17/04/2014 08:34 BST | Updated 16/06/2014 06:59 BST

Why God Matters and On Being an Orphan

Why God matters

There are two topics best avoided with would-be lovers and friends - religion and politics. The concept of God is becoming so marginalised as mainstream society seeks to kill off the G word for good. It is not considered trendy or in vogue to have a belief system and those radical religious fanatics who get all the press for the terrible things that they do seem to represent those who have a core belief.

God, that nebulous being without a face, has confused mankind forever. Either you are with him or against him. I recently took confession and the priest, locked behind a screen, ordered me to say to God that I was sorry for offending him. This act of contrition felt completely natural. I am truly sorry when I do bad things and I frequently wish I hadn't. God therefore acts as a moral compass. How tragic, I hear you say, that a middle-aged woman feels the need to say sorry to God! There are two things here: one is that believing that God exists provides a kind of solace to our souls, the second is that if God didn't exist we would have invented him anyway. Permit me to elaborate a bit further. Let's go back to the confession box or even the church. The one hour of my life when I feel less stressed and preoccupied is quite simply the one I spend in church every Sunday. I also learn things that are useful in my day-to-day life such as this: if you see an injustice being done to someone it is an act of love to try and help that person. Is it such a bad thing to think that way? Or to be reminded by the church to behave as a loving, compassionate human being?

The second element is that God didn't exist we would have to invent him. Why? Because we are acutely aware of how irrelevant our lives actually are. We seek meaning and substantiveness to our lives because we realise that there is something missing. I can only describe it this way. When I walk the hound daily in the woods, across hills and in every type of weather, in the process I find a type of silence within my soul. I am and will always be truly amazed at the exquisiteness of nature. Pantheists believe that God is everywhere in nature. I experience that sensation every day- an overwhelming sense of how extraordinary life is. I have also encountered God. He's guided me, helped me out and ignored me in equal measure but he remains elusive and unseen.


Photo copyright S. van Dalen

I am in the final stages of 2 years of religious studies and will finally end my course in June. The whole experience has a been a revelation for me. God is a personal journey, an awakening, a moving towards something. One has to be ready for encountering God if one is brave enough to take a great leap into the unknown. Our supermarket culture makes it very difficult to seek out God unless we expect to find him wedged between the tea, coffee and biscuits in aisle number three. We can't acquire a relationship with God, it doesn't work that way. We can only make incremental steps towards him. Be nicer, be kinder, never knowingly hurt another and in the process love others. It takes time to become a better person and to commune with God. And we fail all the time. Take tonight when I had a terrible argument with someone because we literally cannot stand each other and never will. Despite a gargantuan effort on my part, I still wanted to throttle that person for their ignorant, idiotic behaviour. As I write this and as we head towards Easter, in the Catholic faith we are in the period of reconciliation where we are meant to confess our sins (I have many) and to forgive and love our enemies. My success rate to achieve this today was zero. That is what it is to be human and to be closer to God: to fail and to keep trying.

I wish you all a Happy and Peaceful Easter.

On being an orphan

Both of my parents have died, my mother most recently. It is a strange sensation to be rootless and without the history that is my life: childhood, adolescence, youth, lost opportunities, words my mother told me in anger and which cut through my heart; the chasm between us never healed, we understood nothing of each other. The death of our parents reminds us of the inevitable. As I look back it's not so much in anger but with sadness. What could have been will never be. I loved my mother but I also gave up loving her.


Photo copyright S. van Dalen