This is the inside of the Roman Catholic Church in Singleton. There is a story to this church and surrounding buildings that I have written about a little in some of my historical writing.
Its an old church by Australian standards, actually smaller than I had expected. When you research something that you haven’t seen, when it’s important to the story you are telling, it acquires a size in your mind beyond the physical reality.
Once, most churches were open. They were a place of refuge, of contemplation. You could just drop in, sit and reflect. Sometimes you might be asked if you could be helped, if you needed something, but most times you could just sit there.
At least so far as Australia is concerned, we live in an age that has lost both its innocence and, to a degree at least, it’s enthusiasm. We live in an age of chatter and of constant movement. The churches that were once open have closed, except for services or events. Too many risks are involved to maintain open access.
I don’t know about you, but I am a little tired of current complexity. I wish for space and peace.
You don’t have to be a Christian to get a sense of peace from a church. The building is designed for that purpose. You can get the same feeling from a quiet garden or a bush scene. Still, and increasingly, it’s becoming harder to find those places.
It’s not just a question of size. Those living in crowded societies, the Japanese and Chinese come to mind, have found ways of building in space for quiet contemplation. Australians are not especially good at this. We crowd, we chatter, we establish formal rules to govern access.
Looking at the church in Singleton, I felt a sense of weariness, of ennui. I was, after all, on a journey with its objectives and time limitations. I also felt that I could not just sit in the way that I might have done in the past. I am sure that there would have been no objection, we were allowed into the church even though it was officially shut, but it didn’t seem right. This feeling distracted.
I suppose that the need to find quiet places has increased with age, but it’s always been there. Like most of us, I have memories with value that continue to come back, that I can call on. The garden at Lanyon with its big English trees providing shade on a hot day; a New Zealand beech forest; the backyard at Marsh Street. Sadly, as i get older I find it harder to find new such places. Maybe it’s just me, but the feeling does appear to be fairly universal.