NOT sure I believe in God. I may do but doubt is the main thing I return to in trying to answer the unanswerable. But I truly do believe in what I think matters in the lessons from all of religion for how we hold ourselves and conduct our lives. The rhythm of religious life matters for us all, even the doubtful and the disbeliever. The latter have a certainty I never could buy.
Our whole year is punctuated by the festivals, the meaning of which we have often long forgotten. How many guisers this weekend reflected that they were acting out a ritual the night before the hallowed day of celebration of all the saints? The Church created this realising there weren’t enough days in the year for all of the saints, so created a catch-all. Today, in turn, marks All Souls Day, when the departed are remembered.
So we are world class at celebrating the great, the past and the mystical. That much has always been clear. Less good, I am afraid, at embracing the kingdom that lies in front of our eyes in the people we share our lives with.
Too often, I feel, does the daily certainty of routine make the magnificent seem mundane and let us take the truly wondrous for granted. It is too often true of our attitude to the people we hold closest, as well as others who make up the furniture in our lives that we rely on without recognising just how important they are.
I have had this thought swirling in my head for weeks now. I have been wrestling in my mind with what we can do to turn the palpable sense of creation and possibility that resonated around our referendum experience into something that could truly improve our lives. Easy to say, so hard to do.
Political processes such as the Smith Commission are hugely important and will run their course. What matters more though is the less tangible, more difficult to pin down, but meaningful sense of what we ourselves do as individuals. Not waiting for the great and the good to determine where we go next.
The saints are everywhere. Not just in the lives of the people who achieved such inhuman feats of wonder that we venerate them. There is greatness in every street and town, with people giving of themselves for others. Not waiting for someone “up there”, not blaming “them”, just getting on and trying and often succeeding.
The people devoting their lives to running Cubs or raising money to improve their school. The teacher who goes the extra mile to help a troubled pupil who just needs a hug and to be told he is something special when he feels that he is anything but. The neighbours that pop in with a plate for the elderly widow next door who loves the thought and the company far more than she needs the food.
Small acts of sacrifice and courtesy combine to produce a civilising force for good that changes lives for the better. Small actions that matter infinitely more than the greatest philosophy and speech on how government should work.
How do we scale that? Because it is the scaling of it that I feel was the earnest cry of the vast number that engaged in determining their country’s next step six weeks ago.
I remember as a child politician going to a door in Lanarkshire at an election too many years ago. The eyes of the woman who answered lit up as she stepped out and pointed to the rusting garden fence and gate and said to me: “Great, I have been wondering if one of you politicians would come. Look at the state of my gate and fence. It’s a disgrace”.
It was indeed. When I was a youngster my dad would have us file the rust on ours and paint it black every year. What I said though was, “Yes that’s terrible, I will get onto the council for you”. What I should have said of course was, “paint your own gate”.
The changing of that is our opportunity now. Of course what government does matters enormously. The power of joining our resources allows us to do so much as a society to improve our lot and protect our vulnerable.
But it is increasingly clear, to me at least, that the ability of “government” at all levels to truly transform our welfare and prospects is much less than our demands upon it. Our first thought must be to do for ourselves as communities and only second to look up for help from above us whether to Holyrood, London or Brussels, not the other way around.
If we wait for a truck to arrive in our street marked “power and resources localised” we will be waiting a long time, no matter how well-meaning the intent of all.
So maybe it is time for us all to start doing and celebrating the acts that show self-government and Home Rule in our own homes, streets and towns, right now, without reference to powers-that-be.
We have spent decades imploring governments to help us. Maybe now the time has come for us just to get on with helping ourselves and, more importantly still, one another. «