How to squash an enquiring mind….

She was so electrified by religious fervour that her wiry red hair almost stood on end. I was fourteen, she was enraged.

“ Miss Anne Whitaker, how dare you ask me if I believe in the theory of evolution. If YOU believe in the theory of evolution, you will be damned to hell everlasting !!”

I believe that was the last time I asked a question in our Religious Education class.

Ardmore beach, during the summer holidays a few weeks later. I was just beginning to develop my pilgrimages, being at an age where I could slip away for a bike ride without that attracting too much parental protectiveness and restriction. I had such a deep need to be alone, quite often. Sharing a room with my six year old sister, I had no private space in my parents’ home.

Here at Ardmore it was usually deserted. There was a rumour that World War Two mines lay buried in the sand. This may have been propaganda designed to keep people from wandering around the perimiter of  the nearby airport. I didn’t believe the story about the mines; moreover, there was a great place between the dunes to leave my bike where it would not be seen.

Tern on patrol
Tern on patrol

The beach was about a mile long, approached through dunes spiked with marram grass and patrolled by terns. Here, I could walk, forage for interesting objects cast up by the tide, have solitude. The endless timeless rhythm of sea breaking and ebbing on the shore hypnotised me.

The sound I heard would have been the same a million years ago – would probably be the same a million years hence. This realisation was too big and awesome for my mind to hold for long. As I strolled, finding a slow rhythm, the tensions and tightness in my body generated by the lack of peace at home began to unwind.

I now understand that I would fall into a meditiative state on these walks, taken as often as possible from that summer until I left home at seventeen. In that state I felt just like a grain of sand on the beach – minute, but an integral part of a great Wholeness.

In those days as puberty began to thrust my body, mind and spirit from the cocoon of childhood, I found the Holy Spirit in the wildness and expansiveness of sand, sea and sky. It was certainly not present in my  secondary school Religious Education class on the religion-obsessed island on which I grew up……

Night Sea Journey
Night Sea Journey



450 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2013
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page


4 thoughts on “How to squash an enquiring mind….

  1. My goodness! Was that religious “educator” part of the school system or attached to a congregation? I was so lucky with my religious education as a child – both our pastors and our Bible School and Sunday School teachers were remarkably tolerant of our questions and concerned primarily with right behavior rather than right belief. Those Wesley boys set up a pretty good system. 😉

    I still remember asking my pastor about the miracle of the loaves and fishes. I had an alternative explanation – that Jesus had touched peoples’ hearts and they just shared what they had. “Well,” he asked in a fit of good sense, “wouldn’t that be a miracle, too? Making people feel generous?”


  2. Yes, she was a teacher within the school system. There was a very heavy “Wee Free” (extremely narrow, joyless Protestant) ethos pervading the island on which I grew up. Result? Left school, left home, left formal religion at my earliest opportunity.

    Your experience sounds blissful by contrast. What a lovely man!

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