An article for the St. Albans Observer, by Imogen de la Bere.
This year I’ve been going around the pubs of St Albans talking about God.
But before you imagine I’ve turned into some embarrassing, rabble-rousing evangelist, from whom you would flee at the shake of a tambourine, let me assure you that all the talking has been conducted quietly, in corners, over the odd pint with my friend Tigger, nicknamed because he’s every bit as friendly and energetic as the character in Winnie-the-Pooh.
Now when you do a lot of talking, you also do a great deal of questioning, especially if you have one of those minds., which simply cannot take anything for granted. You ask each other: how do we know God exists? How do we know that religious experiences are not a figment of our imagination? Why shouldn’t God be something we’ve dreamt up? Faith exists, for sure, and holy people are suffused with grace – but what if they were good people, suffused with grace, anyway.
And so on round the houses, and over the pints, for hours and hours.
The climax of all the hours of talking and questioning was a sixteen-hour marathon, during which Tigger and I went on pilgrimage around the pubs of Dublin, carrying on this conversation through showers of rain and uncounted pints of Guinness. Amazingly enough quantities of Guinness do not impair the philosophical capacities of man (or woman). We concluded that Something Existed, that we had Communion with it, and that was about all you could say for sure, except another round?
But months and hours of talk further down the pavement, I found myself walking to work, amid the smeared blood and vomit of King Cross in the early morning, and praying to the same God I had always prayed to. It took me by surprise, and then it felt like the most comfortable thing in the world. Well, here we are again, Lord, back where I started.
And I thought, since talk had taken me nowhere, except into a lot of pubs, I might as well settle back into belief, because what had I got to lose? You couldn’t say I hadn’t tried to doubt.
But I was a little embarrassed to admit this to Tigger, because it seemed rather lame, to say well, we deconstructed belief fairly conclusively, but I decided to believe in God in the old way anyway.
But one evening, not long ago I was bracing myself to mention this, when Tigger told me his story.
He’d been exhausted and wrung out, so he went for a walk. A walk across Greece, that is.
And one night tired to the bone and fantastically lost, he turned into an alleyway, hoping it would lead him to his hotel. He stumbled instead into a tiny chapel full of dark and light and the prayers of the ages.
Tigger was overwhelmed with feeling of a power he had not experienced in years. The priest thrust a candle into his hand and he was convinced spoke to him in English – saying a few words that were so appropriate to his state as to be miraculous.
He went out of the church and found his hotel at once.
After he told me this story, we looked at each other, and realised we had gone though a whole arc of experience, and ended up once more, with the same God.
Nothing so say really, except, another round?