But that’s taboo: God

Throughout the western world, belief in God – that is, genuine belief that God is is real and relevant- is increasingly taboo. Well, no, that’s not quite right. It’s sort of taboo. Across Europe and the UK, God appears to have been largely forgotten. America is its own special category. While here, in Australia, in my lifetime Christianity has thus far has swiftly been shifted from the category of Ned-Flanders-quaint, to Fairy-Tale-ridiculous, to the now perilous quandary of (at least in the media, if not on the ground, among real people) Horrible-and-Dangerous-Ethically-speaking-yet-unquashably-hope-inspiring (listen in to Cynthia’s story for example). Laughs used to distance the masses from the faithful remnant here in Australia, but now I think it’s more a mix of outright contempt and perplexed incredulity (that die-hard Christians, their Bible, their Christ and their God, just won’t go away). Also, fear.

I’m not sure where the fear comes from exactly, but maybe its fear of the unverifiable nature of belief in an unseen spiritual realm, another reality beyond, but related to ours. I think that, perhaps unconsciously, scares the heck out of people. Having just read Stephen King’s Revival though, I’d say the age-old fears about what lies beyond the curtain of death are well and truly alive. Most other cultures across the world, to this day, retain a robust belief in the spiritual realm as more real than our material realm, but we in the West, tremble, and therefore, scoff at the thought.

To me there seems to be precious few spaces left to freely talk about serious belief in God in our current culture, but, even in the most secular of circles, there does seem to remain, at the very least, and only very quietly, an insatiable curiosity in the firm belief of something so “unprovable” as God. It may very well just be a fleeting curiosity, as in the presence of the (newly) devout Catholic priest in Fleabag . Irreverent mocks genuine belief in the Christian God as laughable and hopelessly outdated but ultimately not entirely defrocked of the vague utility of belief in dark moments like mourning the loss of a loved one (“God, we deliver into your care…”) or healing deep conflicts (a surprising use of the biblical wisdom of Solomon). But more serious contemplations of the genuine validity of the Christian claim of truth cannot, it seems, be openly discussed, only smuggled in, as in the frequent exploration of Christianity by multiple characters in Sally Rooney’s string of novels. Serious considerations, in general, do seem to be taboo in the West these days. (Of course in other countries across the world, professing allegiance to Christ is not just theoretically taboo, it’s punishable. But that’s another part of the story).

For this, my final post in this Taboo series, I have compiled a collection of buts and pieces on belief in God of Christianity, including a poem I wrote a few years ago. I haven’t written a poem since high school. I am not a poet by any stretch of the imagination, however, I thought I would include it anyway as it expresses something I couldn’t think how to express other than in poetry.


Lost, I sit and stare through the window pane.

Red bricks, pitched roof, slate tiles

against a brilliant winter blue.

Clouds washed and wispy white,

impossibly high in a wide suburban sky –

a feast of treasures tactile and true.

What wonder, what delight,

arrests my spirit and my sight.

But then, this thought flies in –

Is This All?

My confidence cracks – splintering doubts, stirring despair.

Can one ever be certain of something hoped for?

Sure of something unseen?

Is it ever safe to bet all and everything

on what the eye cannot quite glean?

Soothed by a sudden, silent breeze,

now my little one comes to rest his head upon my knee.

I stroke his warm, downy head,

and sip sweet spiced tea.

Do my eyes speak truth,

or have they somehow failed to perceive?

Is not this winter’s bright honey light lovely?

Even though it belies

secret truths hidden from humble eyes?

Yes! Even splendid sunlight has deceived!

Four year old philosophers ask (with winsome urgency)

Why?”, and “Anthony’s Mum says – but that’s not true, is it?” –

“Tell me, honestly: what is real?”

Atmospheric magic scatters blue, indigo, violet and

from a different view,

something is revealed, though hidden in plain sight.

Our giant orb, our daily delight

is in truth not yellow but white and

through raindrops reflected, refracted, dispersed,

sunlight is split seven ways, the magic mysteriously reversed!

“Child, much of life is make believe,

wishful thinking, and fairy tales.

Seeing is believing but – use your imagination! –

and you might just find that there is treasure beyond sight –

treasure more truly true,

than all that is sunny and bright”.

“I love Jesus” he says.

“Why’s that, buddy?” I ask.

“Because he’s amazing” he replies.

“What’s so amazing about Jesus?”

“Because I can sit in his lap” he says.

[This most likely a reference to a picture in his toddler bible]

“What else is great about Jesus? Why do you love him?” I ask.

“Because he is good. And happy. And he hugs the babies” he replies.

– My youngest son, aged 2 1/2

Let me be clear: Faith doesn’t necessarily fit me comfortably, like some beloved hand-me-down Nanna knit. My faith is hard won.

– A note in my diary

I’ve always been religious but it wasn’t until I was 29 and I heard this scripture that I wholeheartedly believed:

“A broken spirit and a contrite heart, O Lord, you will not despise” Psalm 51:17

I first heard about Jesus when I was about 5 or 6. My parents (or someone!) gave me this cassette tape “The Story Of Little Tree: An endearing Easter Fable” (which of course due to the wonders of the internet you can listen to online if you want too). I loved this story and was profoundly moved (to tears) as I heard about Jesus’s crucifixion and read along in my (rather graphic) children’s bible. That was, as far as I can tell, the beginning of my faith in God, a faith which has to this day remained, buffeted by regular doubts. I would say that I have always had faith, but yet I did not fully, wholeheartedly, submit and surrender to God and believe until late one night, just shy of my 30’s, when King David’s words cut through to the very core of my heart and soul, and I surrendered.

“As we approached the other writers at the tent, we walked more and more slowly. I said, ‘I think there’s something huge and one day it’s going to roll over me’. I don’t even know what I meant by that. But I’ve known it in some secret part of myself for years. As if I have a tiny, tenacious little ego, which is straining to hold back a mighty force.

Yellow Notebook, Helen Garner

“But Jesus, characteristically puzzling, simply says that her many sins are forgiven, because she loves him so much. Could it be that easy? We just have to weep and prostrate ourselves and God forgives everything? But maybe it’s not that easy at all – maybe to weep and prostrate ourselves with genuine sincerity is the hardest thing we could ever learn how to do. I feel certain I don’t understand how to do it. I have that resistance in me, that hard little kernel of something which I fear would not let me prostrate myself before God even if I believed in him.”

Beautiful World, Where Are You?, Sally Rooney

I grew up very religious, but definitely not in the way you are probably imagining. Everything I do, I tend to do wholeheartedly. My school reports were always filled with praise of my conscientiousness. If I commit to something, I’m usually all in. I knew Jesus from a young age and I wanted to follow him, and I really tried to, but in reality, I was religiously devoted to anything but God.

In my teens, Environmentalism captivated my heart and mind and soul and I was a pretty devout believer from the ages of about 14 to my early 20’s. I started a permaculture garden at home, spent my weekends planting trees for Landcare, removing weeds from ponds, and generally being actively involved in our local council’s Youth Environmental Council. I went on Environmental Camps, taught recycled paper making to high school students at our annual Environmental Youth Expo and when I got to university I joined the campus green collective, went to Sustainability Conferences, even tagged along one day to monitor tree removal in State Forests (checking to see that habitat trees bigger than a certain size had not been logged as per the law).

It was about his time that three things slowly dawned on me (1) It was exhausting and morally relentless trying to be green all the time and I was failing miserably (hats off to all the dear people who relentlessly labour to be better stewards of this earth) (2) Mother Nature certainly was wonderful, but she was also utterly impersonal and unspeakably unkind (tsunami’s, volcanoes, deadly jellyfish) and she was never going to save me specifically or personally (she didn’t know me or care about me), in fact she was just as likely to kill me (3) Green theology when it comes to the place and purpose and value of people is heartbreakingly pragmatic and left me feeling cold (see this article for a helpful insight into why, as Christian, Green theology feels like it falls short). So, in my heart, I left the movement. I stepped away and vowed to always do everything I can to tread lightly in this world and advocate for better stewardship etc but never at the expense of humankind, whom I considered the point and pinnacle of creation.

Interwoven into this time was, secondly, an almost religious love of music. I just loved live music. Mainly Australian rock/indie/alt/folk rock: Powderfinger, Something for Kate, Silverchair, The Whitlams, Little Birdie, The Waifs but also hip hop (Hilltops Hoods) and jazz/funk (the Cat Empire). I went to Homebake in the Domain when I was 16, then Big Day Out, Splendour in the Grass (wasn’t brave enough to travel and stay at the Falls Festival). During uni years, I feasted on live performances at Newcastle’s Uni Bar (the best small venue) and in Newcastle’s pubs. What an awesome time the 90’s and early 2000’s were for live music in Australia. I loved international bands too (embarrassingly Smashing Pumpkins were The Thing), Gomez, and thanks to a friend, The Tea Party. I also played piano and learned guitar at this time, and if high school music teachers are anything to go by, I had some small amount of potential. But I got very distracted by other things (like saving the planet) and fundamentally did not understand the crucial role of consistent practice in the development of musical skill. I say my love of music was religious because it was something I felt that I needed in order to feel – I’m not sure what. But it tugged very strongly on my soul (still does) and, temporarily filled a void. That the void was never quite ever filled was the reason, I guess, that I moved on to experiment with other options.

My third religious experiment was with success. At university I fell completely in love with academic study and I honestly thought the things I could do and achieve with my degree (psychology) would give me all the purpose and meaning I could ever possibly want in life. But then, I missed out on my Masters Course by 0.5 of a mark (a course I was desperate to do and have moved cities to try and get into). After completing a less appealing (but nonetheless very helpful) Masters, in was only a matter of time before my untreated social anxiety crashed headlong with those hope and dreams of meaning and purpose. Once I entered the workforce and had to face hard realities: working with people when you are socially anxious is exhausting and definitely a wobbly and confused way to find meaning and purpose.

Following my initial failures with success (see what I did there?), I married, fell pregnant, and attacked motherhood with predictable religious fever until, smote by a short season of probable post-natal depression and later crippled with chronic fatigue and infertility, I gave up on (accidentally) pinning all my hopes on parenthood for identity and meaning.

In the aftermath of all that, I began to embrace Simple Living like that was going to finally solve all the problems of my tired and limping life. Suffice to say, learning how to ferment and make my own cheese, while extremely fun and helpful and healthy, wasn’t enough to satisfy the cavernous cravings of my soul.

My thirties were essentially a repeat of my teens and twenties: trying madly to find something to make me feel right, or at peace, or just better – but with one important difference – King David’s words always ringing in my ears –

“A broken spirit and a contrite heart, O Lord, you will not despise”

And these words, slowly but surely, have become my strange comfort, the guiding posts to my proud and stubborn life. These words somehow, mysteriously, speak to all that my heart, mind, and soul is ever searching for. These words offer no argument for science vs. God; these words don’t offer specific consolation in the face of indiscriminate suffering; these words do little to answer complex ethical dilemmas. They only speak to a reality of creature and Creator. And this is the only reality that soothes my soul and eases my mind. Here, in these words, is deep crying out to deep (Psalm 42:7).

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