THE DRINKER'S PRAYER
The surgeon told me that I was clinically dead for several minutes. There's no reason why I should have died. It was a comparatively routine operation: the sort of thing that would have been impossible for most of the 20th century, and fairly risky even into the 1990s. But by now it really shouldn't be all that dangerous. I've looked up the risks before and since. The mortality rate is around 4%. Well, OK, a bit under 1 in 20 is really pretty safe. Unless it's you or someone you love.
Then again, it's a good question why I was “spared”. I wasn't, of course. I just didn't die, when I might have. An equally valid question is why someone else isn't “spared”. Or, to be brutal, why they die. The only answer I can think of is that I need to tell the story that follows. Even then, there's no reason why you should believe it. I don't think I'm the only one who has a problem with this. From talking to Him, I think God does too. Read the rest of this story and see if you agree.
It begins with the statement that the whole theology of purgatory is nonsense. As is most of the theology of Heaven and Hell. Don't take it from me. Again, ask God. Until now, everything you've read about purgatory has come from people who aren't dead yet. Wait until you die. Then you'll see that everything about purgatory is the purest drivel. Then again, so is the vast majority of theology of any kind.
The first thing that happens after you've died is that you go out for a wee bevvy with God. A drink, that is. It could be anywhere you've been comfortable. I've sometimes wondered why He chose the Wetherspoons at the far end of Sauchihall Street. I mean, I'd probably have been happier drinking an Old Monk and Kampa-Cola at the Friends' Corner in Dharamsala in the early 1980s. Or maybe a pint of Owd Roger at the Cold Green Arsehole – sorry, I mean the Old Castle Green – in Bristol. But hey, He's the one with the infinite wisdom.
On which topic, it is of course perfectly easy for Him to go out for a drink with everyone who dies. He is, after all, omniscient and omnipresent. We talked about this before we'd finished our third pint each, but I'll come back to that later.
The first question He asked was, “Do you want to be reincarnated, or do you want to go to Heaven?”
I was quite grateful not to be given the option of Hell, but (me being me, and He being Him) I couldn't resist asking the obvious question. He shrugged and replied, “No-one goes to Hell unless they really, really want to.”
Seeing my puzzled expression, He went on. “Look, some people have got so much invested in the idea of Hell that there's only one way to get across to them what a bad idea it is. Send 'em there. When they've actually worked out that even short-term suffering is a pretty bad idea, and totally incompatible with My loving kindness, I give 'em another chance."
Because He is after all omniscient, I didn't need to ask any more questions. He went on: “No. Hell exists only in their own heads. Maybe Heaven does too. And Me. I know it's occurred to you by now: is any of this actually happening? Is this just a part of your dying consciousness? In other words, are you actually dead yet? And the best answer comes from My well-belovèd son, Terence Donovan. As he put it, Not my problem, sunshine.”
Then He glanced at my glass and went on: “Another one? Stick with the beer, or start on the shorts? Or even the wine? Don't worry: I'm paying.” He laughed. “Bit of a joke, that, isn't it? I mean, there are all those priests saying that you'll be paying for all eternity. Pity they're talking rubbish, but I really can't get it across to them while they're still alive. Completely screws up free will if I even try.” He sighed. “Not one of my better inventions, free will. But once you've created it, you're stuck with it. Makes a mockery of the whole system otherwise.”
Unsurprisingly, He had no problem in catching the eye of the barman. There was no Wintersolverv behind the bar, or on any list I could see anywhere, but the barman brought it anyway. Pints. God had the same: the barman said as much when he set the glasses down: “Two pintsa' Wintersolv'.” Unsurprisingly, He's a really good host like that. As soon as I thought that, he said, “No. Host. With a capital H.” That's one of the things about drinking with God. He always gets the joke. Trouble is, He gets it before you even tell it.
“Cheers.” He raised His glass. We clinked the bases together, in the German style, glancing into one another's eyes in the approved fashion. I'd like to say that I had a unique moment of enlightenment, looking into the Eyes of God. But I didn't. It's a bit one-sided, going out for a drink with God. Rewarding, but one-sided.
He went on. I didn't think that I'd thought what he was replying to, if you can follow such a recursive construction, but I suppose I must have. He said, “Yeah, well, think about the so-called First Miracle. You know: Canaa. Water into wine. Jesus was never averse to a wee dram. Or three. In fact, the Holy Spirit is a bit of a family joke.” God gestured almost imperceptibly to the bartender; but only almost imperceptibly, because He is God, after all. “Two Laphroaigs.” They were in front of us in a moment. Big ones. God laughed. “You read Private Eye, I know. Trebles all round.”
Then He grew more serious; if, of course, God is ever anything else. He picked up on that one, too: “Yes, I know. If you want to make God laugh, tell Me your plans.”
He was quiet for a moment, so I asked, “Why here? Why Glesca?”
He smiled and shook His head. “I knew you were going to ask that. But then, I would, wouldn't I, to quote my well-belovèd daughter, Mandy Rice-Davis. To tell the truth, I'm not sure why. Being omniscient doesn't actually mean that you know everything. Well, I suppose that technically it does, but then it starts to get a bit quantum. To quote another of my well-belovèd children, The Famous Eccles, everything has to be somewhere. Unless of course it's everywhere at the same time, which I can handle but most of my well-belovèd children can't.” He frowned. “Except perhaps quantum physicists. And mathematicians. Especially Stephen Hawking. Sometimes I think he knows My mind better than I do. Not,” he added hastily, “that My son Stephen is anything other than well-belovèd. For that matter,” he went on, “even if I can handle quantum, and I'm pretty sure I can, that's no guarantee that My creation can always understand it. How are you doing?”
I moved my hand vaguely. I could see people in Sauchiehall Street through the windows. I wasn't on the operating table. I wasn't dead. I was in Weatherspoons. Again, He picked up on it. “Why Weatherspoons? Well. why not? If I ever get round to rewriting the Seven Deadly Sins, pointless snobbery is going to be one of them. Or I could make it the Eighth, to match it up with the Cardinal Virtues. It's mostly good beer at mostly fair prices.” He picked up his beer and looked critically at it. “Then again, this is one of the best creations of My, um, creation.”
It had to be my imagination that His second pint, plus a large Laphroaig, were beginning to cloud God's Judgement. He laughed again. “No. It isn't, really. It's your understanding that varies. I can't change. But then, I can't stay the same either. If I am all things to all humanity, which is what I have to be, then absolute consistency isn't really possible. Think about it.” He sighed, drained his pint and said, “Same again?”
Well, He may not have been affected, but I was. Two pints had gone down fairly smartly, and we were both half way through our Laphroaigs. He looked at His watch: an old, well worn Omega, I noticed. Inevitably, He picked up on that too. Another laugh. “Yeah, well, Alpha never made watches. Point is, although the time you spend having a drink with me is not the same as the time in the normal world, you can't really understand that. In fact, it doesn't really make sense. Here, I'll show you.”
What happened next is, in the strictest sense, indescribable. We've all seen movies running backwards: something rising into someone's hand instead of falling from it, a champagne cork being sucked back into a bottle, that sort of thing. It was sort of like that, only more so: my whole life running backwards for a few seconds. Then He was saying “... make sense. Here, I'll show you.” He went on, “I told you that it doesn't really make sense. That's sort of a definition of what 'transcendent' means.”
The third beers arrived. He said, “This is why I always take people out for a drink when they die. After a few beers, it's easier to make sense of things that don't make sense. The teetotallers are always a bit of a problem, because they have to get an awful lot of coffee on board before they're wired enough to make sense of dying. I mean, why do you suppose that the Mass involves bread and wine? Even if it is only a token amount of wine?” Then He gestured towards the small packets of snacks that I hadn't previously noticed on the table. “Actually, pork scratchings and beer are arguably even better, especially with a whisky chaser, but even My most faithful and ingenious rabbis have a problem getting their heads around the idea of kosher scratchings.”
I took the hint, and tore open a bag. I thought it might help soak up the beer. I would have offered Him some, but He had opened His packet even faster. We crunched on them companiably. Then He looked at his watch again and said, “You know, when We've finished this one, you'd better be getting back. Of course we can sit here all day if you like. I've got all the time in the world. I create the stuff, after all. But from talking to you, I think perhaps you might prefer not to die right now. Of course, I knew that all along. But you didn't, which is why we needed to have a drink. Try telling people what I've been telling you. It probably won't work. But...” He shrugged, “...you never know your luck. That's the bugger with free will.”
He took a deep breath. “OK. That's it. You're now officially a prophet. Trouble is, it's about fifty-fifty whether they accept you as My messenger or murder you. Of course they might do both. It's been known.” He laughed again – God laughs a lot – and put His hand on my shoulder. “Tell you what, though. I'll have 'em lined up at the bar for you if you do get murdered. Sorry: martyred. See you at Friends' Corner in Dharamsala in 1983. Or we could do a pub crawl in Bangalore in 1990. With your wife.” He really was omniscient. “We can drink for eternity if you like. It's been good talking to you. Good luck.”
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Copyright (c) Roger Hicks 2017