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Monday, 20 December 2010

The man on the bridge

Christmas is, of course, a time for celebration, family, and the observation of custom. But one way or another, it always seems to be about loss as well. Our minds go back to Christmases past, either with regret or nostalgia. It's the time when we remember those lost to us through death (RIP, Nana) or circumstance (single at Christmas again...). And, for me personally, it's the time I grieve my biggest loss.

Being home with my family and going back to my church always stirs up the subject of my faith again. It did last year; and this year, once again, I'm looking back on my faith and wondering what happened, and what happens next. It's not as simple as being an Atheist now, despite everything, because occasionally very specific messages seem to get through to me.

I mean, it's probably just coincidence. It MUST be superstition. It must be that I want to believe so much that I see links where none exist. I mean how could it POSSIBLY - but - oh, I don't know. Here's what happened; you decide.

When I was in my late teens, and passionate about my faith, I had a story I used to tell myself to explain forgiveness. It's extremely personal, and I don't want to go into details here, but I will explain the setting: a river by a willow tree, where Jesus stands on a stone arch bridge. As I began to lose my sense of connection with God, I'd try to picture this place, but it would be cold and empty, deserted.

I was going through a rough patch a couple of months ago, and I actually started talking to Ben (my housemate) about all this stuff. I was in tears as I told him that the important thing, the thing that really matters, is whether there's a man on the bridge. Or whether I am alone. I told him about this picture's huge importance and significance in my life, and bless him, he didn't make me feel like a crazy person for it.

A couple of days later, Ben and I are wandering around the shops, and I start to feel stressed and freaked out by the crowds. "Can we go get a drink? Chai, or something..." He'd introduced me to chai tea recently, and I found it to be very soothing. There are five or six coffee shops on Albany road alone, but I chose coffee #1. "Upstairs or downstairs?"
"Upstairs," I replied, already heading for the comfy chairs.

There was only one table free up there, and while Ben got our order, I sat in the only place available to me and stared at the wall.

Painted onto the wall was a tree. By a river. Over the river, a stone arch bridge. And on the bridge... a shepherd.

So, what that means, if anything, I don't know. But it's one of the reasons I don't call myself an Atheist. I may have been hurt by the loss of my certainty, I may not know what or who is in charge of this mess, but maybe there's something.

So, I'll be going to church on the morning of Christmas day. Because it's traditional, and because my friends and family will be there, and because maybe if I'm very lucky, another clue will get through.


  1. I don't think I've ever had an atheist phase or a crisis of faith, but then again, I've always been a fervent believer in two inaliable truths:

    a) you have no right to tell anyone else what to believe
    b) the good will always out

    I'd like to think God will help you through anything - even if you do remain an atheist. In fact, I'm certain he will, whether you believe in him or not (or hover around agnosticism for the rest of your life, which is also fine).

    You don't need to be a believer to attend church, but just to put your mind at rest, I go to Midnight Mass at my church every Christmas, along wiht my sister and four girl cousin/sister combinations (one sister, three cousins). Out of those, only two of us are still believers, but we go because it's fun. And there's a good sense of community in our church.

    And it's something to do.

    So, to be honest, whether or not you genuinely want your faith to be restored, or choose to take neither side in the great "argument that shouldn't exist", as long as you feel comfortable wherever you end up, I don't see any reason to feel bad about yourself for it.

  2. Hi Anna

    I can't say I'd know what to make of your coincidence. It seems God speaks through such things; but it's hard to put your faith in a matter of chance like that. But for what it's worth, I'll tell you of some of my thoughts.

    When I read the Gospels, I'm struck by how outrageous and absurd some of the events are. But not the writing. It's the events that are hard to believe. And clearly the disciples (and other characters in other parts of the Bible) *KNEW* that the events they were trying to explain were absurd. People just don't come back to life once they're dead. Surely, a man born blind doesn't suddenly become able to see. These things can't happen, they're impossible. And the disciples struggled to believe them too - even though they saw them happen. And so they had the unenviable task of writing such things down - with a subtext not of superstition as many suppose, but of "you won't believe what happened, but it did..."

    Of course, I'm also convinced of the sheer logical empirical and predictive power of science. It's hard to argue against repeatable experiments. But you can't do experiments on a historical event. As I've written elsewhere, I used to be an atheist. But then, God got hold of my life and I saw something else, beyond science (a bold claim I know). Surely the whole point of these outlandish events is that they are impossible events that actually happened.

    Various coincidences have happened to me too. And maybe God has spoken to me in some of them (yes, actually He has.) But I don't trust in them. I'd only trust in Him - that unlikely God who got born in a barn.

    Merry Christmas

  3. Happy year to come, and don't worry about "believing" or "not believing" - for me, what's important is listening, waiting, and noticing. Whether it's God or something else beyond our minds' limits, we won't find anything out if we aren't available when the call comes, when something comes knocking at the door of our hearts.


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