Shani was desperate for me to come to church on Christmas Eve for the midnight service.
“You’ll enjoy it, Den; I promise,” she pleaded.
I was feeling jittery about the trials of the Day itself, but I was as frantic to believe as purely as I had done that day in September, when Shani and I had declared undying allegiance to the church with such fanatical gusto, as ever I had been.
I was so hungry for that clear faith, untwisted and unwarped by my own sinful desires and unpardonable doubt. I wanted to believe in the Light of the Lord as I believed in the sun beyond the clouds. For yes, I was no longer depressed; though the clouds hung heavy in my sky, I no longer despaired in the existence of the silver lining.
And so I relented and went.
There was no epiphany of joy for which I wished so very fervently; but maybe that is not surprising. I was pure in not mind, body nor spirit on that Christmas Day. I was light-headed with nothing but obsessed with everything. A miracle would have passed me by as the most timid and unassuming of breezes, impressionless. I was aware of the view but not of my own body’s subsistence at the centre of the picture. The combined effect of distraction and concentration made me imperceptive to any work of divinity.
But I did realise, as the sermon echoed softly betwixt the ornate buttery pillars around me, that I was not merely hurting myself by staying in bed on Sunday mornings. I was not punishing myself by denying myself faith – for that was a punishment so far exceeding my sin that I could scarcely believe I had actually been following such a false creed.
No; I had been disappointing Shani and Clara and the passionate pastor who had blessed me so tenderly just a few months ago. And I was disappointing the Jesus whom I so wanted to serve.
How could I hope to understand something if I isolated myself away from it? How senseless was that? How unjust to myself? Forgiveness, mercy – I had another chance. He died for me on that cross. How dare I turn my back on Him?
And from that moment I vowed that in practice, at least, I would be faithful. Doubt might haunt me to death, but outwardly I would be conscientious. I could not ever disappoint or let down. And someday, that vow, I was sure, would help me to believe and to achieve my ultimate objective.
The sermon ended, and all I could do was chastise myself for my inattention. This sermon might have been fundamental to my spiritual wellbeing; to my Destination, no less. Why would my God have brought me to this place at this time, listening to this parson and these words, if they were not to help me in the realisation of grace that someday would come?
And I had not heard. I had not listened. I had been bent on personal trivialities and petty foibles while the spirit smouldered inside me, unfed, bleeding for bellows. How dare I consider myself greater than this wonderful coincidence God had crafted for me?
I was tired and anxious. Although I don’t dare to use that as an excuse for my confused hypocrisy. I don’t know that I can claim any greater degree of common sense in the daylight than at midnight.
It was a similar situation with my roast dinner. The sky was invisible, roads misted over with the dervish dance of the dryads, window panes elaborately decorated with crystallised gossamer in cross-stitch. Through my window I could see fairyland, but in my kitchen I was systematically ignoring that which could distract me from this all-consuming adventure.
My diligence prevailed and the dinner was a modest success. I say ‘modest’ because I forgot the gravy and overcooked the traditional Yorkshire puddings – a greatly appreciated novelty for Shani and Clara.
“Magnificent!” was Clara’s warm declaration – but she is always generous. No one mentioned the possibility of a mishap involving my superb cranberry tart and the wobbly pepper pot.