“Does God Actually Talk To You?”


Posted by in September's Magazine

I have been alone in the presbytery for a lot of the summer, between priests, as I inadvertently managed to tell a telephone salesman.     

“Mummy, when Fr Martin is away, are you the priest?” My daughter asked me.

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“No Josephine.”

“Is that because you and Fr Martin aren’t married?”

Oh Gosh. I thought. Really not the case. “Erm…no. Mummy can’t be a priest because she’s a woman. And Fr Martin isn’t allowed to marry anyone”. Bloody hell, I thought. Our religion makes no sense at all.

But maybe it’s good not to have all the answers in my line of work. The doorbell went the other day and it was a couple of guys I had seen before, looking for food vouchers we sometimes have. It was pissing down, and I was in a monumentally crappy mood, but somehow this translated to a moment of compassion.

“Just come in, you can’t stay out there in this.”

“What, are you going to put the kettle on?”

“Yes” I said, handing them a bundle of papers – two hundred and forty church bulletins to be precise – and pulling up two chairs. “You fold these, and I’ll put the kettle on.”

What followed was a very pleasant hour or so, which did a great deal to soothe my grumpiness and frayed nerves. When two or three come together to sustain paper cuts in my name and all that.

“Does God actually talk to you?” One of the gentlemen asked me.

“No he bloody well doesn’t” I huffed back, honestly.

The pin on a grenade was being loosened, a rant was starting to break forth.

“People always say that and it really winds me up, they go on about hearing God tell them things. And I think, well that’s charming, it’s alright for you.”

“But he doesnae speak to me” offered the second gentleman.

“Exactly!” I said, really letting it all hang out now.

“And it’s really crap working here sometimes, because if you get pissed off about things you feel like it’s your problem, like you just aren’t holy enough or something.”

“I was thinking about that you know,” said one of the men. “Was thinking, she must feel like telling us to piss off. But she is being really lovely to us.” And somewhere inside I did a little high five, as if for once I had actually managed to do a bit of the work I was supposed to be doing: getting a bit of the right message across even if by accident.

I am certainly aware I need to be a bit more patient. A big bunch of us all met up in England recently, all of us who work for our particular religious order (which is called the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, for info). At breakfast they had one of those toasters like you get in a Premier Inn or something, with the conveyor belts that toast the bread then drop it out the bottom, making you feel special, like it’s been toasted just for you.

Anyway, this one wasn’t working. And all sorts of Christians from communities all over the U.K were having different responses to it. London were just walking away with untoasted toast. Anglesey were endlessly feeding it back into the toaster. Leith was largely giving up and having cereal.

But I was getting a bit stroppy about it. “It needs turning up” I grump, and attempt to fiddle with the dials. “Is it all not set to maximum? Why isn’t it set to maximum?” I said, in a sort of hideous Trump-esque, ‘more is more’ kind of rage.

“It just needs to go slower,” said a soothing Irish voice. It was the big boss man of all the oblates.

“You what?”

“It just needs to go slower. It needs turning down”.

Now this completely blew my mind; that someone could see something entirely the opposite way to me, that there were two ways to consider the same problem, that we didn’t need more power we just needed more time.

And I’ve thought a lot about that over the last while, tried to let it sink in. The problem is, if I try and be patient, if I try and not mind that God dosnae speak to me, and find that stillness, that peace the world cannot give then I occasionally catch glimpses of it. But then the anger creeps in.

And before I know it I’m stood screaming, like we all are at the moment, at that poorly functioning toaster that is the universe. Because the thing is, people are hungry, waiting for that toast. They are starving, waiting for the toast. In pain, hurting, waiting for the toast. The world is burning while we wait for the toast. I don’t know if I always have the faith to believe that when the toast comes it will wipe away all the horror of the non-toast, or if even if anyone has control of the machine at all.

But then, if there’s no one there I’m not sure I could be quite so angry at them…

Oh…seriously Sal?  Is that all you’ve got? The whole world is going to shit and all you’ve got for us is an extended toaster metaphor?

I’m sorry. It’s all I’ve got right now I’m afraid. But if you come and fold the church bulletins with me, I will put the kettle on. And we can be lovely to each other, even when we feel like saying piss off. That’s all we’ve got. It’s really all we’ve got. Maybe next time. Maybe there will be more soon.

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