In our youth many of us loved to visit theme parks with their precarious, spine-tingling rides of terror. It was cool to be scared and come out safe and sound at the other end, before heading back for another go. It’s got me thinking about the religion of my youth. I reckon it was a roller-coaster ride to beat all roller-coaster rides. The big one where Cosmic powers laid down the tracks of my life, taking me on a topsy-turvy spin of life and death. I guess I’d better explain.
I got on the roller-coaster when I was converted, when I bumped into the Divine at the Theme Park of Northern Irish religion. now at the time I believed that God was the owner of the Park, but I was mistaken. Like me He/She was just visiting, looking for lonely souls like myself, a Divine pick-up if you like. No, I was quickly ushered onto the Charismatic/Evangelical roller-coaster ride, not by Divine Love, but by the ride operators at the Park, the teachers of a faith, full of excitement and thrill.
At first things sped along nicely, as I ate my Bible snacks on a daily basis, drinking from the fizzy fountain of answered prayers. Just around the first bend though, things started to pick up. We weren’t on this ride for fun, rather we’d been recruited by the Divine, who incidentally was wistfully watching from the sidelines, for the Battle of all battles, the titanic struggle of Good v Evil, or Jesus v Satan. My wee psyche had inadvertently been hijacked for a cause, one that had strapped me in for the long-haul, by the vows of group commitment. For beside me, to the right and to the left, were my brothers and sisters, those fellow warriors who joined me in the cause – an army we were told that would storm the Gates of Hell. Boy, was that a rush. One mass of screaming solidarity flying around our God ordained track of Spiritual Warfare. We couldn’t lose with God on our side or could we?
Of course we had some wonderful ups along the Way, when we glanced far below the Face of Divine Love, smiling at us. Unfortunately we mistook this for Its approval, rather than the compassion that awaited us on our dizzy return. Anyway, it was an adrenalin blast, as we danced, sang, spoke in tongues and fell on our faces in the frenzy of devotion. And there sitting in front of us were our elders, who’d ridden the ride for many years, knowing each twist and turn, stoical in their steadfastness and control. All we had to do was copy them and everything would be all right, as we soared into the very heavens of God.
Of course, the downers followed the ups. There were casualties as we peaked and headed down into the tragedies of life at lightening speed. No matter how euphoric the ride, things got messy at times, both personally and collectively. We were bombarded by the fiery darts of the Evil One as we attempted to claim Northern Ireland for Jesus, through the cries and screams of intercessory prayer. And boy, did he pack a punch, knowing how to hit us in our spiritual solar plexus. Depression stalked our downward path, yet we cranked up and efforts and prepared ourselves for the next upward surge of Spirit. The Sunday sermon told us that it wasn’t an easy ride following Jesus, and so it proved, though not for the reasons that the preacher promoted. For a ride with Jesus and the Devil wasn’t a bed of roses, one that we could easily escape from. If we jumped, Evil had won and we’d pay for it for the rest of our lives. If we stayed we pleased Jesus but had hell to pay.
I managed to stay on the ride for 16 years or so, before I was pushed off , so to speak. Having lost my firstborn son Ben, to cot death at 5 months, I began to doubt the supposed All Powerful Designer of the Ride. Yet, even this wasn’t enough to have me get off the Revivalist track. It took some plain old rivalry with my leader friend to have me finally pushed off, an act of unintended mercy, that paradoxically saved my future, psycho-spiritual bacon. And of course, there was God standing by the kiosk of Compassion, granting me all the time necessary, for my cold-turkey detox from the adrenalin-fuelled track of Revivalist religion.
Eighteen years later, it was time for us to be reintroduced. Not on the Fairground Rides of Programmed Religion, but in the aching emptiness of a human heart. And so it has continued, a courtship of Aloneness, a Union in the fields of Self, far from the victory screams of Satan-obsessed souls.