Every Sunday I get on the 44 bus from Garratt Lane in South West London and make the 30 minute ride through Battersea and across the river to London Victoria. My final destination is Westminster Cathedral, which is just a short walk from Victoria station. During the bus journey I have my iPod on ‘shuffle’ and get a mixture of Christian music (some hymns and some gospel), rock and metal, and contemporary electronic music in my headphones. The journey tends to go smoothly and quickly (particularly if the music is good), and I am always surprised by how short the final stretch through Belgravia to Victoria station is once the bus has crossed the river at Chelsea Bridge.
It might seem surprising that despite considering myself a non-Christian, I still choose to visit a cathedral every Sunday. After all, Westminster Cathedral is a Catholic building, indeed, it is the centre of Catholic worship in England. Well, the truth is, I feel a real sense of God’s presence in the place, despite not being a Christian. There are no religious buildings corresponding precisely to my beliefs, and Westminster Cathedral (along with other Christian churches) does at least offer the right kind of atmosphere for me to pray and reflect and have some ‘God time’.
They do of course hold mass in the cathedral, but I don’t attend. I did feel inclined to join in a service one Sunday a few weeks ago, but after only a few minutes the content of the liturgy made me feel deeply uncomfortable, and so I quietly put down my prayer books and wandered out to the aisles of the cathedral, where everyone is free to pray to God quietly and in their own way. What made me leave the service? Well, I simply cannot relate to the Christian idea that we are all sinners, and apologising for sins doesn’t make sense to me. This is because I believe that God is responsible for everything that happens in the cosmos and in our lives; we do not have free will. I have written about this extensively on this blog on and in my books, so there’s no need to go into the subject in depth here.
Along the aisles of the cathedral there are chapels dedicated to important religious figures and saints. Everywhere there are metal racks holding dozens of candles, and visitors are invited to light a candle, perhaps in memory of a loved one (and in exchange for a small donation). The atmosphere is solemn and sacred and very beautiful.
My favourite part of the cathedral is an area called the Blessed Sacrament Chapel where there is a statue of a figure who I presume is Jesus holding out his arms. Below the statue is an area where visitors can sit on wooden chairs or kneel to pray. There are only 8 or so chairs so the area feels very private. People often walk up to the statue and touch the figure’s bare feet or robe, presumably to absorb some of Jesus’ healing power. This feels like a distinctly Catholic thing to do.
When I am kneeling in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel I pray about all kinds of things. Rather than centring my prayers around forgiveness, as Christians do, my own prayers tend to beg God for mercy in terms of the way He treats us. I always pray especially for those who are suffering the most, and I always pray for people in hospital and people in prison and people who are homeless. After each prayer session I light a candle for a particular group of people who I feel have suffered greatly, whether holocaust victims, disabled people, the homeless, or another group.
During my prayer time in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel I often feel God prompt me to reach out to Jesus. And I do. Although my understanding of who Jesus is doesn’t equate to the Christian understanding, I still acknowledge Jesus as a special person in God’s eyes and a very important spiritual figure. I pray to Jesus for his friendship and ask for His love and support and intervention in my life’s circumstances. This goes to show how important I feel Jesus is, even though I’m not a Christian. I really sense how much God loves Jesus, and it warms my heart to think that Jesus might be my friend. I often go up and touch the statue myself, and then I touch my heart, hoping for healing in my own life.
My relationship with Jesus is peculiar because I don’t believe as a race we are in need of salvation from sin, which is what Christians generally believe. I don’t believe we have free will. God is responsible for everything that happens in our lives. And because we don’t have free will, we can have done nothing to deserve the wrath of God, or to warrant the need for salvation. Therefore I cannot accept much of what Christianity teaches. But I do accept that Jesus is obviously a very important person in God’s eyes, so I feel drawn to respect Him and to reach out to Him, and to read with care what is said about Him in the Bible.
When I leave Westminster Cathedral each Sunday I have a feeling of being refreshed, and it is as though a small weight has lifted from my shoulders. I have entrusted my woes and worries into God’s care, and I have faith that God will have received my prayers and will look after me and care for me in the coming week.
I have great faith, but it is not Christian faith. It is a faith that God is in control and has the power to unfold my destiny in whatever way He chooses.
Where do you go to worship?
How do you relate to Jesus in your own prayer life?
Do you believe we have free will?