Monday 14 October 2019

A profound discussion with a Little Old Man

Saint Therese lived with grace
Saint Therese lived with grace
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

Me and a guy we call the Little Old Man, for reasons that are long forgotten, but possibly connected to Viz magazine, were having a discussion about faith as I headed into work. Isn't it marvellous that you can discuss faith with a guy in Australia as you head into work?

We didn't start out talking about faith. We started out competitively comparing deep books we had read recently. I never win there. I'm talking about some recent simplistic self-help book. He is talking about Kierkegaard. I'm unwilling to read it so we compromise on the intro and the first chapter of Fear and Trembling. Which I will still probably never read. It sounds like a good laugh and everything but I have a lot of books on the go right now.

So we talk about the meaning of life and what it's all about, as if this will change anything about the dysfunctional way we live our lives. And as we compare notes, we realise that we are both bumping off faith here. He's more ready it for than I am I reckon. He was always ready for it really. He always intellectualised it and made it about ideas and philosophy, but actually, he has always had the God-shaped hole. We were of that generation who had rejected the Catholic church and dogma but instead tried to replace it with guff from the Eastern mysticism section of Waterstones. But he was always more engaged with it than I was, more open to quasi-religious reading - as long as it wasn't Catholic. He was the one who always pointed out that rejecting the church was all very well, but no one had given us anything to replace it with, except hedonism maybe.

As the chat got more into the possible necessity of faith in later life, I backed off a bit, choosing instead to use the term 'meaning', a much less incendiary and scary word than faith.

Anyway it got me as far as work, and we signed off to go about our respective secular days. I told my wife later that I'd had a good old chat with the Little Old Man about faith, and that maybe we were both bumping off adopting some kind of vague faith. I suppose I thought I'd be impressing her, or shocking her.

Instantly, she said: "My faith is exercising outdoors and raising a child with special needs."

And boy did I feel ridiculous. There was me and the LOM, diverting ourselves with big talk of faith and the meaning of it and what it could all be about, and wondering if we might be zeroing in on it by reading various books. And here she was just living it, without even having to think or talk bullshit about it. We were there playing stupid men's games, pompous old guff. And she was just getting on with it, living her faith, in a state of grace, too busy to be banging on about it.

And she reminded me of the Little Flower, who has been on my mind recently on account of Colm Keane and Una O'Hagan's book about her. If I understand correctly, Saint Therese expressed her faith through just doing everything with grace and with good intention and with God by her side. She called it The Little Way. She just lived it, mindful, present, intent.

I realised that me and the Little Old Man are just playing games really. It's a bit of diversion. If you're serious, you just live it. Let your meaning or your faith come from just doing everything with meaning. And women get this better than men do. Men are more attracted to the pompous side of it.

As humiliated as I was when my wife burst my balloon, I thought again about my dialogue of faith that morning, and I reframed it in my head. It had been, in its own way an act of faith and meaning, but not in the way I thought.

You know what it actually was? It was keeping alive friendship and connection. It didn't matter really what me and the LOM were talking about, at least we were talking and connecting, and God, whoever she is, was in there somewhere.

That the conversation was about faith didn't matter. The real faith was in the very act of picking up the phone.

'Brendan O'Connor's Cutting Edge' is on RTE 1 on Wednesday at 10.05pm

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