Thirty five years ago, I sat in a Salvation Army Citadel to shoot the last of a series of six programmes about programmes about faith and belief and how those ideas applied to the agony column. And an old man taught me a wonderful lesson.
“Faith is a bridge of glass” he said. “You don’t know it’s there till you put your foot on it.”
Never mind what you call him, for me, the Presence is there.
An American friend used to refer to him as The Man Upstairs.
The gender of the address is less important than the respect – I know radical
feminists who refer to the Goddess. It is another face of the same thing.
Atheists, leave now.
From time to time, any of us may have a bad day. It used to be called being blue but the blue has darkened.
For some, depression is a major part of a personality, a condition or an illness.
But I am talking about the days when, for any of a variety of reasons, any or all of us might feel pulled down.
Sometimes we have an explanation for this, sometimes we don’t. The air of our troubled world is fraught with conflict, smoke, illegal emissions, the endless hum of electricity and duplicity. The one you love doesn’t call back. Your child is in trouble, someone is unwell, things you thought would run smoothly don’t…
Happy (or at least happier) are those who can ignore what’s going on, work their way round the impediment.
I am not one of them. “Don’t think about it” doesn’t work for me.
Is the glass half empty or half full? It doesn’t matter. It’s the same glass.
Life is awful and wonderful usually within seconds of each other and often puzzlingly.
There must be a logic but it isn’t a human one.
“I never thought of you as a Christian” somebody remarked in affronted tones.
I am not.
“But are you Jewish?” Through my antecedents. Reading yiddishkeit (of Jewish matters) has consoled me for the sense of dislocation I often felt.
I think God is a good and powerful monosyllable, even if it’s unfashionable.
At my secondary school, we sang a hymn at morning assembly. (TV
programmes on singing together reiterate the sense of community it offers). Somebody read aloud a short extract from a thoughtful book (including the Bible), the headmistress made her announcements, different prayers were offered from time to time, concluding with the Lord’s Prayer. But there were only three Jewish girls in that white generally Christian school.
Nowadays in major cities we have children of umpteen nationalities all piled in together, learning some form of English as the common language but with the constant presence of other tongues, other ways, other beliefs.
If there was ever a time for respectful inclusion, it’s now. You believe what you believe, I believe what I believe – the form of belief is a human invention.
The Presence is what unites us.
But we have sectionalised and broken away into a kind of stamped foot specialism, ie “my belief is better than yours” and with such good intentions.
We intended to honour and to make allowances for difference, but the difference has splintered into something much more sinister, encouraged by all those languages, many or most of which are only spoken by their natives and their children.
I had a really bad morning recently and looking awful, feeling awful, I was cheered to find something I really wanted in the charity book shop where I heard a young woman’s voice bemoaning the facial work in which the singer Cher had invested.
(What follows isn’t as far fetched as it sounds, Cher and I are of an age.) And she
segued out of that into examining my skin – which was right next to her, saying kind enthusiastic things about that grey skin I had brought down the road, trying not to think about, bemoaning the lack of a corduroy veil.
God she was good.
And so is God.