This blog has come about as a result of being asked (a while ago now) by my good friend and veteran WobblyWilliams blogger, Bob Kuhn, about my views with respect to what my religious beliefs mean to me as someone with Parkinson’s. His question came about as a result of reading my blog "Last one out, First one back", published last October. The answer in short, my friend, is that I have given it a lot of thought and I really don't know. But, I will attempt an answer, but in order to do that I need to wind back the clock to before I was born.
My parents were both raised Catholic – my father because his mother was Irish Catholic. My maternal grandparents were not, to my knowledge, Christian or held any religious beliefs whatsoever, in spite of my grandfather being very Victorian in the way my mother and two sisters were raised. Their early years were spent with their Norlands trained Nanny either on the top floor of their Kew house or in the park. A visit downstairs normally happened at bedtime to wish their parents good night.
On the outbreak of war, my mother and her sisters were sent to St T's in the country for safety and my grandparents retreated to Worthing. So it was that the 3 girls were initiated into the Catholic faith. My father, meanwhile dodged the bombs whilst attending Hampton Grammar.
Having been introduced by a mutual friend, my parents wedding in the mid-1950's was not only a full Catholic mass, but my father was also in full dress uniform as a serving officer of the British Army. My mothers two sisters, by this time, were both back at St T's, having embraced a life with God in the confines of the convent. Travel for them both at this time was very restricted, and they were not allowed to attend the wedding of their younger sister.
Whilst I hold very early memories of my aunts dressed in black and at one time wearing cowls, my contact with religion was non-existent until I went to a Catholic boarding school, as Christianity did not play a part in our upbringing. It was only then that I encountered the Catholic faith, where the nuns were very strict, and in their eyes we were all sinners, or so it seemed. On arriving there, and being dreadfully homesick, I quickly made friends with a gorgeous flame haired little girl called Niki. Niki, together with her wonderful mother Ann, were my saviours. Niki and I are still firm friends, and she is still a gorgeous red head. Ann is now in her 70's and we email each other regularly. As Niki lived only a few miles from the school, I was a frequent visitor to their house until the day I left school at 16. I even used to invite myself when the rigours of boarding school life became too much.
I have very fond memories of Ann and her never ending kindness and generosity. She was, and still is, a strong Christian, and it is thanks to her that I "defected' to the more gentler Anglican faith. Hell and purgatory, in my household today, does not exist - only heaven. I was frightened rigid during my early school years, I see no point in my own children suffering the same fate!
So, Ann was influential during my school years. The other person who was influential during the latter school years was my mother's eldest sister, Helen, or Mother Clare as I had to call her, as she ended up as deputy head of my senior school. Our arrival more or less coincided and we both found ourselves thrown together and put in a very difficult position. I wasn't allowed to tell anyone M. Clare was my aunt, but word soon got out and to the day I left I was pestered as to her real name, and those of the other nuns!
As for my father, whilst not a "religious" man, he held a strong fascination with religion, and there was not much he did not know about the subject. I remember during my childhood he would spend many hours debating the subject with his sisters-in-law. But he also became fascinated by other religions, primarily as a result of living and working in a Muslim country for 20 years. He ended up studying extensively not only the Christian and Muslim faiths, but also Hindu, Siekh, and Judaism. He had a tremendous thirst for knowledge and very rarely read fiction. When he passed away he had in his possession hundreds of books, primarily on the subject of religion, military history and sport.
So, to put it mildly I had a slightly confusing time of it Christianity-wise until I left school. My mother had, and still has, absolutely no interest, my father was not religious but fascinated by it, a wonderful aunt who got more than she deserved in raising a rebellious niece, scary nuns who had me labelled as an eternal sinner at the age of 8, and the wonderfully kind and gentle Ann.
So what about my faith and Parkinsons? The two make good bed-fellows in that they are both shaky at the best of times! But I do attend my local church, a bit hit and miss at times I must admit, and I find myself there about every 3 weeks or so. I enjoy the service, it is always lively and well attended, and I have made some good friends. I always give my children the choice of attending with me, as it is their decision if they wish to go or not. I do not intend “forcing” the subject upon them, but I do ensure that they understand the true meaning of Christmas and Easter. As for my father and my aunts, I am just grateful that they are no longer alive to see the quivering wreck I have become. It must be hard for my mother, but we make light of it by arguing over who's going to push who in the wheelchair first.
Since being diagnosed several of my Christian friends have attempted to bring me to be “healed”. But my early experiences make me want to run to the hills and hide and they have now learnt to respect my feelings! For my part, I have always had a twinge of jealousy for those who find the Christian path an easy one. But at least I am on that path, just about! And I am just as determined to stay on that path as I am not to let Parkinson's defeat me. With God by my side and in my heart, my journey through the Parkinson's world may not be a comfortable one, but at least I won't be alone.
All this has left me with a question for you that has always niggled me - Should non-Christians celebrate the birth and death of Jesus (Christmas and Easter) or their Pagan equivalents?
As to an answer to your question Bob, I'm really not sure if it has. And next time we see each other I'm sure we'll have a debate about this!