I was listening to Thought for The Day on Radio 4 the other morning. Well, I say listening, as most parents will know, that is something you can do only in an empty house. What I mean is: the radio was on, a religious man was speaking and I caught probably every fourth or fifth word in between shouting at my kids to hurry up. Anyway, the gist of what the man was saying was that it is good to be bored as it frees up the brain, and going to church may well be one of the last places on earth where that is entirely and routinely possible.
I realised this was true. Full disclosure: I semi-regularly trot off to church. A Methodist church. Not because I particularly adhere to the Methodist doctrine – I like a drink and, over Christmas, I delighted in receiving a poker tutorial from my brother-in-law, while drinking (did I mention that I like a drink?). But I digress and as I do so, I realise something else. Saying that you are a regular church attendee is a bit like saying you’re a Conservative or that you voted Brexit; not something routinely brought up in polite company for fear of causing offence or being on the receiving end of unpleasant comments or a superior sneer.
I go mainly for the singing; those Methodists adore their traditional hymns, having been founded by Wesley and all that. I’m in the choir, usually flanked by my fellow sopranos Barbara and Dorothy, two beautiful ladies d’un certain age, who are always immaculately attired and smell simply divine. I tip up often straight from the hockey drop-off in my jeans and scuffed boots, usually having missed Thursday night’s rehearsal due to yet more sporting commitments, and have to frantically scan the order of service so that I can swiftly thumb through the hymn book and apply my little multi-coloured flags.
Then after we have taken our places at the front, I relax into the rhythm, enjoying the routine, the familiar words, the silences as heads are bowed in prayer. Most weeks I feel myself dipping into a semi-meditative state. I let my eyes wander upwards to the vaulted ceiling and across to the stained glass, watching as the sunlight creates kaleidoscopic patterns on the walls and the parquet floor. It is the one hour of the week when I can just…be.
I feel my breathing change as I let the words of that week’s sermon wash over me. Certain phrases lodge in my brain and I am able to link together thought processes and let ideas pop unbidden into my head where uninterrupted, they have the time to get comfy and spread out into real possibilities.
One of my favourite bits is saying the Lord’s Prayer in unison. It has all the comfort of reciting a familiar and well-loved poem. Every time, without fail, I childishly anticipate the wonderful sound as fifty or so voices say: ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’. It’s like listening to the wind shift a pile of crisp autumn leaves around a patio.
You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned God in all this, and that is because I don’t really know how to. I have a faith but it’s not something that I can explain to myself, let alone others, so I generally don’t even try. I appreciate that church offers me silence and routine rather than entertainment, and apart from the offering, it’s free. As the man on the radio said, boredom or the preparedness to be bored allows our minds to open up to possibilities, and that’s good enough for me.