Since the age of eight I’ve been a fan of Doctor Who, a children’s TV programme in which an anonymous Doctor (who?) travels through time and space, battling evil. The Doctor’s also a Time Lord, which means he ‘regenerates’ rather than dying like the rest of us. Very convenient when you need a change of actor.
We humans are fascinated by what we cannot do, so travelling through time and space almost guarantees televisual success. But that’s not really what Doctor Who is all about. At least, I don’t think so.
For a start, there’s always a malign force to be overcome. Strange, evil creatures from other worlds or familiar ones from our own, rendered unfamiliar.
The weeping angels are, I reckon, the most terrifying creatures the Doctor’s ever faced. Familiar but alien, benign yet cruel, they’re just stone statues. Statues of angels. Well, as long as you keep your eyes open they are. Blink for an instant and they swoop. The only way to keep safe is by keeping your eyes open. So simple. So impossible.
But the Doctor will triumph, won’t he?
The classic duel. Good and evil. Fear and hope.
And conquering mortality.
Isn’t that why the Doctor never really dies? It’s a glimmer of hope. There may be a life beyond our own out there – somewhere, sometime.
And so we keep on striving. Live longer, travel further. Know more, do more. Earn more, buy more.
But then what?
What do we really care about?
When I was seven I learnt about the soul. The soul, in case you didn’t know, is made of chalk. White chalk. Draw a human silhouette on a blackboard, shade it in and you’ll see what I mean.
Sin is the absence of white chalk. A little sin creates a small black hole, but a big sin erases the lot. The whole soul. Leaving a big black silhouette.
I also learnt about God being everywhere. Seeing everything, hearing everything, knowing everything.
I began to believe that nothing existed but God and me and all the saints in heaven. That I was living in a make-believe world which existed solely to test me – to see if I would sin. To see if I would behave badly, pick my nose, think wicked thoughts, say nasty things.
I still feel like that sometimes. But now I’m aware of the reality of love. You learn about love partly by losing people who matter to you, my friend Ros, for example. My parents.
Love is the stuff of life. And though I haven’t been a parent I’ve seen the boundless, almost painful love a parent can feel for a child.
But is it infinite, that love? A parent must, one day, die. So how can it be endless?
‘Humans have an appetite for the infinite,’ says the priest. And I write it down on the newsletter. It’s printed on green paper on this ‘Communication Sunday’ – whatever that is.
Atheist-man frowns a question but I ignore him, listening hard.
I doubt the good Monsignor considered Doctor Who when composing his sermon, but I think he might agree with where I was going.
Because now he’s talking about heart speaking unto heart. He’s referring to a treatise on the love of God written by St Francis de Sales:
Eyes speak to eyes, and heart to heart, and none understand what passes save the sacred lovers who speak.
It was the theme of the last papal visit to this country. And it speaks (sorry) volumes, without even trying.
Technology has changed the way we communicate, says the priest.
But not how humans need to live.
To be friends on Facebook is not an expression of true feeling. Trading newsy Tweets is not about real knowledge. Blogging, no matter how thoughtful, is not the human heart reaching out and feeling the love of other human hearts.
It’s all just minds working. And as far as I’m concerned, my mind alone is never going to reason its way to a better world – much less a faith in God.
Dipping into the Cloud of Unknowing again this leapt out at me:
Of God himself no man can think. He may well be loved, but not thought. By love he may be grasped and held, by thought, never.
By thought, never.
I’m not attempting to construct a God my intellect can know. But I am, with some trepidation, leaving the door open to love. Infinite love. Even if the thought of it terrifies me.
Perhaps, one day, it will creep up on me when I blink.
Will Atheist-man keep his eyes wide open, I wonder?