This time of year when the dark nights seem endless, always finds me in serious reflection mode.
Maybe more so this year, since in the weeks leading up to Christmas I was at four funerals in quick succession.
There comes an age when these things are as frequent as nocturnal trips to the bathroom.
And in keeping with the modern world three were civil celebrant affairs while one was in the Kirk.
I clearly remember Sunday mornings as a laddie when my mates and I were herded out to either the Chapel or the Kirk, before meeting up to play football.
Sunday Kirk or Mass was almost obligatory, although huge numbers have fallen away from attendance at both.
I found the funeral service conducted by the minister much more satisfying than the other three, with both a sense of tradition and gravitas.
There was no home spun family poem of dubious rhyming quality in the Kirk service. No new age mystique or awkward atheism still flirting with mentions of angels and the departed just slipping into the next room.
Instead there was a kind of old fashioned reverence; a sense of decorum and dignity for an old pal on his final journey.
The Kirk service provided me with something which I feel the modern humanist approach can’t match.
One man’s quest for the meaning of life
We all wrestle with the age old question – what is the meaning of life?
It’s a big subject to chew over at the breakfast table, and one I increasingly come back to with age.
— Humanists UK (@Humanists_UK) January 11, 2022
Like many who wandered from the Catholic faith I’ve slowly drifted back.
I returned to the fold for many reasons. Becoming a father, losing parents, close friends dying.
All of these things and many more were making me ask the big question more often.
Ultimately, strangely some might think, it was logic which played the biggest part.
I could find no satisfactory answer to why there should be something – the universe and everything in it – instead of nothing.
And I increasingly couldn’t accept that that something simply came from nothing as some Big Bang proponents suggest.
Listening to and reading about the many men and women of science who’d also concluded there was evidence pointing to a supernatural hand behind life stirred my mind as well.
Church memories stirred at a Latin mass in London
When, like many others years ago, I decided faith was guff and that atheism was a blindingly obvious stance I never thought for a moment I would return to the Church I was brought up in.
I’m no happy clappy – more of a cultural Catholic than a theological expert.
But just like the slow dawning that classical music and jazz are actually quite cool, I’ve come to appreciate what I grew up with, even if I didn’t really understand the value of it.
On a wedding anniversary trip to London a couple of years ago we passed the Brompton Oratory on our way to Harrods to see what we couldn’t afford.
It was my wife who suggested I might like to drop in to the advertised solemn Latin mass.
The magnificent chapel offers four daily masses and seven on a Sunday.
That was also back when ministers and priests weren’t buzzing around like demented honey bees trying to look after two and three congregations.
The beauty of the building was stunning and there was a huge gathering at the mass.
On reflection this shouldn’t have surprised me in a multicultural melting pot like London where Catholicism is the largest Christian denomination, and indeed where more folk profess to be religious (62% of the population) than anywhere else in Britain.
There was a sense of theatre and majesty with a retinue of priests and altar servers, and a huge and impressively talented choir.
‘When folk believe in nothing they’ll believe in anything’
Recently my wife and I had dinner with a Nigerian couple and their children.
Both have lived in Dundee for many years, are university educated in the sciences, and are devout Catholics.
I was the confirmation sponsor to their daughter last year.
The meal reminded me vividly of the importance of faith to so many folk.
Before we ate I was asked to say grace, an old tradition which many in today’s world would I suspect regard as nonsense.
However, I found it quite uplifting.
A former broadcasting colleague who was crowned BBC Radio 4’s Brain of Britain in 1965, and was himself a practising Catholic, once reminded me of the old saying, “When folk believe in nothing they’ll believe in anything”.
I’m no proselytiser.
It’s up to each individual to decide their own beliefs, or indeed the lack of them.
Everyone must take their own journey in life.
But when my old pal took his last trip recently I was glad it was a minister giving him a dignified and fitting final send off.