September 1969. I remember the first morning I walked into my classroom, 1D, at my all-boys secondary school, and met Mr Starling, the form teacher. I was excited to find he was also my chemistry teacher – the synchronicity of it. Already in love with chemistry, it was the one thing I was longing to start.
I did not feel safe in life. Although now, in the early evening, I sometimes long for home, I realise that home, though safe and loving in all the important practical ways, was not consistently psychically safe. At school I was one of the wimpy boys. I was scared of bullying and, although I suffered little from this in reality, I kept a low profile.
I do not remember who invited me to the youth group at St Margaret’s Church (pictured above). Maybe it was early on before we knew each other better. I imagine a boy who wanted to be friends but I have no memory of that reaching out. I do not think of myself as someone who would be invited to such a thing, not popular enough. Indeed, writing this brings back to mind and body
feelings the felt experience of smallness and of being uninteresting. I feel diminished in entering this memory-time: small, uninteresting, anxious, lonely, hanging out with the less popular odd-balls. I feel a sad ache in my chest for that younger self, lacking in confidence and self-belief. School is a battle-ground.
So neither home nor school were safe, or I didn’t feel safe. I felt inadequate, a bit ridiculous. I had no interests of my own. Or rather I did have interests – reading, nature, classical music – but I feared these would not engage others.
It is strange that I accepted the invitation. I was vociferous to two friends that I didn’t believe in God. I have no idea why I was so against You. It was aversion, not atheism. Maybe I was frightened of opening myself to You, so I held You at bay. Early ideas of God are so often transferred from our parenting.
I remember enjoying the youth group: snooker, table-tennis, music, the kindly curates in black cassocks, girls (in delightful contrast to my all-boys grammar school). I think of it as sanctuary. I was more myself, freer. I was liked, and I was good enough at snooker and ping-pong to keep up.
I have almost no memory of the 30-minute God-slots that were held each week. A talk; some slides; venturing out to Belfairs woods, a few minutes walk from the church. It was certainly religion-lite, and thank God for that. I do remember sitting in church telling You to fuck off. That’s what makes me say that I was antagonistic to You rather than atheistic.
One evening, I must have been about 13, we were all saying the Lord’s Prayer at the end of one of these God-slots. You touched me. You felt like sunshine and warm honey pouring in through the top of my head and filling me up. It was an utter revelation. Although I didn’t articulate it then, I say now that You made Yourself known to me; You showed me You love me utterly; and instinctively I knew I could trust You. Everything changed in that moment. My life turned and turns on this axis.
(This is new: not that I remember Your touch, but how it finds a context in the felt identity-memory of a teenager.)
Suddenly the world opened out, a world that was completely and truly mine, something for me. What I had been offered was of essential importance. It gives the only possible meaning to life.
Yet, I was confused. I knew a response was required. You were not asking anything of me, but the world had changed and so must I. I remember walking my paper round in the early morning troubled over what I was going to do.
I decided to start going to church. It is interesting to think what a 13-year old could make of Anglo-Catholic liturgy. It must have been a culture-shock. And yet I have no memory of disorientation. I simply accepted it and absorbed it or was absorbed in it and felt at home. You disorientate me; church is tame.
The church became a second home and family to me. The other youngsters were nice to me, and we played together and made music together, as well as going to church together. I miss it.
One time I borrowed the church key from the vicarage so I could sit in the church alone with You. Even back then this was my preferred mode of being with You. Solitude, silence, stillness: alone with You with whom I can never be lonely.
You claim me as a son. You are the possibility of a father / parent who loves me uncomplicatedly, who wants me as me. When I remember this in this body I relax and I am ok, in the right place, here and now. This is my meaning. I don’t need to justify my life. It is profoundly grounding and presencing. I don’t need to be anyone else.