How do most unbelievers view our faith? Do they see us as delusional? Or weak people needing a crutch? (That’s what I believed as an atheist.) Or as enviable but rather simple people?
I grew up in a home where my parents apparently had no religion but, being socially correct, sent us to Sunday School. We went to a Methodist Sunday School which I enjoyed but it had little impact on my life.
Down the street lived the Joneses, a religious family who were part of a denomination where the people kept mainly to themselves. We socialised with them on rare occasions like birthday parties, the Jones girls always clad in pretty dresses. They were not part of our tree-climbing, cubby-house-making childhood. There was a wide gulf in those days between some of the denominations.
We had no idea of the smorgasbord of faiths our society would embrace in these days to come.
Photo – Oakeybourne, our old Queenslander at Corinda
One day I noticed my mother looking sad.
“What’s wrong, Mum?” I asked.
She sighed. “Mr Jones has died. He had an accident.”
“What sort of accident?”
“He was driving home from their Tamborine house and fell asleep at the wheel of the car. He crashed into a tree and was killed.”
I was shocked.
The sudden death of one’s father was a world-shattering event.
“What will happen to them?”
“Nothing. They’ll be all right. Mary has faith.”
And I watched the Joneses continue with their lives, obviously sobered at first, but stoic.
They continued to go to work, to school and even paid us a brief visit at Mum’s invitation.
I watched in bewilderment as Mrs Jones sat in our large old kitchen and spoke calmly and lovingly about her husband. It was an early spring day, fragrant with flowers and the smell of scones baking, while outside the peach blossom tree glowed luminous pink, covered with flowers. I could hear the bees buzzing frantically while the old timber house with its galvanised iron roof creaked in the early heat.
Mrs Jones wiped an errant tear from her cheek but continued talking quietly, gently.
I was puzzled. Why did having faith make such a huge difference?
What did it really mean?
And how come they had it and we didn’t?
“Because they’re religious,” Mum told me.
Of course it’s not that simple.
But I was awe-struck at their coping in adversity.
The image of Mrs Jones talking calmly to Mum stayed with me over the years