Yesterday I went through to the old cathedral city of Hereford for a lunchtime meeting. Riding on the bus I noticed that I could glance right through the passing woodland up into a sunny meadow beyond. It looked as if there were deer moving across the meadow and brilliant blue flowers. A dream landscape, the dark woods of alder, rowan, ash and oak, the bracken and dark shadowy places — and then the glimpses of sunlight and a golden meadow beyond that.
I got to the meeting a few minutes late because I was browaing in an Oxfam bookshop and found a collection of Lorrie Moore’s stories as well as a travel book by Patrick Leigh Fermor for just a little more than a pound. Very pleased — dashed to the meeting and found we were talking about loneliness. One member recalled seeing a documentary on alcoholism that featured an elderly woman climbing a dim stairwell and saying aloud to herself: ‘Lonely, lonely, lonely’. Another man spoke about his dislike of being with younger people who made him feel a failure and reminded him of how he had wasted his life. Another person spoke about the false self, that pretence of being happy and respectable and socially adjusted, while inwardly dying of isolation. Then an older woman spoke about the crucifying loneliness that comes from the ‘God-shaped hole’ in us. My heart squeezed like a bruised muscle as she spoke. If I could have left that meeting, run down the road and flung myself into the Roman Catholic Church, I would have done it on the spot.
Such a powerful and irrational impulse, the quest for the divine in a faith community both ancient and new. Much of the time I don’t have much truck with Christianity, the cant and hypocrisies, the sexism and philistine approach to life. But the lure of the Catholic mysticism I fisrt discovered as a young woman has always held me fast, and I always return to the Catholic litrurgies and traditions as if starved away from the Church.
Right now I am living with an atheist whose early life was blighted with ignorant Irish Catholicism. He has a penetrating and forthright critique of the oppressive aspects of religion and it echoes many of my own reservations. He is someone whose beliefs demand respect, a man of great integrity who dislikes the piosity and wishful thinking of many Christians and deplores the power-to-suppress found in most religious institutions, the anti-sexiual, anti-body, anti-life tendencies of many puritantical religious.
And so I continue in ambivalence, restraining myself from hurtling off to Mass at the local Catholic church because there will be awkward questions about my living with a man in an unorthodox relationship, because I cannot face that misogyny again, because I dread the godlessness and joylessness of most parish churches. But I hunger for a transforming power experienced elsewhere in my life, in the beauty around me here in Wales, in new-found intimacy, in the thirst for justice, in the mystery of healing from addiction — and I want communal celebration, I want rituals of confession and forgiveness, shared grieving over loss and deprivation, a place to enter into the heart of worship. A place where it is possible to serve and give thanks. But where?
And the god-shaped hole in me gapes like the grave, like an abyss, like a void that encompasses my whole life. I need to encounter more of the transcendent in the here and now, in the body and the earth.