Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.
The pine forest blankets the hill and the trail is no more than a muddy churn of earth, upturned by a small farmers tractor no doubt. Strawberry plants bustle around the patches of sun where a tree has fallen to reveal azure sky and cotton clouds. Up the hill I walk, and see the familiar old trail markers of red and white that echo the national flag showing this is a trail in its senescence, in contrast to the modern yellow and blue signposts that are on the modern walks.
Upwards and left I walk into the cool dark, and then as the path levels I am greeted by the bones of the earth, the Hohe Wand, the High Wall, a cliff that stretches across and signals the edge of what was once glacier, dragging the farmland I see into the stone fields that have been cleared over centuries.
The dirt road I am now standing on runs parallel to the cliff face, with a sweeping green field separating me from the forest cloaking the start of the mountain. Behind me a venerable oak unfurls its silken green leaves to the sun, and there is the sigh of a cow and the gentle clanking of a bell. Then all is silence, and I hear nothing, but feel a deep sense that I am close to a powerful force that hovers on the edge of my perception.
Is this what people perceive when they talk about God? It’s a feeling I have always considered to be about pure connection with nature – but I have been told by acquaintances with religious beliefs that I am feeling God’s presence. Do I believe this?
I find an old bench, friable timber and rusted nails and sit and think about that question. Am I experiencing a true connection with a creator? Being an atheist means testing myself, searching for truth and meaning just as much as for any adherent of any faith. I just don’t believe that this truth comes from a higher sentient being. And I don’t feel any intuitive sense of connectedness with religion. But I want to be sure. I want to be open to the possibility.
I sit and I wait. I feel the beauty of the warm breeze,hear the whisper of leaves. I smell warm earth and chlorophyll, meadow flowers and limestone dust. I see the verdant green spattering up to the white cliff a billion billion leaves smeared into a carpet. I want there to be a God. I want him to be a giant father figure. I want him to take my father gently up to heaven, and know that when I die I will see him again. I want to believe this to ease my sadness, worry and fear. Like the millions of people who understand religion only as a tool for self profit, retribution and a way to deny the need to face suffering alone, I want God to fix things for me. Maybe not every adherent is guilty of this, but many are. I want faith the way I want a sleeping tablet, or a drink to steady the nerves. A panacea for myself, not for the world.
I sit there and feel the joy of the rock, sky, tree and field. I feel the exultant scurry of a thousand tiny creatures at my feet. I can feel my heart pumping blood, my breath drawing in mountain air. Everything that is here is here now. Soon my father will not be. That doesn’t mean I need to dream about a second chance in an afterlife. I need to accept that I personally still feel that after death there is nothing else, and that I must use the time given here, rather than count on any other interventions.
Perhaps this seems an affirmation of a pagan mindset or a confused agnosticism, but I will follow no rituals, obey no scriptures nor recognise any prophets. Rather I will go home and sit by my father’s bed, and tell him about the soughing of the wind, the smell of the limestone and the taste of dark shaded wood, so that he can recall those simple small gods.