Oh dear....during a conversation with an agnostic friend the other day, the talk turned to spirituality and then religion, the result of which was that she started to question me, very kindly and interestedly, about my faith. And I'm afraid to say that I did not give a very good account of it or myself. I always find it difficult to discuss my beliefs with anyone, as - I have to confess - I'm not entirely certain what they are myself. I just can't put what I feel into words or rationalise it in a way that either sounds satisfactory or coherent.
It's like trying to communicate what the feeling of 'being in love' is like to someone that never has been.
A lot of people can empathise with the awe that one feels in a great cathedral, or be moved by sacred music, or love to see the incense-filled spectacle of the Mass, or be moved by icons and flickering candle light and I admit that it is difficult to define exactly what it is I feel in addition to the uplift that these things certainly give. To the rational mind (like my friend) that is all there is: a need for the feeling of transcendence, and there may be a lot of truth in the neuroscientists' claims that man is 'hard-wired' to feel religious. Maybe I'm not really a 'true believer' as I harbour a great many doubts, both about the church and the religious tenets that it espouses. I carry my doubts about as rather regrettable baggage that stands in the way of my unquestioning acceptance. I'd really like a true, clear faith, unclouded by dark 'what-ifs'. But I haven't got one. I don't really know if God exists, or if Jesus was his son - but I act like I do because I want (and trust) it to be the case. I want it to be the case that this life doesn't end at the grave, that we do - in some form, either bodily or atomic - meet our loved ones in a love that transcends death. I keep these feeings in tension - not entirely happily - within me, as I know that there will be no resolution in this life. Not for me blind, unquestioning obedience to the church either. I am not happily yoked, although I still pay lip-service it and am happy that there are such black and white, incontravertible teachings handed down to us. I know that the church has been responsible for some absolutely terrible things being done in the name of Christianity, awful unforgivable abuses of power. That is a fact that cannot be escaped, but power in any organised form can give rise to horror. It is part of our flawed humanity, the need to dominate and control at any price - and it cannot be excused. So how do I convince her that what I feel is either real or, indeed, desirable? Well - I can't. I just know that once I had precious little faith, and then (after an epiphany of sorts) I did, as if I had suddenly grown another layer of consciousness, or extra organ that supplies it, and it is refuelled by the liturgy and beauty of the church. And if that sounds lame or self-deluding, I'm sorry. But that's how it is. I'm mute in the face of questions, because it's not something that can be rationally explained away or even given voice to. The nearest analogy that I can give is the 'magic eye' pictures that were popular around ten years ago. On first examination they appeared to be an unintelligible mess of colour and pattern, but if you relaxed your vision - 'gave in', in a way - and looked beyond the picture, an image startlingly appeared to hover in front of your eyes. And the strange thing is, once you could see it, you couldn't 'unsee' it.
Well, my faith is somewhat like that....