“MYSTERY is essential to the human soul,” I said on arriving for breakfast at our table amid the ghosts on the old bandstand in the marble café tucked off the windiest street in the world.
“Oh God, he’s off again,” said my good friend the Philosopher, as he raised his nobly-knuckled left hand to a dark brow in a gesture of exaggerated despair, while the slices of Ulster fry, Birkenhead tomato, hash, Cumberland sausage and Crosby bacon, on the fork in his right hand, stopped their descent a sheen above the virgin smile on the plump yolk of his fried egg.
“Surely, it’s too early for a rant from you on the seeds of our inner being,” he added, as a new curtain of black began to fall over his already lugubrious face. But it was quickly lifted by the sight of the Latvian waitress, scurrying across the ruby carpet bearing a spatula on which there rested the strip of fried bread that the chef had been unable to fit on the plate.
“Thank you, my dear,” said the Philosopher. “That should fortify me against the verbal assault about to be unleashed by the soap-box orator on the chair opposite.”
I ignored his words, noting instead the quizzical chuckle buried in the otherwise deep tones rising from a frame that carries astonishingly little flesh, given his diet. I started to tell him of my visit to the cathedral the previous evening. His lugubrious expression came back, but I was on a roll, so I went on.
“My pal Mike Kelly, the biographer of Kitty Wilkinson, was giving a talk about how in the mid-19th century she began wash-houses to stop the spread of killer diseases.”
“I know of Kitty Wilkinson. Hasten to the point,” said the Philosopher, as he sank his fork into the fried bread, which he then dipped into a small pool of brown sauce.
“Well,” I replied. “In the great cathedral, where the angels fly in a stained glass sky, I thought about the sweat of the masons with their chisels, their broken nails and stooped backs, the sculptors and carpenters, the bricklayers and hod-carriers, the roofers and the coughs of the slate-cutters. Everything there is so big and heavy – yet it is offered in devotion to an unseen, unheard, intangible, unknowable force. But would the prayers made by mothers in the steam of the wash-houses not have been as passionate, as those of the bishops and priests? And then I thought of Crazy Horse, the Sioux warrior, who believed all places were holy. The hills had been shaped by the Great Father, their valleys scooped by His breath. He had fertilised the land, which was the Great Mother, so that the trees and grass could grow giving food and shelter to the animals and people.”
At that moment, as if from the shadows, the waitress appeared at our table with a pot of tea, two cups and two saucers.
“There is poetry in your words,” said the Philosopher. “But what is your point? Many people discuss such ideas.
“It seems to me that the genius of man can be seen and heard and touched in a million different ways, but the faith which drove so much that we have created was dedicated to the unknown, to God.” I replied. “That is the mystery.”
“Indeed, it is,” said the Philosopher. “But why not think of it this way. Some people have always sought knowledge. They want to know how all things work. They are constantly curious. To them everything has purpose. They try to discover what it is. If they achieve a little of that knowledge, we admire them. We might even praise them to the skies because they drive human advance. But we worship the unknown. That’s how it works. The secrets of the world are infinite and ever increasing. We can never know all the secrets. So the mysterious must win. If you remember that, there is no mystery.”
“Oh, I see,” I said. “Should I pour the tea?”
“Yes,” said my friend. “Make mine chapel brown, as usual.”
“Chapel brown is best,” I said.
LISTEN to David Charters on his picture podcasts at www.liverpooldailypost.co.uk Last week we accidentally reprinted David’s column from the week before. We apologise for this error and hope you have enjoyed today’s column.