« Role Models | Main | Grandchildren »

Sandy's Say: Lend Me Your Mind - Part One

"Each person has his or her own awareness of life and its meaning. So, it is not for me to intrude but I do have an honest story of personal experience which is positively bursting to be told. I did not seek this story out. Against substantial odds, it came and found me,'' says Sandy James in this revealing and wonderfully readable column.

By the telling of it, my hope is to suggest the seed of alternative possibilities to be explored by the unshackled mind. An unshackled mind is one which retains the checks and balances of scepticism yet remains open and uncynical, for truth is too quickly dismissed by a consciousness which arrogantly believes that it already has all the correct answers.

It is a great pity then that you do not know me in person because if the source of the information is reliable then the story is so much more credible. The best I can do, under the circumstances, is to assure you that I am neither psychic nor psychotic, neither cuckoo nor kooky. I grew up as a sensible, conscientious and compliant eldest child raised in a no-nonsense, medically inclined, mostly logical family.

We were what I refer to as "paper Anglicans" as our birth certificates stated that we were members of the Church of England but, in practice, we seldom set foot in the place. The reality was that we were brought up with an unspoken "black hole" theory. My father, a surgeon, dealing daily with matters of life and death, conveyed the impression that he believed there to be one life only and then that was it. He even had a physical explanation for those who had had a near death experience and seen a tunnel of light, saying that this was due to the fact that the optic nerve was the last part of the body to die. Essentially he espoused to the Czech author, Franz Kafka's belief that, "The meaning of life is that it ends."

We never questioned, challenged or really doubted him or my mother on this. We just weren't the sort of family who, around the dinner table, discussed religion or saving souls. Our conversations tended more towards topics such as sigmoidoscopies, appendectomies and saving lives. Most frequently though the big question of the day was simply, "What's for dinner?"

As gloomy and finite as this outlook sounds, it does not mean that I was raised in a depressed atmosphere. On the contrary, I had a happy, privileged childhood growing up in South Africa and never once doubting that I was loved. I reached adulthood without an indoctrinated opinion and only a vague spiritual awareness. I was free to grow and accumulate knowledge by experience, without the impositions of sin and guilt, all the while being tutored in the art of being basically decent and helpful through the example set by my parents.

For most of my life, I had had an awareness of a greater, loving presence surrounding me and, thinking that this must be what we call "God", I decided to investigate it further. At the age of nineteen I attended religious instruction classes, was confirmed and began to attend church on a regular basis. I made some genuine, lifelong friends and found there to be certain parts of the Christian teachings which seemed to be in accordance with my life experience. Despite this however, I never did feel that, for me, Christianity was a perfect fit. It always sat a little uncomfortably, like one of those jumpers which your grandma has lovingly knitted for you but the neck is awkwardly lopsided and one sleeve is slightly longer than the other.

In particular, I had trouble with church attendance. It was solely my perception but I could never quite shake a sense that some aspects of it seemed a little contrived. I found the way that people started ostensibly speaking in tongues, on demand, to be rather unconvincing. I dreaded the artificial camaraderie of the passing of the peace when total strangers would come up and hug me. As far as I was concerned, love was an emotion too deep and spontaneous to be made compulsory. I recognised a few hypocritical people being publicly pious when I'd seen them, at the shopping centre earlier in the week, behaving in a most unchristian-like way to their fellow men and women. Perhaps I had the unfortunate tendency towards picking the wrong congregations.

I have always had a good rapport with children, so one morning I chatted to a six year old boy who had just finished Sunday school. He was standing dutifully in the corner, waiting for his parents and looking extremely bored.

"What do you think of church then?" I asked him.

"Well, they do serve a yummy morning tea but they don't really tell you what it is like to die or what happens afterwards, do they?" he replied. I had no answer for such young wisdom but I had a sneaky feeling that I'd come across a kindred spirit.

One evening, when the minister was obviously very unwell, yet soldiering on with his sermon and not a single person suggested he go home to bed or asked him how he was when he stood at the door saying goodbye, I left forever, feeling sadly disillusioned by what I'd not found.

After this I simply got on with life, or rather, life got on with me, and I gave spirituality little or no thought whatsoever. I was young and carefree and adventuring out into the world so I stashed the concept away in the too hard basket.

Which is, of course, precisely when it came to find me.


To be continued next week.


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.