THE main concourse of Paddington Station would be an ideal place for the “omniscient” narrator, so beloved of novelists, to take up their abode. It’s fascinating enough for me, even with my more limited perspective, to see so many lives briefly intersecting, so many individual stories criss-crossing, sharing for a moment the same space. I can only guess how it is for each person in that shared moment of their story, as they can only speculate, if they choose, about how it is for me.
I see such vibrant variety. I see two women in hijabs, an older and a younger, chatting intimately as they watch their luggage and work out their train times. Whence have they come? Where to, now? How does it feel to be clothed in such a public statement of their faith at this time of tension and crisis? What looks do they receive, brush off, or absorb?
I wonder the same thing about the man in the kippah, staring up at the departures board and checking his watch. Beside him is a teenager clutching a skateboard and wearing a black hoodie, beneath which big headphones bulge. Even from where I am, I can hear the tsk, tsk, tsk of an insistent beat. How different, I wonder, is the music that makes the pulse of his life from mine?
And then there is the harassed mum, holding the hand of a wailing toddler and watching her baby in its pushchair; the kind, tired face of the woman beside me in a blue uniform bearing a hospital logo and the words “Mental Health Nurse”; the suited businessman; the gaggle of football supporters, a little the worse for wear; the old man with the walking stick; the two young women, dressed to impress, supporting one another as they totter along on high heels.
I can only begin to guess all their stories as I wait to change trains. But, were I that omniscient narrator, I could tell you all about them, I could enthral you with the heights and depths, the joys and sorrows, the sheer pathos of their lives, and the lives of all the others with whom their lives, for good or ill, are intertwined.
How must it be for God, I wonder, who is truly omniscient, who knows every one of these people to the very core? He knows them better than they know themselves, and, in that full knowledge, beholds not only this crowded concourse, but everyone, everywhere, from the streets of Tel Aviv and Gaza, to the apartments of Manhattan and the quake-struck villages of Afghanistan.
But God is more than just some imagined omniscient narrator. The voice of the novelist is partial and selective: some novelists clearly love some of their characters more than others, and those characters, however well drawn, cannot turn around and love their author back. But the omniscient God, who knows everyone on that concourse, the omnipresent God who is present everywhere in Paddington, is no mere knower, no mere assayer of circumstance, but is the author who loves all of his creation equally. And, for him, knowledge and love are not separate things. Love is his very way of knowing; for he himself is Love.
If my knowledge of all those with whom for a moment I share the crowded concourse is partial, so, too, is my love. But, as I leave the concourse and board my train, I trust myself, and all whom I have seen, once more into the hands of the One who knows and loves us all far more completely than any of us can imagine.
Fire in the Heart: An Advent retreat with Julian of Norwich will be held online on Saturday 25 November, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., with Rachel Mann, Claire Gilbert, Richard Carter, Julia Mourant, and Malcolm Guite. Tickets are available at: churchtimes.co.uk/fire-in-the-heart-an-advent-retreat-with-julian-of-norwich