Hear our voice, O Lord, according to your faithful love.
Ivan Marchuk "The sun played its rhythms" 2003
Ola Gjeilo (1978– ). "The Spheres (Kyrie)". First movement of The Sunrise Mass. Chamber Choir of Europe, cond. Nicol Matt (2011). Film by Michael Stillwater.
Paul Bede Johnson. “Why I believe in God." The Spectator. Christmas issue, 2012. (Continued from Day 24, yesterday.)
The habit of prayer accordingly puts one in touch with an array of individuals, living and dead, in an intimate and, I find, delightful way. It is particularly valuable as one grows older, and one’s circle of living friends contracts. By prayer, death is overcome and friends merely change their form and address, prayer becoming an indestructible link and even, in certain cases, a more intimate one than anything possible in life. This is an important point. Prayer is more powerful and versatile than speech. It is a form of contact more ubiquitous and subtle than anything imaginable on the internet or any conceivable miracle of electronics. It is unlimited by space or time or mood, disability or illness. One may be totally paralysed, with only the mind and its animating spirit still working, however feebly, but prayer is still possible, radiating to infinity.
You may say — but these are mere statements of your beliefs. You may be, indeed are, praying simply to yourself in a closed circuit of egoism. Everything you have written so far is assertion. Nothing is proved, or susceptible of proof. Let us have some reasoning! It is true I speak from the heart, and you may not accept Pascal’s view, la coeur a ses raisons, que le raison ne connaît pas, though it has always seemed to me a statement of the obvious, which everyone knows from experience. I admire but cannot identify with the great reasoners of history. As a young man I read much of St Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, but this impersonal work did not warm me to God; chilled me rather. I preferred, and still do, St Augustine’s Confessions, a marvellous outpouring of insight and imagination and intellectual adventure, presided over by the loving spirit of his mother, St Monica. With its great leaps into the unknown, and contortions and honestly admitted ignorance, it is an incandescent explosion of genius. I too am an ignorant person, and write books in despairing attempts to push forward the frontiers of my knowledge an inch or two. I distrust those who are sure — I have known some giants of certitude, rajahs of reason, leviathans of logic. Three in particular pop up to remind me of the fallibility of the human intellect — Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre and A.J. Ayer. Wonderful entertainment value, brilliant, sparkling, diamantine, but one would not turn to any of them, let alone all three together, for practical advice on a serious problem. And the existence of God is a serious problem, in the end the only one that matters.
What deters most sensitive and intelligent people from believing in God, or undermines the faith of those who once did, is their inability to vindicate the notion of divine providence in a world full of evil. An innocent child dying in agony is a potent argument for atheism. Life teems with triumphant monsters, unpunished crimes crying to heaven, cynical success stories. Leibnitz called this problem theodicy, and did not, in my opinion, solve it. I am not sure it is soluble by human agency. My own humble answer is that none of us, with our enormous, rapidly expanding but still minute knowledge measured against the mysteries of the universe, can have the temerity to question God’s wisdom. Divine providence is a colossal fact which is indefinable, immeasurable, and beyond our powers even to conceive in its potency. We cannot set our puny selves against it. We accept countless complexities of nature, and the increasing achievements of mechanistic science, having learned to trust human wisdom and its power constructs up to a point. Why, then, should we distrust divine wisdom, which is so infinitely more profound? I am content to go to my grave with many mysteries unsolved. Indeed I am not unhappy with mysteries, confident we now see through a glass darkly but ultimately will be face to face with the truth of all things. The most valuable of virtues, I increasingly feel, is patience.
The world we inhabit is an enormous and complex combination of good and evil, and all of us are under a moral compulsion to strive so that the balance rests, however precariously, on the side of good. All of us feel this compulsion: why? If there is no God, who or what is compelling us? An inherent instinct? Then who put it there? As Thomas Carlyle eloquently insisted, in his weird, thunderous rhetoric, we may dismiss the idea of a personal God — he did himself, after much internal torture — but that silent, invisible, indefinable force within us continues to push us to the side of good. What is it? We do not know. But we can all agree: thank God it is there. Without it, the world would be abandoned to indescribable iniquity. Who put it there? We do not know and, as Wittgenstein says in his Tractatus, ‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.’
Silence — that most precious commodity in our world of noisy doing and building, of raucous getting and spending. Most of my life I have begun the day, usually about 7a.m., with a visit to church, silent and empty at that time. Alas, shortage of priests now makes it difficult. Most churches are locked until 10 o’clock on a weekday, and that is too late for me. Still, occasionally I like to visit a church later in the day, if I can find one open. I almost invariably experience that huge silence, almost palpable, in such tremendous contrast to the hubbub outside. I only stay a minute or two. But it is nourishing and reassuring. I fill my lungs, and emerge restored. My faith is a very physical thing. But it is everything else, too.
May God our Redeemer show us compassion and love. Amen.