So, first of all, it probably helps if you understand the bad TV. I am cursed with only receiving terrestrial TV, which over here in the UK means four and a half channels. (Sorry, UK joke.) Anyway, Channel 4 (why yes, we do name our channels imaginatively) shows Stargate SG1 and Enterprise on a Sunday afternoon, and, being a sad, lonely geek with no social skills, I watch them every week. Luckily, there's nothing on after them for a little while, so I can avoid sitting watching TV all day (now you understand why I don't pay for any other channels - I know what I'm like).
Anyhow, as I stood up to start my chores, I must have knocked the remote control, and it changed over to BBC1. Now, living on my own, I do have a habit of just leaving the TV on - sad, lonely geek, remember? I ignored it, and went to get some cleaning stuff from the kitchen, and started on the chores.
Now, eventually, the show on BBC1 changed from the warm inanities of Terry Wogan to the horror that is Songs of Praise. Yup, that's right, our state broadcaster, er, broadcasts a Christian show every Sunday. That's what comes from living in a country where your head of state is also the head of your country's religion.
This week was showing the first of two programmes with "the nation's top 20 favourite hymns". And despite myself, or possibly because I dislike cleaning, I started watching it.
Now, if this was a church magazine, this would be the point at which I told you how a wave of wonder and awe swept over me. But it isn't, and it didn't. Get that out of your head right now.
I watched it because I knew quite a few of the hymns. I had a nice, upright, Church of England upbringing. In other words, my mother would take me to church every week, where I would sit amongst lots of very elderly people, vaguely worried that the congregation seemed to get fewer and fewer every winter.
My brother came along too - he had no choice. My father came along as well, but he... well, I'll get to that later.
As time passed, I got to the age where I needed to get confirmed. This is usually around 13 or 14, when we are, apparently, able to make our own minds up. This is the point where the baptism you had as a child gets certified and becomes valid. You confirm your entry into the church. (Note: This is not exactly how it was explained to me, but I think it gets the essence of it, anyway.)
The young DullTrev was perfectly happy to do this. You see, he believed. He had talked to his mother, and had asked Jesus to enter his heart. He wasn't an evangelist, he wasn't going to set the world on fire, he wasn't (heh) dull about it, he just quietly believed. And so, to the delight of his mother, he was confirmed, like his brother before him.
So that was how I knew many of these hymns coming from the TV. But, as I'm sure you've guessed, it's been a long time since I believed. Oh, it lasted a long time. I still had it when I went to university. It even survived the efforts of the student evangelical group, though I did manage to mock them at every opportunity. It even survived me studying physics - a belief in God didn't imply a belief in the creation story.
But what it couldn't survive, what started chipping away at it, was life. The depressing inevitability of the collapse of my first love affair. The terrifying news that my father had heart trouble at the same time my mother was being tested for suspected bowel cancer. The horrifying realisation that the reason I wasn't achieving what I wanted academically was because I was too scared to put the effort in and find I just wasn't intelligent enough. The fear I felt at everything, at being alone, at losing my parents, at being a failure, that is what it couldn't survive.
And so, I assume by a different path, I arrived at the position I now understood my father held. You see, while my father played his role as a parent and came to church with us every week, he wouldn't go up to receive communion. I asked him about this and he said "It's just a symbol. Some people need to have that symbol in their lives. I don't." I suspect he was just too polite to say he didn't believe. He didn't want to colour our views, my brother's and mine. He wanted us to decide for ourselves.
And I suppose we both have. My brother told my mother he lost his faith, as he put it. But it was never a big thing for him, as far as I can tell. I, however, have never been able to tell her. I suspect she knows, but I just couldn't do it. Since she retired, she's studied hard to become a Reader, essentially a lay preacher. It takes time, and effort, and commitment. She's considering studying more and becoming a vicar.
And I know she does this because she believes with all her heart. She truly believes we need to have faith to make sure we are saved. She's too kind a person to press us on it. She'd never tell us we were damned. But she loves us, and I can't bring her the pain she'd feel if I told her the truth.
Which brings us back to the programme. It had some really wonderful hymns in there, inspirational music, music designed to speak to your soul, to the inner emotional you. And it works, it really works.
But now all it does is it reminds me of the belief I once had, the faith I once held so dear. And it was good to have it. Because it makes things so much gentler. It makes the world so much easier to cope with. It gives hope.
And I am without it. And I want it, I really do. I really wish I could believe there was a divine being, someone or something that makes all this have a reason, have a purpose. I want it with all my heart.
But I know it isn't there. I know it isn't true. The greatest strength and greatest curse of humanity tells me it isn't there. My mind understands the similarities between all forms of worship, of the belonging it gives you, the comfort. And I know my religion is no different to any other, stretching back to the worship of thunder gods and water spirits.
And it hurts. It hurts so much.
And so, I watched the programme, I heard the hymns. And I cried for all that I had lost.
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