Chapter 12

In trying to describe the development of ideas in my head - the exploration of my own humanity - I have probably laid too much emphasis upon moments when the ordinary world has seemed to me to be transformed, moments of subjective illumination and heightened awareness, and too little upon those longer and much commoner periods when the objective world has remained very ordinary indeed, and I have plodded along with little or no vision of anything beyond its everyday ordinariness; but I have done so purposely in order to redress what seems to me to be an imbalance created by the Church, which invariably plays down the former and extols the virtues of dull perseverance and unilluminating fidelity instead. 'You will not feel anything,' the parish priest tells those about to be confirmed by the bishop; and when, not surprisingly, they don't feel anything he wonders why they give up so soon and conclude that religion is not for them. I know that Uccello's Rout of San Romano was a great work long before it halted me in my tracks and revealed itself to me, and that it will remain just as great even if I get bored with it or pass it one day in a dyspeptic mood and see nothing much in it once again; but I am glad that none of my teachers at the Royal Academy School of Art ever said to me, 'It doesn't matter what you feel about works of art; all you have to do is to believe me when I tell you that they are splendid, even if they don't look it.'

God is real whether I acknowledge his reality or not, but I shall only know him to be real when he becomes real for me, and by playing down the little glimpses of God and moments of vision in people's lives, far commoner I believe than is usually assumed, the Church in its scepticism and fear of subjectivity can all too easily nip a person's faith in the bud. So, while I know that perseverance in periods of darkness is a virtue to be cultivated and prized, I make no apology for emphasizing the importance of those breaks in the clouds when the sun comes out and something never seen before discloses itself to the person with eyes to see, whether he or she be a scientist, an artist, a child in the snow, or someone in search of his or her own meaning and significance.

But I do apologize if, in describing my journey from atheism to Christian belief, I have made it sound straightforward. it has not been so. Instead, belief and doubt, faith and scepticism, worship and boredom, prayer and self-reliance, silence and distraction, listening and deafness, hope and dull depression, symbol and what we mistakenly call bare fact have battled for dominance over me, while I have kept moving erratically along a far from straight or narrow path: two paces backwards, one sideways, with half a pace forwards occasionally; and yet the ambiguity of these contradictory signposts lining my route has at least ensured that I should not for long treat any of them as ends in themselves, not even love or prayer, faith or worship, symbol or silence. They are not; they are means to an end, and that end is God - the mysterium tremendum et fascinans of the eternal spirit - ultimate reality.

'Thou hast created us for thyself,' said St Augustine in a celebrated statement (Confessions, Book I, ch. i), 'and my heart shall find no rest until it rests in thee.' Yes, indeed, but when can anyone claim to have reached such a resting place, or cry, 'I have arrived!'? Although Eliot began his poem East Coker with the words, 'In my beginning is my end', before he had finished it he turned them upside down in recognition of the endlessness of the human journey:

Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise.
In my end is my beginning.

In every end there should be a beginning, in every death a resurrection, change being the quality of life and immobility that of death; but even though I know that my journey is not ended, I also know that somehow I have been brought quite a long way from the point of the road where my atheism finally collapsed and I began to thumb a lift from whatever driver of a passing ideological bus would pick me up and tell me who I was and where I was going.

One of the most exciting events along the way was the discovery that science, art and Christian faith are united at their most creative depths by a common dependence upon moments of disclosure, a common belief in order, harmony and beauty, and a common recognition of the significance and value of ordinary things. This was a discovery which transformed the world into which I had been born, making sense by turning what the world used to call sense upside down, and reversing its judgements; indeed, it could hardly have done otherwise, for implicit in it was the discovery that a man whom the world had judged and hanged on a tree outside Jerusalem was the world's judge, that the poor in spirit were richer than the fat, that those who die in the world's Buchenwalds and Dachaus are more powerful than those who put them there, and that the blind are more likely to see things worth seeing than those who pride themselves on their panoramic vision. It was a surprising discovery and not easy to get used to, though I should have been better prepared than most people for its reversals; for the artists have been overturning the world's judgements all down history, challenging people to see Rembrandt's humpish naked women as more beautiful than Boucher's dimpled rosy pin-ups, Velazquez's derided dwarfs to be the soul of dignity, and Cezanne's monumental apples to be as noble as the Parthenon, and I had understood the artists for many years before God turned my life upside down. Meanwhile, the scientists, too, had taught me to live in a very different world from that in which I had been spawned and raised: a world in which uncertainty had replaced certitude, the growth of a mould on jelly had produced a revolution in medicine, the stone Dr Johnson kicked had turned out to be a near-empty package of electrons and protons, and the world itself a patch of mist to a passing army of neutrinos; and all this, apparently, inherent in a self-disclosing reality external to scientists, artists, the poor in spirit, and those who wait and watch.

Somehow, too, I have been given an answer to the problem of my own identity, nature and significance, which was what I was seeking when I set out in the first place. It was not the only answer available along the route, but it made sense of my experience, my humanity and the perpetually surprising loveliness of even the most unlovely of people which tends to break through the unpropitious surface from time to time when it is least expected; for if the answer to the question. What is man? is implicit in the claim that Christ was both an ordinary man of flesh and blood, and also an embodiment of a mystery which transcended his ordinariness, then the duality of my own ordinary humanity in all its uneasy marriage of body and mind, flesh and spirit, brute lump and transcended mystery begins to be understandable, as does that of all people. He is the supreme clue both to the un-ordinariness of ordinary people, their eternal significance and value, and also to their destiny in the providence of God. Thus, I can say at last to my small cloud of unquiet corpses. Requiescant in pace, in gratitude to them for not allowing me to take my life for granted without asking questions about its meaning. As for myself, what is left of me, old, bald and a bit corrupt, I shall try to remember in whatever time remains to me that being is a matter of becoming, and becoming is a matter of receiving: 'He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.' I shall try to remember, too, that the becoming
and the receiving depends to a greater extent than we often realize upon the images which we invite, allow and welcome into our heads, where those of this world's demons, attractive as they are, fight with the images of God for mastery over us and dictate our behaviour. 'By their fruits shall ye know them.' But since this book is about belief and not behaviour, that is another story.



p. 49 'And he rose up that night....' GENESIS 32: 22-31

p. 66 '....whether in the body.....' 2 CORINTHIANS 12: 2 - 4

p. 92 'Where there is no vision....' PROVERBS 29:18

p. 95 'The shall it be for a man to burn....' ISAIAH 44: 15 - 17

p. 102 'That seeing they may see....' MARK 4:12

p. 104 ' all things.....HEBREWS 2:17
'That which we have heard....' I JOHN I 1 - 3
'Who do you say.....' MATTHEW 16: 13ff

p. 105 'Unless ye see,...' JOHN 4:48
' evil and adulterous generation......'

p. 106 'He came unto his own.....' JOHN I 11 - 12

p. 107 'Beloved, now we are....' I JOHN 3 : 2
' many as are led....' ROMANS 8 : 14
'That ye may be blameless....' PHILIPPIANS 2 : 15

p. 112 'Is not this.....' MATTHEW 13 : 55ff, MARK 5 : Iff
'As my father.....' JOHN 8 : 28
'.....the works that I do.....' JOHN 10 : 25
'He that hath seen......' JOHN 9 : 25

p. 113 'One thing I know......' JOHN 9 : 25

p. 115 'The fruitless fig tree MATTHEW 21 : `19 MARK II: 21 - 22
LUKE 13 : 6ff

p. 117 '.....God so loved......' JOHN 3 : 16

P. 118 '.....if Christ hath not....' I CORINTHIANS 15 : 16

p. 124 'When the doors....' JOHN 20 : 19
'their eyes were opened.....' LUKE 24 13 - 35
'.....none of the disciples.....' JOHN 21: 1 - 12
'.....if any man is in Christ......' 2 CORINTHIANS 5 : 17

P. 127 ' man can say.....' I CORINTHIANS 12 : 3

p. 129 ' I know that thou canst....' JOB 42 : 2 - 6

p. 156 'I do not understand....' ROMANS 7 : 19

p. 158 'In the world....' JOHN 16 : 33
' of good cheer.....' JOHN 16 : 23

P. 160 ' returning and rest.....' ISAIAH 30 : 15

p. 161 'Behold I go forward.....' JOB 23 : 8
'Verily thou art a God.....' ISAIAH 45 : 15
'.....the word of the Lord.....' I SAMUEL 3 : I

p. 162 'Blessed is the man.....PSALMS 84 : 5 - 6
'He maketh the wilderness.....' PSALM 107 : 35

P. 169 'Watch and pray......' MARK 13 : 35 - 37

p. 170 '....we know not how.....' ROMANS 8 : 26
'One deep calleth another.....' PSALM 42 : 7

p. 173 'Could ye not watch.....' MARK 14 : 37


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Antony Cyprian Bridge