‘I talk to God, but the sky is empty.’ Sylvia Plath
I share Plath’s view. The sky is empty of God, but there are other objects flying around, intentional, and otherwise. Planes, birds, bats, and further upwards, there’s space junk, the detritus of human ingenuity gone wrong.
Call in the gleaners, those who collect abandoned objects, but space junk might serve little purpose other than as the term suggests, as junk.
On the day of my father’s funeral, his coffin rested in the central aisle of the Church of Our Lady of Assumption in Cheltenham. He had reformed in his last years, not drinking, and attending bible study classes with my mother. He even studied Hebrew. He was back to his fascination with religion which he held as a young man on arrival in Australia before he abandoned it for a type of atheism, or at best agnosticism, when life became too difficult.
Like Sylvia Plath, I like to imagine my father could not reconcile the idea of God in the sky with the rigours of his life. Father of nine children in a foreign country where people decried his accent and he needed to work ten times harder than the locals, to get anywhere.
Not indigenous folks. He never paid them attention. But my father’s ancestors from centuries ago were no doubt colonists. In turn his arrival in this country in search of a better life, a voluntary refugee, was a colonisation of sorts.
It took only a short time before he had earned enough money working as a carpenter in his early days to buy the block of land on which he built his first Australian home, using hand tools only. A house which remains today in Nepean Street in Greensborough. It still holds its niche, a rectangular recess in the side wall near the front door where he once propped a statue of Our Lady.
One of my brothers tells the story of how our father bought the statue from Pellegrini Religious Supplies in the city and asked the shop assistant to prise off the halo, in my imagination a wire sequence of tiny metal stars. Whether it was because he thought her less than holy or whether to help her fit her cast inside his alcove, I cannot say. I have no memory of the event still a toddler, but I can see him do this on his way to a renunciation of the faith he entered to marry my mother who would not countenance marriage to a non-Catholic.
It helped us sidestep the ignominy of what priests called a mixed marriage. A most serious event in the eyes of the church which, like so many tribes, seeks to keep its own together.
The fact that the man I came to marry was once a Catholic appealed to me such that I have often wondered whether the expectation of my tribe carried in my blood still lingered in my choice of life partner. I cannot say this for sure. If he had been practising as a catholic, I would have turned right off.
His lapsed state appealed and my sense we shared an ancestry of ideas and might understand one another better for it.
The early impulses to pray to God for all the things I want, need, or hope for, linger. Muttering under my breath, I find I cannot stop myself, ‘Please God,’ even when the sky is empty.
Please God, in whom I disbelieve, help us out here. Give us the thing we most need or want or value. Please don’t let us down.
Whenever I make a birthday wish over candles on a cake and draw in breath to blow them out in one gust, the desire hits me.
One breath, one blow and all the candles out at once to make my secret wish. It has more chance of succeeding if I keep it secret. One breath and one complete snuffling out of those pin pricks of flame.
I love birthday cakes for this reason. The promise of a wish more likely to succeed in the superstition of my childhood’s mind. These days my two loudest wishes are the same and although they are yet to come to fruition, and I still cannot tell you here what they are or it would ruin any chance of their fulfilment.
Part of the myth of blowing out candles at birthdays and making wishes, they must be held in secret. Rather like the idea the person who forms an idea for writing a book does well to keep the idea to themselves, at least for some time while it flourishes into some workable piece of writing. Otherwise it will lead to nothing.
Something of these treasured wishes held firm in my mind keep me confident. One day now. And whether the God of my disbelief allows it, or fate or the random chaotic nature of life, I cannot say, but I strive anyway.
Look to the skies for this is where we locate the God of our imaginings, up high, mid cloud or ahead of the clouds.
An accidental click on my mouse and my writing disappeared briefly and in its place a picture of my mother, and her sister and five brothers when they were in their later years on one of their rare get togethers pops up. Company my mother loved with a passion. Her beloved siblings.
You can see how much they cared for one another. If I compare this to a photo of my siblings altogether on one of our rare get togethers, I wonder about our mutual affection.
Too many children make it harder to connect. Or so is my experience. I’m dubious when I read stories of large happy families in the newspaper. Large families are a breeding ground for jealousy and deprivation. One lot of parents cannot manage all those babies in turn and still attend to the toddlers ahead and the older ones.
Something must give. Someone feels left out. But the message might be akin to the words the priest intoned at church: ‘the family that prays together stays together’. As if the invisible God in the sky or the statue of Mary with her halo removed could hold us altogether.
It could not. We have grown into separate worlds. Unlike my mother’s family. All of them dead now, but in their lifetimes, even though many of them on opposite sides of the world, they all came together with joy and longing.
My father’s family not. They were raised in multiple religions, religions that changed like the fashion. My father might well have been confused.
Better no religion, I say, even as my mother’s words pop into my brain. How can a child develop any sense of morality without religion to guide them? And I think of the wars that run throughout time, especially now, and at their root some form of religion.
Like the story of Gulliver’s Big-Endians in Lilliput who believed the big end of the egg should be cracked. Unlike their counterparts, the Little Endians, who believed the other end should be the way in.
Human beings find some way of seeking division. Even as, like porcupines we cling together for warmth, just as we pull apart when the prickles are too intense.
Still, we hope to find God in the sky. And we hope the sky is not empty, not only a God of our choice, but of birds who fly overhead unimpeded. A reminder that the earth spins on its axis for generations to come and that we in our tawdry lifetimes have not added too much to the damage of our ancestors.
A future for our children whatever Gods might inhabit the skies.