I admit that like the tide,i have actively engaged or not with Christianity.Despite my efforts,i’ve never entirely been able to leave it behind,although equally my relationships with doubt is also always there,like and echo and like a tide.So i was actively “engaged”when i got married.it was and remains important that i made vows before my community and in a spiritual context,although i also hold radical views about our relationships and about marriage under the state.it was the spiritual and the social that was important,and some concern about my rights and duties as a then potential father,certainly not any desire to declare anything before the state(as such).i recognise that the Anglican church as the state church carries out a particular role here.
i was quite active in the parish in Finsbury Park and then in Preston Park,as i moved from one to the other.Until,i suppose i got sick,badly sick with my first episode of clinical depression.Then i had several semi-if not fully mystical experiences.Such experience is not new to me,though i am usually cautious about talking about it and remain private about it mostly.Some of these are quite probably directly connected to clinical depression,which i prefer to call melancholy or”his dust-grey eminence”.when walking in the countryside,i lay down in a grassy field to rest and found the landscape joining with my perception and thoughts so that i had that sense of oneness with everything.i also had this sensation at home when laying in the garden.on one of my last professional prison visits in that particular job i had the sensation of dissolving and being blown along with the leaves in the breeze of late summer.i also had some odd aural experiences,although these were definitely not hearing voices.as i began to get sick,which i only recognised after the event,i stumbled upon a particular music label/genre on a radio station.i began to collect recordings and began to experience the sensation as if i were being guided and spoken to directly and personally.Perhaps most spectacularly,i had the experience of a series of related dreams,which i realised were happening in a kind of parallel to my reading,without me initially making the connection between the 2.i was reading about and deepening my interest in the Cathars.i started dreaming of being in a glade in woodland in twilight,and of then standing by a bonfire in that glade,and then possibly weeks later of being in a circle of people dressed in robes much like monks.i later realised that the robes were dark green or dark,midnight blue.Whilst no-one spoke to me directly,it was if a series of gentle and soothing voices spoke with me inside my head.And then at some point i realised i had been converted,in my own agreement to their viewpoint,and that now over a decade later i regard myself as a gnostic christian following the path of my Cathar forebears,whose parfait would have called themselves simply good christians……
Whilst i was never a christian for comfort or solace,and becoming a gnostic still makes for unease of various kinds,it has also clarified some things intellectually and psychologically for me:
i don’t think of myself as an anxious or worrying person,so i think wory in this context is more an intellectual concern.But i stopped worrying about doubt.Doubt is difficult enough without the additional anxiety.i stopped worrying whether it all added up or whether revolution and spirituality/Marx and Jesus sat comfortably.they are for another time.i have to get on with living it and living it out.i stopped trying to abandon what i now refer to as my spiritual path,which is after all,for me about the mystical,the mysterious,the enigmatic and the unanswerable and unsayable…
i have continued my life,my activist life,some kind of creative life,my spiritual life.Sometimes it is in the world in the most ordinary and material fashion.it is a wandering,difficult,narrow,meandering path through life and the spiritual.Sometimes variously it shows up in the ordinary.
So to return to thinking more directly about Rome.
i remember being distantly influenced by the liberalising bishop of Rome in the 1960s but then not particularly being touched or moved,until the dodgy support for Solidarinosc in Poland and the undermining of liberation theology outside Europe and the attack on liberal/radical catholic thinkers in Europe.
That said i never had many illusions and whatever the value of prayer,for example,i think a key aspect of it all,is that if all this is co-created,then human self activity for the positive as well as the negative is essential.
All that said i was thoroughly repulsed by the last elected.i know he had been a member of either Hitler Youth or an SS Division when younger and somehow ending up as chief Inquisitor/head of the Inquisition fitted.It made me run cold when he was elected head of the Church.
i continue to meet numerous catholics and ex-catholics.i am not aware of any more than the most assing of relevance of the bishop of Rome to any of it.
Then as Cardinal Ratzinger resigned and retired,i set off to Manchester to go to the 40th anniversary conference of Seeds of Liberation-the conference i narrowly,but importantly missed in 1973.It was to follow that”connection”described earlier and to renew my connection to SCM/student christian movement.It worked at a number of levels.I became a friend of SCM and met a lot of good,interesting students,young people and older people,as earnestly,seriously and committedly as i hope i did.Most of this is serious and sometimes absolutely heartbreaking stuff.i also met Bruce Kent,still impressively active after all these years along with John Vincent who was in Sheffield during my time there,but whom until now i had never met…..and more.
Over recent years several of the old friends and staff from my time in SCM, 1973-77 came to mind,especially as i had thought about writing about those experiences although i had not thought about how it might be realised. On the Saturday evening i stood in a queue briefly for some refreshments and overheard the 2 people in from of me speaking.One was Hans,who is i remember correctly is either secretary of the WSCF/world student christian federation in section in Germany or the secretary of the WSCF who lives in Germany.When the other spoke in an American accent to describe his years on SCM staff at Wick 1972-1977,i knew it could only be Richard Zipfel,who i last saw probably in 1976!One of the key things i remember about him is hi giving the best talk on the role of the Holy Bible,which for me continues to give answer to the literalists,fundamentalists and other god-quoters/botherers who tend to bang me and others over the head with quotations to enforce their view of the faith. This is a habit repeated on the left,only with quotations from the Marxist pantheon but with similar effect.
i was reminded that Richard himself is a catholic……
This week 115 cardinals met for the election of the next,now current bishop of Rome.A relatively obscure Argentinian Cardinal has been elected as of Friday 15/03/2013 as Francis I.
i have no particular expectations and i am aware that he is not only regarded as socially conservative with predictable views on contraception,abortion and gay marriage etc. but that he may be implicated in the dark days of Argentina and that he faces the ongoing fall out from issues like priestly child abuse.
And yet,i admit i have an entirely different response to the last election. In the context of media and realpolitiks recognition that this man is an actor on the world stage,and in a world population of 7billion,that in some way he represents over 1.3billion of those people,has significance.so the humility of his body language,of his prayer,of his request for the blessing of the people in st.peter’s square is interesting.and there are reports of his simple life,cooking for himself,using public transport.today he is reported as eschewing the pomp of papal clothes and the opulent space in which he is expected to live.it may well all evaporate. He has also chosen the name of one of the most simple,poor and radical saints.He is also a Jesuit,established as the intellectual shock troops of the catholic counter-reformation.He is the 1st non-European in over 1,000 years!Just for a moment,i wondered what it would be like if he started dismantling the wealth,power and structure of the Papacy and the institutional church.Even at a symbolic level this might be of significance in pointing to”another way”-for Jesus Christ did not establish either religion,or church or state and possessed no wealth.he seems to have possessed little at all.
i can but hope,knowing it to be very unlikely…The only thing that offers real change,even with a notion of co-creation,is the toiling and struggling masses including the many who are the new and increasing numbers who are immiserated,and the poor to whom Bishop Frankie has referred….i hope it does not simply remain a reference but i do not intend to wait.
Nor will i stand silent over the fate of the many in some respects in his hands-gay people,abused children,the dissappeared of Argentina,and those indeed possibly rendered poor by policies on contraception.
(i apologise for the inconsistent capitalisation in the above.no disrespect is intended)