FATHER RICHARD’S PARISH LETTER
This may come as a surprise to you, but I suspect I was a rather unusual child. Sometimes we all have ‘flash backs’, a memory unbidden emerges and takes us off guard. Memory has been defined as ‘the capacity by which we forget things’, and I suspect that some things ‘forgotten’ are more accurately memories that are hidden or buried, until a time comes when we can face them and incorporate them in our history, and allow them to be an acknowledged part of who we are.
One such ‘flash back’ occurred recently. I remember lying in bed, my twin brother asleep. Sleep eluded me because my mind was very awake – a ‘thought’ (for want of a better word) occurred to me, I apprehended, certainly not comprehended the concept of ‘cosmic nothingness’. This ‘thought’, though lasting only a split second, absolutely terrified me – Utter Void. I hesitate to conceptualise as to the nature of this happening, but I think I can safely say that I suspect it was my first religious experience – something known – of which it is impossible to know about.
The reason I am writing of this experience is because I find people arguing the ‘case’ for the existence/non-existence of God utterly ridiculous and vacuous. Aggressive atheists are just as irritating as born-again bible bashing Christians.
I love the saying, ‘the opposite of faith is not doubt – but certainty’. A God who can be contained in a human mind has to be an idol, and faith should not lead us to idolatry.
A child confusing her toy Little Pony for a living breathing horse is no less preposterous than an adult who has ‘God in their pocket’ – or for that matter, the atheist who thinks he’s got the whole ‘God thing’ sussed.
A lot of religious terminology speaks of God as ‘Transcendent’, ‘above all things’ or ‘other/Holy’. If God is God (and what an inadequate, loaded word that is), ‘He is beyond existence/non-existence’, for ‘He’ Transcends all things.
I started this letter with a reminiscence of myself as a small child. I end it with the words of another child, his name was Tom Ford, who so powerfully experienced the presence of Mary in Capel-y-ffin in the 1890s. He was playing cricket with an improvised bat, when the children experienced what they did. He said, “If that thing comes any nearer, I’ll hit it with my stick”. That exclamation leads me to feel that what they experienced was very real – I sense that their vision was authentic.
How do children – or for that matter adults – you and me, respond to an experience of the Divine? The Church will be judged by its failure or success in helping us to respond with lives lived in response to our encounters with the Transcendent.
The last lines of that beautiful children’s hymn, ‘Loving Shepherd of Thy Sheep’, sums up all I have been trying to say. ‘Till before my Father’s throne, I shall know as I am known’.
With Love and Prayers