Tuesday, 5 May 2015

RELIGION JUST A SUGAR PILL?


Looking back, the books I read in my run up to the Alpha Course were a wonderfully unfettered way to learn about Jesus and quite a lot of biblical stuff. Remember, I’d never attended Sunday School. My convent school religious education was based on a well-thumbed Catechism book that told me what to believe. My confirmation course in the Anglican Church was really an escape hatch to stroll through Boksburg, buy ice-cream and have toast for breakfast in the rectory.

Now 50, I was on an incredibly exciting journey of discovery – no epiphany, no lightning bolts but sensing a new beginning. It was also a welcome diversion from my hectic work and social diary, brain exercise. I hadn’t studied since my twenties. It was also long before The Tudors series was broadcast which would have put me off Anglicanism, despite that sexy Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

Besides the off-the-wall books about Jesus, there were a variety of others.  These included fascinating archaeological finds (remember I wasn’t born with faith in my back pocket I needed proof), Judaic history and Greek history. Admittedly the Crusades and all their barbarity took a lot of shine off Christianity but then I wasn’t all that interested in following Jesus or killing people in his name. As the founder of a large PR agency I had long been used to dealing at chief executive level so the Son was interesting but if I was going to leap into a faith abyss I expected the ‘Main Man’ to do the catching. (In my PR life I was teaching chief executives ‘management by walkabout’ and the importance of an open door policy).

Running parallel to this was another development. In the second week after I’d attended my first Eucharist in about 35 years I called the parish to ask if they ‘did meditation’ in the Anglican Church. The rector’s response was “hang on I’ll call my wife, she’s into it”.  She was quick to share, “I’ve just finished a meditation and realised I think I’m God.”  We made an appointment for the next day.

I didn’t understand then but she was my first Spiritual Director.  The weekly psychology sessions were replaced by visits to the rectory. The coffee was excellent, the session were free and there was no reining either me or my reading in. Nor was there any proselytizing or effort to argue theological points. There was just lots of encouragement to continue my journey of discovery. And, because the rector had worked in the ad industry, a great understanding of my work life. There was also quiet amusement when I enquired if the best looking guy in the choir was single. (I’d find out later that he was gay.)

Today I count the three of them among my dearest friends and I fully agree with that marvellous Catholic priest Gerard Hughes who authored the best-selling God of Surprises. He argued that there is no such thing as coincidences, they are all God-incidences.

I’d spent a fortune on books but that little book would be that real beginning of my faith journey. Never one to subscribe to dogma Fr Gerry brought Church into different focus. Most importantly, he declared that God could never be fully understood because if this was so God simply wouldn’t be God. It made imminent sense and I stopped trying to prove God existed. Instead I stepped tentatively into the realm of mystery. But it was still a game of chance.

Those of you who were born with faith will probably have no concept how high those stakes were. So often when I share that I only really became a Christian at the age of 50 the response is “You must have been really happy for the first time in your life!” It wasn’t happiness I needed, I’d had huge doses of that throughout my privileged life. What I wanted was a spiritual dimension, balance. BUT with me still in full control.  

But I get ahead of myself! There was still the Alpha Course. It began with the traditional introductory dinner. I’d had a day from hell so had a long hot bath to unwind before heading for the parish hall.  I also poured an extra-large glass of wine to sip while I soaked, knowing full well that I’d be drinking fruit juice with supper. I was wrong.
As I walked through the door, I was offered a choice of “red or white wine?” An auspicious beginning. But as I watched the slick Nicky Gumble video, I couldn’t help spotting the production tricks. I could smell PR a mile off. But I enjoyed the company at my table and the following day my Spiritual Director assured me the course would “improve”. More of that later.

Writing this has reminded me how many of my Christians seems to enjoy unwavering faith. They never seem to doubt our religious rituals or question the Church’s teachings.  I now understand that it will never be as easy for me. Faith eludes me at the most inconvenient times. Sometimes I struggle to believe in unconditional grace. Or I just plain wonder if religion isn’t one big panacea. Yet I have acquired a relationship with God that permeates every aspect of my life – sometimes very inconvenient, invariably humbling but always dynamic.  I now accept that like most relationships this one will always have it ups and downs.  Of course I don’t play fair, I assume God will always be constant.

Do you also have faith wobbles? I’ve decided to give Archbishop Shakes, the main protagonist in my novel, a crisis of faith so your input would be very welcome.


May the Force be with you!

1 comment:

Peter Nickles said...

I can easily identify with the dynamics of your relationship with God......it mirrors my own.
My unresolved puzzle (there's a dose of tautology!) is why God doesn't lose patience with me........a great mystery.