Harper Lee is a very famous author. In 1960, she published her first book, To Kill a Mocking Bird. It turned out to be her only book. Until now. After 55 years, there is great excitement that a second book is about to hit the bookstalls. In a recent survey of librarians in the UK, To Kill a Mocking Bird came out as their most highly recommended book. I’d never read it until 3 or 4 years ago, so I did. Or rather I didn’t. I got a third of the way through and it just didn’t ring my bell. I don’t know why, as it deals with some very important and poignant themes. I was a bit baffled by this until I heard a famous DJ say on his radio programme one day that the same had happened to him, he just didn’t get it.
There are other things I need to get off my chest too. U2, the renowned Irish band, have sold over 150 million records worldwide. They have won 22 Grammy awards and have been labelled the ‘Biggest Band in the World.’ As a rock music fan, I should love ‘em. But I just don’t get them. I don’t own any of their music and couldn’t hum you one of their tunes if you offered me a lottery win. And then there’s Shakespeare and I’m moving into even more dangerous territory here. As an avid reader and writer, I should be head over heels in love with his writing. His use of language is sublime. But put me in a pub quiz team and I couldn’t answer one question on him, other than the name of Romeo’s lover. Watching his plays, and I’ve tried, leaves me cold.
I’m sure some of you are now incensed. If you’d said the same about The Rolling Stones, George Orwell or Dylan Thomas, I’d be mad.
But the point is this. Just because the majority see something in these matters, doesn’t mean I or you must follow the crowd. We are all individuals and we develop our own perspectives, likes and dislikes and a set of principles and preferences that get us through life. And I’m comfortable to say that I’m very sorry Harper Lee, U2 and Shakespeare (an unlikely threesome, I’ll admit) but you don’t switch me on.
The same principle stands in our faith. The defined default setting for a ‘proper’ Christian faith is daily prayer, daily readings of the Bible and not missing a Sunday service. That is blindingly obvious to some and is how they feel comfortable living out their faith. But for others, it can be just the same as my lack of empathy for Bono and his mates, it doesn’t ring their bell. For instance, I find the place where I am closest to God is in silence and meditation. That works for me but for others that would be purgatory and to be avoided at all costs.
There’s a famous song by John Paul Young, called Love is in the Air. The tune is perhaps going through your head now you’ve read that last sentence (annoying when that happens, isn’t it?). The lyrics continue ……’everywhere I look around. Love is in the air, every sight and every sound.’ There should be a similar hymn that goes ‘God is in the air, Everywhere I look around. God is in the air, every sight and every sound.’ Because if we do believe in a creator God, who created the Universe, then he is in every part of that creation. God’s DNA is in everything – in all of us and in everything on this Earth. Therefore finding God wherever is as valid a meeting point as a church on Sunday. We may meet him in the silence, in a walk in the sunshine, on a sunset beach, petting the dog, looking at a piece of art or photograph, in the garden, reading a poem, listening to a piece of music,, in the face of a child (okay, that’s enough examples, thanks, we’ve got the general idea – Ed).
The point is that church, regular prayer and Bible reading is a default setting where many feel they have a good chance of bumping into God, just like many think that by reading or watching Shakespeare, they stand a good chance of improving their education and gaining enjoyment.
But there are other ways of prayer, worship and encounters with God that may speak to you and can be perfectly valid in your relationship with the Creator, but which may have no appeal to others whatsoever. As I said earlier, ‘Love is in the air,’ and so is God. And his love for us is everlasting and unchanging no matter what. And no matter how, and no matter where we meet him, he still loves us all. Or as Shakespeare put it when he spoke of love – ‘Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds….O no, it is an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken’. Actually my wife told me those lines some years ago. There are one or two bits he wrote that I like.