The Prayer Seeker
none of it any more. I cannot be the person You would have me be, and believe me I’ve
tried. How I’ve tried. You are not who I thought You were, and You’ve abandoned me
when I most needed you. So from now on, I no longer count myself as a Christian. I no
longer believe in You in any way. So, here’s an end of it.”
The moment he’d spoken this truth, Michael felt clean inside. It was as if the words
had been demanding existence for some considerable time, and at last they were out in
the open, leaving his mind free.
For a long while, he stayed at the sink, not even pretending to wash up, but simply
relishing the unexpected sense of liberation. Emptiness too and unfamiliarity, but neither
of those overpowered the feeling of relief.
Michael didn’t go to church again after that. Neither to the one he had been
attending, nor to any other. Although once, just before he moved house eighteen months
later and got married, he found himself attending the nearby cathedral, an ancient one, the
polar opposite of his local cathedral now, during an early morning communion. He hadn’t
intended to go, but it had seemed right somehow as if he were saying a formal goodbye to
something he could not longer understand. O nce there, he paid no attention to the service,
refusing to respond to the echoes rising in his thoughts about the place where he’d first
become a Christian. He was here, yes, but he was a Christian no longer. That much had
been decided, that much had been done.
Still, when it came to the communion itself, he rose when it was his time to go
forward and knelt at the altar rail like any other worshipper. But he did not take
communion. In his hand, he held the day’s service sheet as a sign to the priest that he did
not want the bread and the wine. He clutched it to him as if to ward off evil. When the
priest came to him, Michael expected a simple blessing and then he could be gone. He
did not expect that the man would raise his arms outwards and upwards so the folds of his
rich white-and-gold robe hung down like a curtain and say, quietly and only to him, the
blessing of Moses:
The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face towards you
and give you peace.
Not words that Michael could receive, in any sense, at that moment, but the very act
of the priest raising his arms in blessing made him feel protected as if the man was
standing between himself and God and offering him a safe place. A place where he could
be alone and unharmed.
He didn’t remember much about the rest of his turning away from God. He assumed
his old church must have contacted him at some point to see what had happened,
although he could not remember any such visit or telephone conversation, and in a sense
nothing had happened. A small flashpoint of some kind had been reached, with them and
with himself, and he had walked onward, while they had stayed behind. Or perhaps it was
the other way round. Now he could not tell. Life then had moved on, into marriage, a
change of job, a new county and home, and into the rest of his existence until today.