Why is it that some memories brand us like a cosmic date stamp? Kerplunk, they land, searing their way in, like it or not. ‘You’re going to need this one,’ they say. ‘You’ll see.’ And you always do, like it or not.
One such memory branded me as I was minding my own business, being small, about 7’ish I’d say, when my mother informed me that we wouldn’t be Christened, so that we could come to our own conclusions about who or what God was. I thought nothing of it, and proceeded to enter the world’s religious and spiritual buffet as if it were exactly that, able to peruse it like a Michelin starred tasting menu without the pesky noise of a restaurant critic to pre-condition or colour my experiences. They have nice songs, their stories are good, they were kind, they have nice colourful windows, they have the best jokes. I even attended a Church of England convent school briefly without ever wondering for a moment if they were ‘right,’ just free to experience them as people with beliefs who didn’t like me to spell God with a small g, but who also were prone to cancelling a math class on a gorgeous day, in favour of playing rounders in the garden, habits and all.
I didn’t know it then, but I was being handed an enormous treasure of priceless worth. The clear message that somehow, no matter how differently we all experience or understand the notion of God, we’re all right. The information was delivered so passively, that it dropped in as though she’d just said, ‘sometimes it rains, and sometimes it doesn’t,’ which further supported the absence of resistance with which it entered and infiltrated the circuit board. ‘Proceed with curiosity concerning all things relating to God,’ kerplunk.
It has not of course been one long, sumptuous, fine-dining experience. Because the road less travelled has not been nicely paved over by the local authorities. At times I would have loved a prescribed set of rules and regulations, rather than what has often felt like standing at the foot of the Himalayas with no map and no sunscreen, wearing only a pair of cheap flip flops that rub the place between your toes. But the holy grail that I didn't know I was looking for when I set out on my unwitting pilgrimage, the very thing that is impossible to find without blisters and severe sunburn, is the power to live with presence and equanimity in a state of not knowing. The academy award of super powers. And just when you think you’ve got it, you discover that you most definitely do not have it. And on it goes.
‘To thine own self be true,’ Shakespeare told us. Easier said than done Bill, when it’s 3am and you’ve taken a wild leap of faith on the basis of your own inner guidance, a character that yesterday was being played by the Oracle of Delphi but who has now apparently gone down with something and is being understudied by a rocking person with crazy eyes, speaking loudly in tongues. But 3am, also known as the crucible of self doubt and faith, is where the rubber meets the road. Spines and strong senses of self are forged at 3am. Conviction, and also necessarily humility, are both born here. And there’s the rub (between the toes and otherwise). Because true faith, requires at some level the freedom to be wrong. Otherwise it’s not faith. It requires us to know without knowing. What’s that about? It’s where we open our trembling human hearts and swallow dive into hope and what we pray is some kind of soft netting woven by the tender loving hands of angels - or at the very least, a trampoline. Because we don’t always get it right, but it’s all g(o)od, with a big or even a little g.