What is ‘belief’ for you?

Dear Parents, Guardians and Friends,

This letter is NOT an attempt to persuade you to ‘believe’ in God. Frankly, I gave that up a long time ago. However, I hope the letter provides material for you to have a conversation about what belief might be at home or elsewhere. Remember, atheism is a belief! So, if you’re an atheist, you’re in one sense more religious than I am! If you’re an atheist, you believe that there is no God. If that’s true for you, I want to ask you what kind of God do you believe doesn’t exist? I’ll probably agree with you! My concern about atheism is that that it cuts out infinite possibility. There’s a cold chill to the belief, perhaps.

Then, what God do I believe in, since you might assume that religion is of importance to me? Take for example a title that’s used about God everyday in the Cathedral and elsewhere: ‘Almighty God…’ Of course, I join in and use the title when I lead prayers and readings, but it’s not an image that draws me into the mystery of things. They’re not the images that I warm to, frankly. ‘Almighty’? Really? The same applies to the word ‘Lord’. The trouble is that I associate these words with images of power and control, despite the fact that they are better associated with the limitless ‘power’ of good and love.

Adopting an image of God that does touch the depths of me comes about by what God is not rather than by why God is. God, for example, is not the one to reveal to me how I’ve failed, where I’m weak. Recently, I said to someone who is a kind of mentor for me that I found going into silent prayer so difficult that I feel a failure. She simply said, the God you go into meet in your silence doesn’t exist! These judgmental images, I keep reminding myself, are not for me.

There are those who have experienced ‘being taken hold of by Christ’ and in that ‘being taken’, they’ve experienced the mystery of God’s presence. There’s a clue in this image of ‘being taken hold of’. I’ve never had a shattering experience of being taken hold of by God, but there have been little inklings; little suggestions; little hints that have almost imperceptibly found their way into my heart, as if they were light breezes brushing my cheek.

You may have had a hint, an inkling that you may have forgotten or even ignored. Here’s an example from my experience. Leos Janacek [1854 – 1928] was a Czech composer, fascinated with folklore and the way music can convey the depth of human experience. His operas have become part of the repertoire all over the world. My daughter Madeleine is currently rehearsing a part in his opera: ‘The Cunning Little Vixen’. In the wild, Janacek, believed, we return to our true nature through story and music. One of his greatest pieces of music is his 2nd String Quartet. He gave it the name ‘Intimate Letters’. Of course, the four movements of the music are for two violins, viola and cello and aren’t literally letters. However, for many years he was in love with Kamila, who was his muse. He wrote over 700 letters to her. In the music he captures the calm, the sadness, the allure, the fear, the playfulness and the almost childlike quality of their relationship, about which he had written in the letters and felt in his relationship of love with her. When I listen intently to this music, I’m drawn into what feels like the universal scope of love. This may be, just may be, an indication, a pointer, a hint of the mystery of God – a breeze against the cheek. But there’s no certainty in all this, as there isn’t in any religious expression. Perhaps Shakespeare might add: ‘Thinking makes it so’. After all words are hints, inklings, metaphors of the reality which we can never grasp wholly, but only be ‘taken by’.

What has ‘taken’ you and can you recall it now? If you can, write it down. It could come in useful! You can watch and listen to Janacek’s 2nd string quartet on YouTube:


The Intimacy of the four players in the picture makes its own point.

With my prayer and my blessing,


Bishop Martin
School Chaplain

2 February 2022
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