Friday, 17 July 2015


One of several Twitter responses to my previous post was a suggestion from the blogger of ‘Afropomorphism’ that my deep sense of God as I watched a butterfly emerge from a cocoon had been triggered by my own bias.

That brought me up short. Here I was sharing my Damascus moment and the suggestion was that the experience was about wishful thinking! The again, my post had been how we shape God to our own purposes. I began to respond to my challenger with ‘possibly’ but changed that to ‘probably’.

The ultimate bias
Any atheist worth her salt will tell you that personal experience is the ultimate bias. As such it is the hardest to overcome. If something is real to you, and you feel you’ve experienced it directly, it can be more persuasive than a million scientific studies. Of course there’s always Gerard Hughes’ sage comment that God is not explainable, an enigma. That we find God through experience not Church dogma.

His theory was that, instead of God asking us why we had committed certain sins, the first question when we arrived at heaven would be; ‘Did you enjoy my creation?’

Fr Gerry also said too many spiritual books were destructive and an easy way to make money: ‘There are lots of beautiful words. God is here ......., so all will be well. Just trust, they [readers] are told. Trust in what? Just trust in what I am telling you is the message. There is very little attempt to encourage people to listen to their own experience, to discover things for themselves.’

Whatever it was, that experience in my garden meditation triggered a deep awe. In an inexplicable way I had sensed a Creator with a capital C as opposed to ‘a greater impersonal force’, ‘the super being’. Architects will tell you God is in the details. I agree.

There I was, more attuned to shopping malls than nature. One who chose to stay at the holiday cottage and read a book while others walked along the beach.

I identified birds as brown, white or black jobs and confused Egyptian Geese with ducks.

My bias in those days would have leaned towards an epiphany with more drama. At the very least a lightning bolt.

Ah well, I’ve since learned to take my miracles, my God incidences, where I find them.

Yin and yang
That retreat was all about taking time out to allow my yin and my yang to connect, slowly edging towards a semblance of spiritual balance. No. I wasn’t ‘reborn’ or filled with mystical joy. But I left the convent in the beginnings of a relationship with my Creator.

Even if you are not all that keen on God I can recommend a couple of days in a monastery or a convent to busy executives. It’s a lot cheaper than a health spa. Besides, there’s no TV, cell phones, no one to impress. You’ll be left to your own devices if that’s what you want. It’s a little like being on a desert island.

The convent I visited is in Rosettenville, Johannesburg, an oasis in a not very posh suburb. The nuns have since either died or returned to their mother House in Whitby, England, but it is still an Anglican retreat house.

Back in my day, as grandmother used to say, it was much favoured by bishops and archbishops for their retreats, including our beloved Desmond Tutu. 

There’s a lovely story about one of his stays. The nuns had gone out to dinner and Jackie, a tiny ferociously Anglican housekeeper, saw no need to answer the phone. After all, the guests, including The Arch, were all on silent retreat and not taking calls.

When a monk from the monastery across the road came across to tell her that State President Nelson Mandela was desperately trying to get hold of the archbishop Jackie was adamant. “No. He is in silence.” Eventually the monk persuaded her to leave the decision to The Arch and to ask him to be close to the phone when Madiba’s office called.

The phone was just off the kitchen and as The Arch waited Jackie showed her disapproval, as was her wont, by scrubbing the floor around his feet.

The following day the monk gently suggested that the Sister in Charge should explain to Jackie that the State President was very important. This she duly did but wasn’t sure if Jackie fully understood. So she asked, “Do you understand how important Mr Mandela is?’’

“No he’s not,” Jackie retorted, "he’s just a Methodist!”

Speaking of The Arch, he is in hospital for a persistent infection but the family assures that he is improving. You may want to pray for him and them.

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