What’s your view of religion?
Is it a non-thing to you? Is it your lifestyle? Are you ‘spiritual without being religious’? Are you a church-going Christian? Do you follow another faith?
I was brought-up in the world of the Church of England’s entitlement, one of England’s smug liberal people who know they’re CofE, don’t eat meat on good Friday, buy Christmas presents for everyone and enjoy jolly good Christmas and Easter festivals, go to christenings and weddings and yet have no relationship with God whatsoever. Nothing wrong with this at all, it’s just modern England for you: smugness the other side of liberalism: our country, our religion, our right.
But me personally? I’ve been a deep-thinking type for as long as I can remember, a natural introvert and God and I have had a weird old relationship, since I discovered him around the age of 14 as a pious, earnest teenager. I was impressed by the Gideons when they visited the school and my friend and I starting reading the Bible together in the evenings. We volunteered for charity work and visited an older lady in my friend’s street as a ‘companion’, where I learned about life between the wars and saw a glimpse of a different kind of life and a different breed of people.
I sung in a church choir, though I was never very musically-minded and was tone-deaf! I felt something different when I was singing hymns, something stirring deep in me that I could never quite work out and felt that there was something greater than you and I. It was just ‘something’, a world and a concept greater than the here and now.
I left God when I started at university, when education taught me away from the idea of ‘organised religion’. It was cool and trendy to laugh at and scorn it, while remaining a member of the smug bunch buying Christmas presents and celebrating festivals because the rest of the country was doing so – lipservice to a faith none of my friends and few of my family followed, complacent in our right to choose to believe or not.
But as is the way of these things that are deeper and more part of you than you ‘think’ about, God snuck up on me again. It was in the form of my new fiance’s vicar, who became a good personal friend. “Meet Peter” my boyfriend, the product of an old-style Orange Lodge Protestant upbringing, said about his mother’s vicar. Peter was a High Anglican priest who had a pragmatic spirituality and an unforgettable ability to make it ‘make sense’, so having my children baptised was not simply a rite of passage for me, the whole concept went deeper than that. I studied the Bible with a renewed vigour and socialised with Peter more than my own husband, who attended church out of duty and obligation for his mother’s sake and I was confirmed.
Eventually disillusioned by ‘Sunday morning Christianity’, possibly more to do with a deep dissatisfaction in my own life and my husband at the time, I chucked God yet again for Buddha, Celtic Christianity, native American philosophies… I was at the ‘eat, pray, love’ stage of early middle age/post-married life and addressing my role in life; what was the real me? Where did God really exist, if he existed? Why had he given me such shit in life when all I wanted to do was ‘be’?
I eventually realised that me and my god was in me all the time, not out there at all. A secret you know but don’t ‘know’ until it actually happens is that you don’t need to spend a fortune to go to India and follow the yogic sheep, like smug middle class whatsername did in the book and film, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. Nor do you have to travel to Australia to back-pack, or China to ‘broaden the mind’, or even, curiously, to read every almanac, bible, treatise, to teach you how to behave, how to love and how to live. It’s in you, the meaning of life is always in ‘you’ but we are often too scared to tap into it, to really ‘feel’ how human feelings feel. We’re too busy searching out there, seeking external stimulants, external things to do and often don’t reflect on what is really important.
So I thank god and most of all, I thank me. I found an understanding of my little part in life, what I can do, the talents I can use. I don’t go to church on Sundays, although I do still read the Bible. I do still see my vicar friend and his wife every so often. I’ve done work in homeless shelters with him and I give a percentage of my income to a charity of my choice. And I try, as best as I can, to practice what I preach. I still don’t like the concept of ‘Sunday morning Christians’ who go on fancy foreign holidays and overlook homelessness and similar ‘societal problems’ like it’s nothing to do with them. I live up to my moral responsibility and I can sleep at night.
I’ve found god in me. I meditate most days and have finally found a sense of presence and of calm and a way to live.