"At lunch we light a single candle. Few children are not mesmerised by a flickering flame."
I grew up in an atheist household. From the age of about 6 or 7 I remember being fascinated by God. For the next ten or so years my Mum took us all to church sporadically, I sang in a church choir, I asked the occasional question. But Mum never believed. Mum said her religion was in the fields and hedgerows, in nature and the turning seasons. Mum loved a pagan festival, a Morris dance at dawn on May day, and at Christmas time there was no mention of Jesus, just candles and swathes of hedgerow everywhere.
And in the background my Dad was adamant that war and unrest was rooted in religion, so best steer clear altogether. It was complicated but liberal. I was free to make my own mind up but no one had any answers or any direction for me. I had Christian friends and later agnostic and Humanist friends, Muslims and Catholics. I admired and valued them all for their one shared trait. Belief. But I had none.
I travelled, to Indonesia first and twice to Australia where a Christian followed me onto a boat and dropped a Bible in my lap for me to read. I read it over the next month or so. I told Mum and she surprised me by knowing much of what I had read and shared favourite passages. Knowledge and decision. A powerful combination. My travels took me to India, alone, and for the first time I was surrounded by a tangible belief. A powerful and all consuming belief. I became fascinated by my own human need for reassurance and for a sense of place and belonging.
I found belief in all its diversity fascinating. I longed to relate to the unwavering religion of close friends who knew the power and stability of belief.
Back to England and my respect for religions. And eventually to West Sussex. I love churches for their history, their presence and the thousands of stories tied up in their walls, their peace and solace, just as I loved the temples of India.
I first encountered Diwali as a celebration of light and was drawn to the rituals around it. It reminded me of Mum and her candles at winter solstice. It seemed appealing to thoroughly clean my house at this time of year as we move in from the outdoors in Autumn and prepare for our winter indoors. It felt optimistic to light candles and bring light into our home especially as the clocks changed. Diwali for me brings all this together as a celebration of light and a symbol of good succeeding evil, light over darkness.
Each year at Barn Cottage we make Diwali lamps by pressing tea lights into clay and decorating them with sweet smelling star anise. We read the story of Rama and Sita which always fascinates.
At lunch we light a single candle. Few children are not mesmerised by a flickering flame. I like to imagine this fascination with fire, passed down through our genes from our ancestors, still alive in our children.
So, Happy Diwali friends near and far. Please light your Diwali lamps in your homes and celebrate humanity with me. Celebrate belief and belonging, tolerance and respect, knowledge and religion.