My singing has been generally confined to my car and to an audience of small children who think it is hilarious. To sing may be to pray twice, but not in my case, or to anyone within hearing distance.
Which is why I suppose I have always been fascinated by singers and their songs. Those who can do; those who can’t read about them and lip-synch at Mass.
In Peter Ames Carlin’s “Paul McCartney, A Life” (Simon and Schuster, $26), I read that the cute Beatle’s parents were married in a Catholic church — St. Swithen’s chapel in West Derby in April 1941. In a previous biography of The Beatles, the author simply wrote this off as a concession to the Irish side of his mother Mary’s family.
But Carlin puts a little more stock into the Catholic connection. Though he makes no reference to any religious upbringing for Paul, he tells the story of Mary first learning of her breast cancer, and a young Paul encountering her in an upstairs bedroom with a crucifix clutched in her hand and a portrait of a relative who was a priest.
Mary would die of cancer when Paul was 11. The priest who sponsored the clinic where she died had wrapped a rosary around her hand as he gave her the last rites.
Paul has never witnessed to a Catholic sentiment in life or his work. But in one of their last songs together as The Beatles, he wrote sweetly of his mother: “When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.”
There was a report on a recent Pew Research survey looking for which state has the most religious people. (The complete survey results with a state-by-state listing can be found at pewresearch.org).
While admitting there is no definitive marker for religiosity, the survey focused on weekly attendance at religious services, prayer and stated importance of religion in life. It also asked people if they believed in God with absolute certainty.
I found that last marker fascinating, as the results did not include those with various degrees of doubt concerning the existence of God. The national average was 71 percent of Americans believing in God with absolute certainty. For the record, Mississippi came in the highest at 91 percent; New Hampshire/Vermont the lowest at 54 percent.
Those really are very high numbers, for that degree of certainty. Even in the reputed pagan neighborhood of New England, more than half express absolute certainty in God.
But that certainty does not extend to practice. Pew reported the national average for weekly attendance at religious services at 39 percent, fully 32 percent points lower than certainty of belief in God. For the record, Mississippi once again grabbed the top spot at 60 percent, while Alaska nudged out New Hampshire/Vermont by a point at 22 percent.
It’s a curious disconnect left unexplored in the survey. So many believe in God, yet do so little about it. It’s a cliché to blame the houses of worship. It points rather to the reality that acknowledging the singular most important fact of our existence — God — does not in turn move us to much of anything. It is as if there is a collective response, “Yes, I believe in God. And did you see the Knicks’ game last night?”
The McCartney biography witnessed no real Catholic upbringing in any sense, and he has never identified himself with the Church, or Christianity in general, for that matter.
But I’d like to think there is at least something there, perhaps a remnant from his mother.
“And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me, speaking words of wisdom. Let it be.”
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.