If Heaven is one place ( and it surely is, because the people who go there won’t mind sharing) then it has many quarreling embassies on earth. Most of these will make you feel welcome, because on the whole, with some obvious exceptions, religious people try to be nice, especially if you’re new.
Just keep the moonlighting a secret.
Spiritual double-dating is one of the underappreciated pleasures of the post-enlightenment. The Greeks one Sunday, and the Russians the next. In Paris there’s an excellent basement filled with guitar-playing South Americans.
Nothing quite so exotic here in the English countryside, but enough god-in-buildings to keep a recent arrival interested. The Anglican vicar in the church above the river lives in fear of central directives. She points out the emergency exits before we acknowledge the Almighty. Then reassures us that due to swine flu no chalice will pass from hand to hand or lip to lip. We are advised not to shake hands when offering the sign of peace.
Come on, I’m thinking, have a little faith.
I like the peace. I like its duelling quality, and the sense of passive-aggressive confrontation.
‘Peace be with you.’
‘No. Peace be with you.’
In the local Catholic church the avuncular priest is on holiday, replaced by the Emeritus Professor of Moral Philiosophy from Lodz University in Poland. We are encouraged to take turns cooking his dinner, because his celibate mind is busy on the grand design: The resurrection is misunderstood, he says, because of its misunderstandability.
That’s very good.
Then out on a walk yesterday we came across a hidden stately home that is the global retreat centre of the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University. ‘It provides a supportive atmosphere to people of all backgrounds wishing to explore the possibilities of personal growth’. There is a nice lady at reception dressed in white. She doesn’t have a name tag, and why should she – names can be so hectic.
We are free to wander around, explore the gardens.
‘The spiritual university, a registered charity, has 8500 teaching centres in over 100 countries and works for world peace through personal change.’
I’m in for that.