I can't talk to the kids today; I have too much to do. Actually, I haven't seen them for months because you know those annoying golf matches - they just need to be played. I can't tell you how they are doing because I have broadly forgotten what they look like. I have to assume that they are doing alright - their mother is a good and loyal sort and I trust her to look after them. I'd have seen them before now but I prefer to have a lay-in and get more valuable sleep; I work hard, you know that. Surely it would be easier if didn't have to meet up so early, but that isn't all. They want so much time and I just don't have the time to give to them these days. I have about an hour a week, no more. I'll give that to them if they could cope with seeing me a little later in the day so I can enjoy another coffee when I wake. And guess what; I am not going to feel bad. You cannot and will not make me feel bad because if you ask them they will tell you that I love them. I don't have to see them to still love them; they have always understood that. They know that, just ask them. And before you say it, of course I love my kids; I always have. They are everything to me. There isn't a thing that I wouldn't do for my kids, so don't go claiming otherwise.
Dear reader, please put down your pitchforks and your torches. I understand how the words above must make you feel; that I am some sort of pratt and a poor parent. Were these words true and situation real, then of course you would be right and I would no more deserve my kids than they to be exposed to such an appalling parent. But - the thing is, if you replace the "kids" with God, you have the great myth there before you: that you don't have to go to church to be a Christian.
I accept that there is a fundamental difference between spirituality and organised religion. I accept that for many a regular habit of corporate worship is difficult, that life can and does get in the way from time to time - or indeed because the simple act of getting out of the house is beyond the physical capabilities of some. What I am sure of, though, is that a belief in God is to be in a relationship of mutual love and trust akin to that of parent and child or between lovers. We galvanise these human relationships with temporal proximity or indeed some effort to keep those relationships alive if some distance exists between the parties concerned.
The thing is, the top paragraph is a (not widely off the mark) caricature of some of the comments that I have been privy to in recent years. They fall into the same categories: that Christians don't need to go to church; that "I don't like a service that goes on too long, say over an hour; that church should be there at my convenience (like a shop, for example). I have witnessed efforts by priests to curtail their services to that of time compliance, for example - never daring to exceed the expected time-limit.
Why would we treat God like that? Why would we apply to God those things that we wouldn't apply elsewhere. When we go to the cinema, do we pass over the blockbuster that we had hoped to see because it exceeded 90 minutes in duration? Our world is fast becoming one that is "on demand" and "to convenience". We can store and hoard television so that we can watch it when we want to. Shops remain open all night on the off chance that we exercise our democratic right to buy jam tarts in the wee-small hours.
What would happen if God treated us in a like manner? What if God was the parent in my little narrative at the top - only available at his convenience? What if God rationed us to 59 minutes a week, or simply didn't bother because he favoured time with his golf bats? What if God ignored us because he simply couldn't be arsed today?
So, it is the start of a new year. Have I just upset you be describing an all too familiar situation? Have no fear - the relationship you have absented yourself is still there; still real. And thankfully for you and for me, God will simply be delighted to see you again. Enjoy!