I’m good with God and thankfully it seems the feeling’s mutual but for a lot of my friends, colleagues, fans, followers and readers, God is a real problem. I wonder if this is because their reading of the word is a tad too literal. Forgive me if this offends.
When I was growing up I went to church a lot. My Dad’s career in the Royal Marines meant we had to show up at church every week and at boarding school we had to go every day and twice on Sundays. As with everything else forced upon me, I rebelled; but my first major rebellion was caused by my refusal, aged just nine years, to be confirmed. I am pretty sure that my God is OK with that decision still to this day, though churchgoers of my acquaintance may demur.
I was lucky to be brought up in the Church of England (C of E) which, at that time, was a rather low key religion requiring very little of me whilst at the same time offering quite a lot, including an enjoyment of churches and the peace and quiet and solemnity and sanctuary they offer, and an abundance of stirring and sacred music and the gorgeous and moving language in parts of the bible and certain prayers.
I love a good hymn and I love community singing but those loves have almost nothing to do with religion. In the Royal Marines’ weekly Sunday church service we always sang Eternal Father, Strong To Save and frankly I’d be hard pressed to sing – or even read – those words today, set to that music, without shedding a tear. Of course, my Dad was thinking of his fallen comrades as we sang what is often called the Naval Hymn. I think we included the first verse at his memorial service in 1992 and if we didn’t, we were remiss.
Despite refusing confirmation, I still love churches and hymns and sacred music but I don’t go to church except for weddings and funerals, both of which I appreciate for the ways they allow us to celebrate and mark both occasions with beautiful, appropriate and deeply moving ceremony which can be customised to suit all.
Since there’s so much about church for me to love, why don’t I attend more regularly then? Churchgoers put me off. In my teens and twenties, once I was old enough to know, some of the most un-Christian behaviour I observed was committed by churchgoers. As ever, the reverse is also true. A couple of my friends are both religious and committed churchgoers and they do good works, without judgement of others, and I salute you if you are one of those reading this.
I prefer to call myself spiritual, rather than religious, but what’s in a word? Why does the G word put off so many and why do we allow some sort of kneejerk allergic reaction to the word and concept to put us off so much excellent spiritual material which has merit? Why not simply decide and learn to translate the word “God” in the reading moment into something with which you are also good. The Universe. Source. Universal Energy (of which we are all a part), insert your own here. Wayne Dyer explains that when we say I AM we are invoking the divinity within us. Thus I AM becomes a name you might choose to use in lieu, for example.
What we believe in is a choice. And we can call it whatever we want. We can think of it however we want, we can be as barmy with it as we want. I know people who canvass for one political party and vote for another; we human beings are a strange and conflicted lot. And this post certainly isn’t my attempt to say I’m good with God, so why aren’t you? It’s me saying just translate the G word into something which means you can then go on to enjoy the rest of the material, or as much as has value for you.
Don’t get hung up on the politics of religion, or religion itself, or the millennia of conflicts, hurts and pain and worse which have been committed in the name of God but are not of God, or not of my God at least. And yes I know this is easier for someone C of E to say, easier perhaps than if you were brought up within one of the other more demanding branches of Christianity or in the Islamic, Hindu or Buddhist faiths, though what do I know? Some of those sound as though they have the potential to be equally forgiving to me but, as I say, it’s all in the interpretation.
The Irish comedian, Dave Allen, used to say at the end of his shows, much of which were often sideswipes at God and particularly at religion, “Goodnight, and may your God go with you”. Allen clearly believed that your God was your business. So do I. Pick a sense of a greater energy which is both inside and outside and all around you and me at all times and which is loving and supportive and connects us all in our higher interests. And call it whatever you like. Your interpretation may be more or less literal than mine. We don’t need to agree on this. [Fat chance!]
Here’s a photo of a church I visited this summer in a village in Suffolk when I was staying with two friends, one of whom is far too intelligent to believe in a literal God, as most of my friends are it must be said. I sang to them both from Handel’s Messiah “I know that my Redeemer liveth” not because I do know that, in the sense of the lyric, or as the bible tells it, but because the music is sublime and it just happened to be written on one of the memorial stones. We were all able to give and receive something from our visit to the church despite having nothing in common in this regard. Peace. History. Reflection. Wonder. Architecture. Music. Connection. An appreciation of and respect for each others’s differing views. Love. God.
I wish I lived in a village where I could pop into a church like that every day. Not to attend a church service, though I don’t rule that out, but just to be peaceful. Because it is in my peace that I can hear my inner wisdom, my inner divinity and my God. And from that peaceful place inside me I can go out into the world and be my best self and do my best work with you, my beloved clients.
Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!