I’ve woken up dazed. A concert arena popped up in my head overnight. The band’s last encore finished hours ago and the crowds have melted away, leaving fragments of tickets, bits of Malteser bags, beer-stains on the floor. It’s an empty, echoing void. (And no, it’s not a hangover. I think there’s a cold on the way.)
We’re six months into Atheist-man’s religious experiment and I’ve reached that point. That, ‘do I really have to go to church today?’ point.
‘I don’t mind if we don’t go to Mass,’ I say, expecting a rueful smile of acquiescence. Or something like that. But, no.
‘I suppose we could look up the readings,’ he says.
Oh dear. I should have known. If he’s going to do it, he’s going to do it.
I bathe away my reluctance. Stick my head underwater, hoping to unplug my muffled-up ears. It kind of works. No echo now. Just the hollow sound of something missing.
The first sign all’s not well with Atheist-man slips by me unnoticed. He leaves half his breakfast. But then, we did gorge our way through his birthday. Crunching through crisp battered haddock and chips. Chewing on brownies, sipping champagne. Twenty four hours’ indulgence.
But now it’s Sunday and it’s time to go – if we’re going. (I’m still sort of hoping.)
‘Would you mind driving,’ he says, ‘I forgot to put an egg in the pancakes.’
Ah. That explains it. He’s not all there. I ate the dollops of dough, dotted with hot banana, speckled with toasted walnut, out of politeness. I thought he left his because he didn’t need to be polite to himself.
Silly me. He’d never leave a walnut.
The first hymn’s rousing. By verse three my voice is an unpredictable squeak – then nothing at all. My larynx has gone on strike, come out in sympathy with my head.
We stand for the Gospel.
‘Do you love me?’ Jesus asks, three times, of Simon Peter – echoing the apostle’s own triple denial as that wretched cock crowed.
I turn to look at Atheist-man. A sixth sense tells me he’s in another place entirely (and it’s not Crosby Beach*).
‘Go walk around the graveyard,’ I hiss, risking the wrath of my neighbours for speaking during the reading. Face pale, he sneaks away.
And I turn my thoughts to love. Love beyond all knowing. Love that’s not been earned, deserved or even, maybe, desired.
Try and imagine it. It’s a wee bit scary, don’t you think?
With God, infinite love can be yours. But you have to want it, to accept it. You have a choice. You have free will.
But first, you have to find God.
A medieval mystic wrote a famous work, The Cloud of Unknowing, about finding the reality of God. Contemplation is the key. It’s far too deep to sum up in a shallow blog, but for me its essence seems to be, don’t use your intellect to find God. Forget knowledge. Lay bare your consciousness. Leave the window of your soul open. Let it all flood in. Feel the love.
I’m intrigued – you might say mystified – by the Cloud author’s concepts of ‘ought and nought’ – something and nothing. That ‘nothing’ is not an absence of everything, it can be felt. Everywhere and nowhere. Phew.
And then there’s the less well-known Cloud of Forgetting. That’s where you dump all your desires, distractions – and, I guess, your boring everyday thoughts, your did-I-lock-the-back-door, must-do-a-big-wash-this-weekend kind of thoughts. Well, that’s just my own, banal interpretation, reflecting my own banal thoughts.
Which brings me back to our secular, materialistic, twenty-first century world. Because we have a mystical cloud, all of our own. Yes, in this digital, ethereal, hyper-connected yet disconnected world we’re storing our dreams, hopes, worries, work, lives, loves and friendships in – a cloud.
You back-up your data and float it off to the cloud. Store your important stuff off site where you feel it’s safe. Protected from fire and theft. Accessible from anywhere.
Everyone’s doing it. Well, I’m not, consciously – though there are times when I have no choice. That’s the virtual world – free will, but only to a point.
But, where is everything?
Where is all this stuff that is everywhere – but nowhere?
They burned women for less.
[*Crosby Beach is the location of an installation called ‘Another Place’ comprising statues of iron men by the sculptor Anthony Gormley]