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THE DISCONNECTED WORLD

by Gregory C. Atkin

 

In the process of conversation with the wife of a former church minister and history lecturer, in which the differences of theological perceptions between western and eastern Christianity were being discussed, the matter of existing spiritual worlds arose.

Somehow we reached the stage when I mentioned that in 1987 I was inwardly compelled to leave work early and take a train to Newhaven. I had never been there before. On the surface it would seem that this element of compulsion was irrational, to say the least. I was interested in the fact that there was a ferry from the harbour there to Dieppe, but this interest could in no way support my compulsion.

I alighted at the harbour and looked around the waiting area where there was the booking office. I took pamphlets about the trip. Again, as if there was another me functioning inside of my usual mildly rational mind, I told myself that this was not the reason that I had come. With a sense of purpose, although still not knowing the objective of my inward compulsion, I walked back to the town station, crossed the river, and made my way towards the mouth of the river, with the ferry terminal on the opposite bank. I noticed a sign on the right hand side of the road which pointed towards the fort. I climbed the hill and found myself overlooking a cliff, and thought to myself, "I have two uncles who were in the Royal Navy, one who sailed below the waves in submarines, and the other who flew above the waves was in the Fleet Air Arm". Suddenly, at about half-past-five, the sense of compulsion re- emerged. This time it was calling me to pray for them. Where I was, somehow, seemed to be inappropriate for the task, and I made my way to the road where I had deviated to the fort, turned right and continued to and along the breakwater as far as the small lighthouse. There I prayed. Having accomplished this, I seemed relieved of what I needed to do. I had a drink, made my way to the railway station, and returned to the shop in Lewes over which I slept during the night.

The following morning, before the shop opened, when I was organizing the float for the day's trade, the telephone rang. My sister told me that Uncle Mervyn, the former Fleet Air Arm petty officer had died between half-past five and quarter to six on the previous evening.

Why have I recounted this incident? It hardly seems a matter for public consumption. In fact, the matter was related to the conversation which I had had with the minister's wife. She had ventured that the Harry Potter stories had become popular because they tapped into the idea of another world which inter-reacted with the mundane things of life with which our lives are plagued. She further recounted her experience with Africans who, having come to this country to seek asylum, have difficulties coping with our national life which has little or no connection with a sense of what she described as a parallel world, a spiritual world, which feeds and is fed by the material dimension.

It seemed to me that two sources had brought this problem about. The first was that after the Second World War, the Labour Government became intent on undermining the traditional authorities within the country. This was particularly aimed at employers, the Crown, and anyone else who happened to be associated
with the prevailing aspects of government. Either by default or on purpose, the Church, Almighty God, and all that was associated with these became sidelined opening the doors of recognition to humanists and atheists. This was in spite of the fact that the origins of the Labour party had more to do with John Wesley than Karl Marx.

When I was in a state school in Bristol, prior to 1945, it was usual for the local vicar to come to the school on the morning of Ascension Day to lead the morning prayers and visit each class to hear the pupils recite a short psalm from memory. At lunchtime we left school and, having been given permission by the headmaster, we had the afternoon off. My mother would take me to Clevedon or Weston Super Mare. I was not aware when this practice stopped, because from the age of eleven I went to a Church School. There our religious education was assured.

Also, some time in the mid 1970s, I read a report in the local press that a teacher who taught in a state school had lost her job. Her crime, so the report recounted, was that she had taken a Holy Bible into the classroom.

It does not take much imagination from this to discern why the younger generation which, incidentally, includes the parents and younger grandparents of today's children, has been hijacked from the spiritual dimensions of life.

I mentioned that there were two sources for the problem. Already I have mentioned state interference. What of the other source?

One of the roles of .the Church is prophetic. One has been left to ask the question, with what were the churches concerning themselves that they allowed their spiritual and pastoral authority to be undermined? They allowed the politicians to deride their efforts in education and care with no effective counterweight. It is this situation which is the cause of many of the problems of life in Great Britain.

First published in ORTHODOX OUTLOOK - Issue 105 - September / October 2004.

 Copy-right and re-edited above by Gregory C.  Atkin.

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