SUNDAYS are tricky. That reluctant walk to church. Anna sitting
beside me on the pew, anxious that I am nourished. Me, fidgeting
throughout. And that tense walk home.
It's the sermons that do it. Not the insipid ones, nor the
simplistic, but the opinionated. I can't yet tell whether they are
God's opinions or the Vicar's, but Anna knows to expect one of my
regular rants before we reach our front door. As after the sermon
in the Lake District, when the evils of divorce had been enumerated
through a very muffled microphone.
"I am not going to start thinking badly of my friends who are
divorced." (Rant No. 3.) "If believing in God means I have to turn
my back on the people I love, I'm not doing it."
"No, dear. I find church difficult, too. But it's hard to be a
Christian in isolation."
"And why can't churches use their sound systems properly?" (Rant
No. 10, my favourite.)
"Yes, dear. Perhaps you criticise so you don't have to engage
with the big picture. Like a defence."
The other days of the week tend to go better, and I do find
myself continuallyb drawn towards the spirituality of my wife's
friends and family. But one stray comment is all it takes for me to
"Thank you, God, for this beautiful day," I overhear.
A fire extinguisher of a sentiment. My fluttering inner candle
goes out again. That half-prayer comes implicit with the ending,
"and thanks for sending the floods to Bangladesh instead of
"A hands-on God. OK. But what has Oxford done to deserve
a sunny day at last, and what appalling sins have been
committed in Dhaka? I'm not believing in God if he's that
vindictive. Or does he just get to do all the good weather while
the Devil does all the bad?" (Rant No. 8.)
As ever, Anna is getting the benefit of my theology. As ever,
she calms me down with the same point she always makes. The one I
"When it's a beautiful day, I feel thankful," she explains
again. "I'm not thinking that God has sent this particular day to
this place, or that there is any particular reason for it. I just
feel thankful, and feeling thankful makes me want to be thankful
to God, too."
"OK. I see."
For a while. It's just that when I hear people thank God for any
number of things - from exam results to medical recoveries - or
even asking for specific outcomes in prayers, that seems odd to
Time for a pint with my dashing theologian-friend with the
interesting past and the sports car. Surely, if God gets the
credit for providing the things we want for ourselves or others, he
should get the blame for withholding them, too.
"Rejoice with those who are rejoicing; weep with those who are
weeping." He exhales with a cloud of cigar smoke. "Paul."
I push him for a little more detail, waving the air clear.
"Well, it's all about the interconnectivity of everyone with
God, in woe and weal."
"We should celebrate what is good, without being so bound up
with our own joy that we cannot share in the misery of others."
"I know people who think we should pray to God for parking
"You see, it's an acknowledgement that we depend on God for
No, I don't see, and no amount of alcohol seems to clarify the
matter. Not for the first time, I fear my path to God may not turn
out to be overly theological.
In fact, the few moments of clarity I have experienced have been
in times of stillness, on retreat, after days of structured
contemplation. But any light is soon doused by the return to
busyness, and no amount of words or reasoning can rekindle it.
But at least the weather is nice, and Anna and I can take baby
out into the garden that evening.
Watching him play in a patch of sunlight, I reflect on the
wonder of his existence. An IVF child, from the only embryo we
produced after four years of trying, he was, the hospital staff
seemed to think, close to a miracle.
I can't believe that God actively chose to give us this perfect
child, while choosing not to give a child to so many other couples,
nor that it was his will that we should have so much disappointment
before our joy.
But when Anna prays to God to keep him safe through the night, I
pray secretly beside her, too.
And when I see him playing in the garden in the first long, warm
evening of spring, I am content, and grateful for this beautiful
day and everything in it.
Pass me the matches.
Adam Fowler is a freelance radio producer, working from
home in Oxford.