I was on a train yesterday morning when one of those public transport preachers you encounter from time to time got on. "Just five minutes of your time," he assured the carriage, before starting his efforts to save our souls with the words "The world is around 6,000 years old now." This piece of folly so startled me that I genuinely didn't take in much of the rest of what he said because I was going over in my mind ways to politely suggest to him that he may waste less of his time and better engage more of us non-believers if he didn't start with such a bizarre statement of 'fact'.
I did no such thing, of course. I did what everybody else did, what everybody else always does - I waited him out in silence before he finished up and moved to the next carriage. I do remember some of what he spouted over the next few minutes - stuff about babies not needing to be taught to lie, that we're all born into sin, that the world is full of murder, paedophiles etc. The usual mix of preaching and Daily Mail style hysteria.
Why have I brought this up now, after months without a blog entry? It's not as if there's been nothing to write about - take your pick from corruption in sport, the Russian jet, Paris, Kenya etc. There's been plenty of stuff worthy of saying at least something here. So I don't know. But this is nothing if not a personal blog, and it's personal stuff that's brought me back here. Standing on the train listening to this fellow, I wasn't doing the usual commute into work. I was actually heading south, to meet my brother and my mother, in turn to head off to Eastbourne to see my father, who's in Intensive Care in the hospital there.
My dad has just had a major operation - they've taken out a major organ, a bit of something else and the cancerous tumour that put him in there in the first place. That's why I was heading down there and not into work. What has this got to do with the preacher?
Well the surgeon who assisted the op spoke to us before we went in to see Dad, to tell us what to expect when we saw him, what had gone on in theatre etc. He was honest with us, as both Dad and we had asked him to be, and one of his questions was whether we're religious. None of my family are - my parents left my brother and me to decide these things for ourselves, neither stopping us attending church nor suggesting we should. It simply didn't come up during our youth. The surgeon, learning this, said that he wasn't either, he merely 'didn't want to close off that source of support'.
There is, on the same floor as the ICU at Eastbourne, and at the Royal Sussex County where both my parents have spent time recently, a chapel and a chaplain for people who do take comfort from their faith at times like this. Part of me envies the succour they must get from it, but this wouldn't be my blog without the words 'wind me up' in it, and the greater part of me is indeed wound up by this juxtaposition of church and medicine.
Where was God last Thursday week in Paris, when innocent people were being slaughtered in his name? Where is he for my mother who, having suffered a stroke which almost killed her in November 2013, now has to hobble to the hospital to see the very man who's cared for her at home during her own rehabilitation? This woman, so full of compassion and love for others, so completely selfless, who better exemplifies the qualities to which we're all urged to aspire in various holy texts than anybody else I know, would certainly deserve better in any world in which people get what they deserve.
They don't, though, do they? Much of the stuff I could have written about these past few months serves only to illustrate that fact all too clearly. So she sits watching over a husband she's doted on for the best part of fifty years while I contemplate if the always-empty chapel next door couldn't better be used as a bar, frankly. Watching and hearing the reactions of the other loved ones sharing both a waiting room and a waiting game with us, each with their own stories, their own hopes and tragedies unfolding in front of us, I don't think I was alone in feeling more like a pint than a prayer.