At the recent Atheist Convention, Dan Barker - an apostate who was once an evangelist preacher but now runs the Freedom From Religion Foundation in the US - described what it was like being a vessel for god. No challenge could ever penetrate his faith, because - to paraphrase from memory - god was right there with him, a certain presence above and slightly to the rear of his head. How could he possibly doubt when, on stage, the numinous power surged through him, unerring and incandescent, whipping like a high-voltage cable, gathering energy from the swelling emotions of his congregation?
For some people - and it has been suggested the root cause may be genetic, - such levels of spiritual experience are possible. Barker’s experiences were unusual though, even in the very godly context in which he worked. Most of a religious bent merely trudge on, nourished by a workaday relationship with their god, in awe of the Dan Barkers of this world, of the St Bernadettes, the Ezekiels and St Johns with their visionary frenzies and holy ecstasies.
I’ve always suspected, intellectually, that football provides for me what I cannot get from religion - but last night at the Docklands Stadium, like Dan Barker, I felt something above and slightly to the rear of my head - and it wasn’t a drunken Collingwood supporter.
Admittedly, I was primed. A grey pall of depression moved with me as I passed across the city to the ground. Despite all my efforts, the precious things in my life are under renewed threat and, as I walked, I could see no way of saving them that hadn’t failed many times before. I felt as if I’d spent a century in a dark cul-de-sac, squinting at the mortar between the bricks, thinking it was an horizon.
I drank a glass of wine. Another. I took my seat (provided by the generosity of my dear friend Andrew Park) and spent two hours riding the violent emotional ebbs and flows of a truly strange game of footy. I merged with the body of saints fans like a droplet merges with an ocean. I screamed my tonsils out until the final bar of the final iteration of the club song after a truly famous victory. For a while I was immaculate and cleansed. My soul was pruned to a single essential fact: I was a devotee of the St Kilda football club, beyond that - nothing. The brilliant, courageous, harrowing performance of my team against Collingwood - particularly Collingwood - was all the meaning I needed.
It’s good, I suppose, that such feelings are evanescent. After all, there is a lot more to me than that. Let’s just hope that ... Nick Riewoldt’s hamstring doesn’t keep him out of the game for too long.
Above is a picture of Michelle's glorious jacket