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I sat on the ledge of one of the massive pillars and my fingertips admired the work of stone-masons eight-hundred years dead. The Cathedral was full.

The choir sang the most beautiful, unearthly harmonies and the organist played notes so deep that they existed below the level of any music I’d ever heard. Ruthie stood beside me in her own reverie, eyes glistening. It was absolutely wonderful.

I wanted to believe in God. I wanted to be a Christian.

But there was no blinding light, no swift conversion; maybe a soft half-submersion, but that was all. I thought, religion is just a human thing, with all the qualities and failings that we humans have. It’s not a god-thing.

I thought, if Jesus was alive, he wouldn’t be here; he’d be working in a soup-kitchen, or smashing down the doors of some bank, preparing to burn the money inside the vaults.

After the service ended, we went and sat down for a while in an empty row of pews near the front. The bishops were loitering, dressed in a variety of gowns and robes of gold and purple, one had a shepherd’s crook, made of gold, and they were chatting to the remnants of the congregation. Volunteers in cagoules and woolly hats cleared away the orders of service that littered the pews.

These are nice people, I thought. Good people.

I try to be good, I thought. I try, and I wish it was easy.
I felt unworthy.

We left the cathedral, and the spotlights that lit the sky were fogging in the freezing air, and we passed the decrepit gravestones and the parked cars and the open area where people had built snowmen and, turning to look back, it was like the most perfect Christmas scene you could imagine: the cathedral, the glow of soft lights, the heavy grey sky, the footprints and the snowmen.

Hungry, we found a restaurant and enjoyed a pot of coffee with cream, shared toasted bread.
Ruthie asked, ‘You ok??’
‘I’m fine.’
‘You sure? Nothing on your mind?’
I smiled, said, ‘Nothing much.’

Then we walked through the quiet snowy streets to the car, and drove home to wrap Chrismas presents and watch movies about Christmas.

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