Mgr Paul Grogan

Mgr Paul Grogan
Mgr Paul Grogan

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Surpised by joy on the moors

I had a great day off on Monday. It started a little unpromisingly; I had to mark some scripts from students who had completed the sacraments module that I had taught for the Catholic Certificate in Religious Studies. I say unpromisingly because this was work rather than leisure, but within a few minutes I was absorbed by what they had written. They were writing about the nature of baptism, how baptism and confirmation are distinct but related and about the theology of marriage. It was a pleasure to read how they engaged with the teaching of the magisterium and related it to scripture and their own experience. Then occasionally they would make connections that had never occurred to me and there, as I stared at the script, new horizons of understanding unfolded and I was party to some bold and direct theological enquiry resulting in beautiful if tentative conclusions.

It was lunchtime before I had got through all the scripts - I am a slow marker - and I set off for Ilkley Moor. As I was putting on my walking boots in the car, I listened to Richard Holloway, the former Anglican Bishop of Edinburgh, beginning the first in a series of programmes called "Honest Doubt." His basic thesis was that all thinking people doubt the existence of God, even those who, at other moments, believe in God's existence. He said that the universe had been evolving for a long time and that it was only in the last 50,000 years that man had reached a stage of self-awareness that he was able to question the purpose of his existence. He had created gods to give meaning to his life and had then had dismissed them and had embraced scepticism and accepted his own insignificance. We can never know that God exists, he said.

As I strode out across the moors - it was a 15-mile walk, beginning in Morton, with a restful cup of tea in Ilkley and then back via the fourth century BC swastika stone - I thought, with all due deference to an academic: "I disagree." The scenery was typically magnificent: broad shafts of light emerging from a thin bank of clouds illuminating Pendle to the west and Leeds and Bradford to the east, each attractive at a distance. I received this as a gift; it's frankly a bit hard  not to do so. I'd feel a bit daft thinking: "How extraordinary that I should chance upon such randomly occurring harmony." Also, as I looked around I didn't feel remotely insignificant. I felt very important: I was the recipient of the gift that I beheld. And what a gift!: I saw a grouse with all her chicks; a skylark; a roe deer; a pied wagtail; countless butterflies; banks of bluebells - I could go on. Halfway through the walk I remembered that one of the students had written about how in the Sacrament of Confirmation we receive not just the Gift of the Holy Spirit but also seven others gifts, one of which is knowledge. It occurred to me: I do know that God exists because he has granted me this knowledge. I can't, as it were, remove God from my life and then investigate whether he exists, needlessly adopting some kind of pseudo-scientific mode of enquiry, excluding from my consciousness all my lived experience of God's goodness. When push comes to shove, why on earth should I wish to divest myself of joy?

1 comment:

  1. Loved reading this post Fr..