept up, aiming to distract you of the meditative significance of where you actually are.

Energy Portals

Energy portals. Think energy portals. High resonances of redemptive blues—waves of blue, then Royal blue… up you go, one step at a time, and you have snot all over you from the crying you did earlier. You blow your nose into the blue scarf you bought for one Euro to cover your shoulders, out of respect for this basilica. The pilgrims directly in front look back at you, annoyed.

You judge them with the same measure: judgemental hypocrites. Focus on your own salvation! Stop worrying about mine.

And boom. First download on the steps.
Focus on your own race set before you.

Next, trust God.
You look around and think…God is working through everyone here simultaneously?
They are just as important and unique as I am?
That can’t be possible. Everyone else looks so plain, so ordinary, so …flawed.
There is a part of you that thinks you’re the most special…
the rest ahead of you and behind you are just extras to your own movie but then you laugh inside because you realize that each person probably thinks the same as you do—some people’s ego are uglier than yours and others are more humble—still, they experience reality as becoming the main star to their own reality show.
You become the extra, perhaps even the antagonist now that you’ve blown snot while crawling up the steps.

You get to the top when it’s your time to get to the top.
There will always be people ahead of you and always be people behind you.
You get to the finish line when it’s your time to get to the finish line.

St. Marias in Trastevere

You walk into a worship chapel and people are sitting in the pews. You realize you’re sitting because you want to pray. You take some time to mediate and bells ring. Suddenly, everyone inside the pews are standing and so you stand.

Two priests in red clothes with golden embroidery in the shape of a sword and lettering walk in. They start speaking in German. It is a Catholic mass where the two priests do a call and the audiences affect a response, except it is all in German. You only understand two things during the one hour mass—”freedom” and “nobody is perfect.”

You think that if Rylie saw this, he would be cracking up at you—the lost tourist. And you would be laughing with him. You imagine what life would be like if the two of you were sitting together like a normal and sane family unit. It would be a facade, because more likely, you would sit with complete irritation and satisfaction because the mass is boring but the fact that you are his “woe-man” adds flush to your cheeks. You think perhaps you could sit through something like this at a family function of his, when family things become tough and boring. He would be sitting there for you and you would be sitting there for him. He would understand the message whilst you would feel the spirit.

You stuck out.
You were wearing red and the only black haired Chinese American there.
All were blonde and brunette Germans speaking in German.

You, the Priests, and Mary were wearing red that morning.

At the end of the mass you took the wafer in your mouth. This time with tears from both eyes were coming down. You meditate on ART.


Ah yes.
Accept that you’re in this mass with a bunch of German speaking tourists in Rome, Italy at St Maria’s not understanding any German accept for “freedom” and “nobody’s perfect,” and yet you’ve still managed to cry and smile.

You’re exactly where you are supposed to be. You imagine your spiritual kids setting this all up ready for the day they come to this world when you and Rylie finally tie the knot and he rubs your round belly—the round belly carrying his child …ahh with the Orange Sash, the Orange Cat, and the Germans singing German in Rome.

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