Being brought up as the son of a Methodist minister meant of course that I was exposed to religion from my earliest years. Whilst in my adult life I moved away from church involvement and found most Christian ‘positions’ to be unconvincing or misguided, there is no doubt that some sense of theology helped to form my view of the world and how I behave. This is what I mean by my religious faith. I have already written about the importance of stories as a way of expressing meaning – this came directly from theological teaching about parables told by Jesus, and then about how to draw meaning from stranger Old Testament tales.
When talking about loss however, I am drawing on what I would say was right at the centre of my beliefs at the time. I can identify this specifically with the moment in the Crucifixion story when Jesus cries out in despair: “Eli, Eli lama sabachtani” (Oh God, Oh God, why hast thou forsaken me). There was something about the way the story confronted in an unsentimental way, the experience of despair as part of life through which love can survive, that captured me in a way that the empty tomb and resurrection accounts could not – they looked like unconvincing ‘happy endings’ grafted on to the real insight of the crucifixion. The crucifixion seemed to me to be a psychologically convincing account of human experience.
There are times when this preference for a faith based on pain and despair, rather than on ‘joy’ can feel akin to being drawn to the minor key in music, or even as a kind of ‘adolescent angst’. There are times when I fear this may be a kind of weakness of personality, but I have continued to retain a sense that the crucifixion expresses psychological truths that are at the heart of what makes life meaningful. The triumph of meaning and love over despair even at the moment of defeat remains a belief that provides an essential core to the possibilities of life, and it was the utter despair and abandonment of the cry from the cross that turned this belief from sentimentality to a robust foundation in life.