I never studied quantum physics but I get excited whenever I hear anyone explaining how all matter is a form of frozen light. My childhood version of that quantum conundrum was that light in any form was the fingerprint of God. When I saw light dancing in the specks of dust in my bedroom I thought I was seeing the reflection of angels. And why not? Children live in a jungle of imaginative possibilities.
At that age my world was translucent in a metaphysical sense; beneath the surface of things there was a light, and it broke through occasionally. Although I never associated this mystical light with what was for me the mundane experience of church liturgies.
In fact, I used to get bored in church. Especially when the old bishop was presiding at the Sunday service. He’d mount the pulpit with great difficulty and tap the microphone with his fist to make sure it was working; then he’d speak in whispers, so far away from the microphone that it was difficult to make any sense of his mutterings.
My eyes would wander up to the dome above the altar and I would imagine aliens from distant galaxies with guns, creeping around up there
I could catch the occasional phrase, but I was far too absorbed in my own private fantasies to be bothered with whatever moral case he was making regarding the perils of dancing on Saturday nights.
My eyes would wander up to the dome above the altar and I would imagine aliens from distant galaxies with guns, creeping around up there, in search of someone to abduct, as their flying saucer hovered in the rain just above the cathedral spire.
“Kill the bishop,” I whispered in my head, but the aliens were not bothered. Their target was usually a young woman who sat in the pew just in front of me. And because I had the powers of Doctor Who, Superman, and a few archangels all rolled into one, I didn’t wait for them to spot her.
Instead, I slithered up the pillar like Spiderman, climbed on to the ledge of the dome and zapped the shite out of them with high voltage energy that emanated from my fingertips.
Then I swung back down to gather up the girl in my arms — she had of course fainted — and I carried her to a waiting ambulance as she opened her eyes and gazed into mine.
But as I reached the back door of the Cathedral the bishop bellowed, raised his staff and hurled it like a spear, because in fact, he himself was an alien in disguise.
My arm rose like a garda directing traffic outside Breffni Park on the day of an Ulster final, my hand caught the spear, jerked it around and hurled it back at his lordship, causing him to burst into flames.
There was an awful lot of Doctor Who floating around in that scenario, but at least it got me through the Sunday morning service without too much pain.
It was only a fantasy. I knew I was making it up. I knew I was robbing moments from Superman comics to indulge myself as a heroic champion in my own private little world.
The one time I actually heard what the bishop said was when we were preparing for Confirmation. He came to our classroom and explained that during the ceremony we would be born again in the Holy Spirit and that we would be filled with wisdom.
It was a day in spring and I remember fish jumping and herons stretching their necks at the water’s edge
Of course, I thought he was daft and I remember the ceremony passing without any dramatic intervention from the invisible realm. And when it was over I was delighted to be off on my bike, heading towards the woods of Killykeen and the calm waters of Lough Oughter for the entire afternoon.
It was a day in spring and I remember fish jumping and herons stretching their necks at the water’s edge. I remember a wonderful luminosity on the surface of the lake due to the clear blue sky.
The sun bounced beautifully on the earth around me and I recognised a presence in the natural world that was neither alien nor human. The light broke through the leaves in dappled dancing patterns, and I felt a kind of deep belonging. I was more aware of myself than I had ever been before. And it occurred to me that there may have been a grain of truth in what the old bishop had said.
I suppose it was a turning point. A fork in the road, where one path might have led me towards reason, science or even quantum physics. But I didn’t take it.