Tim Cartwright, Hout Bay
A festive meditation – a message to doubters by one of themselves.
As usual, thousands of people have over this Christmas season once again paid their annual or bi-annual visit to their churches and, human nature being what it is, a small percentage of these once or twice a year Christians will probably have gone away with feel-good or repentant emotions and may have made a resolution, yet again, to attend worship more regularly – a resolution which they will almost certainly not keep.
The fundamental problem with many such people is not slackness or carelessness (though these too are often encountered) but a lack of faith which makes true commitment absolutely impossible.
Such doubters will look almost with envy at those supposedly simpler, less complicated souls who, as they see them, have heard, have believed without great difficulty and who have lived accordingly, often for the rest of their well-ordered lives.
They are the seed which took root on good ground and produced an abundant crop. Our doubter, however, while wishing with at least part of his mind to be like such people, finds that he cannot achieve the mental shift essential to true faith. He cannot attain what TS Eliot has described as, “a state of complete simplicity, costing not less than everything”.
If one talks only to such people (I have for much of my life been one myself), it often becomes apparent that a substantial part of their personality is in some way damaged. Deep-seated, supposedly ineradicable anxieties, often inexplicable in human terms, tend to mitigate against their being able to “hand over” their personalities, to surrender wholeheartedly to the God they cannot see or feel. This is tragic because, if and when they are able to open up and examine their own minds honestly, they will almost invariably discover that their deepest longing, the core of their being is to love, trust and obey – but they cannot- and sadly this inability to let go and love God is so often replicated in their human relationships which can be equally traumatic despite a desperate longing for oneness.
The Christmas break, however, should, and often does, provide a respite not only for Christians but also for Muslims and Jews celebrating their own religious festivals at this time. Such a respite gives us a chance to look at our diverse spiritual heritages and, just possibly, to link in again with the healing process that all genuine religious beliefs brings about in some way or another.
Those doubters, those half-hearted believers wishing to gain some insight on this subject, should, CS Lewis suggests, go back at the classics, the books that over 1 000 or even 2 000 years have shown the way: books like The Little Flowers of St Francis, Bede’s Life of St Cuthbert or the writings of St John of the Cross and St Theresa of Avila.
For those wanting a real manual to the Christian life, they cannot do better than Thomas a Kempis’s Of the Imitation of Christ. In these testimonies one comes across people who have “been there”, who have achieved what Buddhists would describe as enlightenment. They know. They have “tasted” God. He is often closer to them than their own hands or feet, more real than the world around them – although impossible to describe adequately.
It is up to the reader to react to such writings as he or she sees fit-but for many they will provide a first step on the ladder, an initial swing away from all that the world’s values and the start of a new life. If we are Christians, let us adopt the example of the Desert Fathers and the saints who urged us to follow them with the sure assurance that we can and will be changed if we stick to our course. It is an effort very definitely worth making. Real faith makes suffering a facilitating springboard and enriches life in a way that can only be fully appreciated once it is experienced