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by Henderson Lightbody, of Overton, Greenock, Renfrewshire.

In a life spanning three score and four years I have been involved in many happenings, some bad, some sad, some glad. For me life has been a journey with highs and lows, twists and turns as I travel this way.

Every journey has a beginning and an end or destination. In certain circles this destination is sometimes referred to as life after death. Many religions support this hope, such as Buddhists who believe in their Nirvana and the American Indians in their "happy hunting ground".

A major happening in my life was to find comfort and purpose in the Christian religion, and where the destination of this life is clearly defined. So I now understand that through my religion I have something positive to gain, a new life beyond the grave.

This helps me to smile, and that is otherwise not easy in our "age of anxiety", where we see constant economic changes, environmental changes and ethics given a wide berth by the populace. According to the medical people, when we smile we use 140 muscles, when we do not smile we are using only 40 muscles.

I was walking down the street where I lived on a bright and sunny day when I was stopped by a fine elderly clergyman who remarked: "My, that's a wonderful smile you have." Little did he know I had left my wife behind at home.

My late aunt lifted my spirit with this story. One day her women's guild were on their annual outing, when the coach was passing a field of donkeys. One of their number was heard to say: "They must be Christians." Another asked her why she said that and she replied: "Look at their long faces."

A smile doesn't cost us anything. I cannot borrow it or steal it. I can not even buy it, but I believe it enriches the one who receives it. From my personal experience I know a smile creates happiness in the home, fosters goodwill in the work place, and is the countersign for friendship.

The real value of a smile is in the giving it away. The sad and bad happenings in my life have been eased a bit by someone's smile. A smile doesn't cure the pain but it sure gives a measure of comfort.

For a long time now I can see that politics and religion are treated as "taboo" subjects by the increasing masses. "Do not speak to me about politics or religion," is the peewee cry.

A young mother said to me, like a bolt out of the blue: "I would never talk about religion to my children."

But why not? The posters will! Neighbours will! Dangerous cults will! Others will! May we be forgiven if we neglect our parental responsibilities? But then the "death of daddy" in this age of enlightenment means the death of parental control?

I can stand in a dissecting room and observe that scattered limbs do not constitute a man. I can pass a building site and observe that scattered bricks and mortar do not constitute a house.

The individual not exercising his/her spiritual dimension in life does not constitute a whole being. My own mother on her dying bed kept repeating: "I am so happy," only a spiritual awareness can give this kind of assurance.

The way of spiritual progress is that way which takes us deeper down-rootedness. If my religion has any meaning it has to do with rootedness. A happening taking place between me and the Divine.

There is not a hint here that we became so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly use. I find it a right turn off to be confronted by narrow-minded people with a wide mouth who make as much noise as an empty vessel. When will we ever learn that it is no use pulling the bung if the tank is empty.

In our so-called enlightened society, permissiveness reigns, it is the rule of the day. As a consequence morals, principals and standards are ethics of a bygone age, the dim and distant past. Received worldly wisdom labels me a prude or a square if I adhere to these ethics.

Ethic is that part of religion, which deals with behaviour. The in-word from today's philanthropists is tolerance. Even politicians seek for popularity rather than piety while this is all happening, politicians are promising the earth but consistently fail to deliver.

Their promises seem to enter a cul-de-sac of dead ends, there to be strangled and we are left with questions, questions, questions.

The atheist has no worries at all about the part after death, he boats there is no God. Yet when there is a crisis or catastrophe, he is in the front of the queue to blame God. Insurers even have a policy described as an "Act of God".

I overheard two fishermen on the river bank - one had just arrived for a spot of fishing - he called to the other," Is anything happening?" meaning were the fish rising to the bait. What is the bait we rise to?

A sad happening in my life was watching my father dying from lung cancer, which lasted for months before the final end. He was a heavy cigarette smoker and though he tried to give up the habit did not have the will power. I had just returned from army service in Malaya, which was traumatic enough and had just turned 21 years of age when soon after Father passed away.

The noise of silence

The empty chair

That reassuring smile

No longer there.

This happening of course was many years ago now I see a lot of greed and selfishness in our modern society that makes me cringe, everyone is on the bandwagon for compensation. At the least excuse we put in for claims of finance, some justified others gross greed and utter selfishness.

I live in a "Fat Cats" era and yet there still is in this so-called affluent society stark staring poverty. To be self-centred is to be an immense distance from God. I was on a training course some years ago and was asked what do I look for in my work, I replied: "Satisfaction". Others replied money, plenty of holidays and good conditions. There are far too many in work who are miserable, but can do little about it under the circumstances.

When I was asked to write a character reference for someone, it pleased me when I could write this sentence: "This person combines sincerity with a sense of humour."

These two ingredients have helped me along this journey. I think these are vital ingredients for a vibrant life, and also to help in turning this life's stumbling blocks into stepping-stones.

The most poignant happening I see today is that there is a dense mist rolling faster by the day towards us, and it is bringing the horizon of obscenity, vulgarity, perversion and mockery right to our front door.

Whilst this is happening the noise of silence from our pulpits is deafening. Another thing that has happened in my life is that there are some churches that are dead and they know it and some churches are dead and they don't know it.

What has happened over my lifetime is that many would-be religious "devotees" only frequent a church three times in their life and on each occasion it is on wheels - baptism, wedding, and funeral.

I live in a society that finds their way easy to ignore warnings. Are warnings just ink on paper, paint on board?

I used to be indecisive, but now l am not sure.



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