Archive for August, 2010

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Greenbelt Festival – August Bank Holiday Weekend, 2010

August 31, 2010
Welcome to Greenbelt 2010

  

I have just returned from an inspiring and really encouraging weekend at this year’s Greenbelt festival at Cheltenham racecourse. It’s been for me a truly wonderful time, for a number of reasons. Firstly, I love Greenbelt because there’s the chance for just a few days of the year to be able to soak up the eclectic carnival atmosphere of thousands and thousands of people from  many different traditions and viewpoints gathering together for a celebration of art, music, poetry, politics and God in one large event. The shere variety of people from dribbling and chortling babies to children, to adolescents and young adults, to the worldly worn middle-aged and the open-minded mature and elderly – the sections of society represented at Greenbelt don’t fit the picture of normal church congregations – here is a much more varied and encouragingly multicoloured spectrum of people.   

Beauty in arts, craft and good conversation

Secondly, there’s the great opportunity to meet new people and make new friends or to catch up with family, old friends and colleagues in a uniquely open-minded, open-hearted, open spirited and celebratory environment. I have met numerous people this year – particular leaders who made a lastingly good impression on you at a time of growth and exploration in your life and faith; good friends you once worked closely  with on experimental projects who you have since lost contact with after you and they have moved to different parts of the country. There have also been those serendipitous meetings with people who were complete strangers, but over the course of the weekend and several coffees, wine and beer in disposable paper cups and some great conversations have become like soul friends and kindred spirits. As a Christian, an event like Greenbelt is so stimulating because there are so many possibilities – opportunities for gift, grace, humour, heart-felt emotion, tears and laughter. 

Colourful flags decorate the Cheltenham race course grandstand

A rainbow coloured celebration - people from all walks of life participate in Greenbelt

Perhaps, equally important to all the opportunities to catch up with old friends and meet new ones, and if not more significant than seeing the wide variety of people who find help, grace and a sense of deep belonging through relationship with God and Jesus, are the occasions of divine ‘eruption’ that break into our ordinary lives through great speakers and artistic, musical events centred on giving worth and valuing God. For me personally, there were a number of occasions where I felt I met not just with a well crafted and intelligent, thoughtful talk, but experienced an encounter with  the Living God – the Divine power, presence and personalities that created the whole of our awe-inspiring and breathtaking universe.   

At 9am on saturday morning, bleary eyed and un-caffienated I managed to drag myself from my tent to find an unoccupied space of green grass in the  Big Top to listen to the harmonious vocals and melodic acoustic guitars of Andy Flanagan and friends leading singing and worship of God.   

I wonder if someone who isn’t a Christian, or a believer in some kind of God, can understand the special moments that take place when beautiful, aesthetically pleasing music combines with an internal knowledge and realisation that you are singing not just into the air and expressing the deep-seated feelings and aspirations of one’s soul, but also communicating – intimately, gently, in a kind of perfect child-like innocence with a Divine Presence that is Love. I know from before I was a Christian that good music and art can bring people to such emotional heights as an artist expresses great truth or beauty in an aesthetic medium that does not bypass reason, but transcends it a brings a person into the realm of the sublime. But somehow…true worship…good worship is MORE than this. It is all of the above, yet it is also unadulterated, raw communication with the Holy teased out and enwrapped in the tenderest perfect love. One experiences not just the deep-seated longing and desires for a true and just and forgiving life and universe. One experiences, a simple, quiet, gentle voice whispering love songs back to you. Affirming in the deepest most emotionally tangible way and yet physically and visibly illusive a voice saying, “Yes, you are loved. All of you. Even with those parts of you that you feel you cannot show the rest of the world – you are loved…and yes, those hopes you had as a child to be a princess in a happy ending fairy tale or those dreams you longed to fulfil to be a knight in shinning armour defeating the enemies of justice and oppressors of the poor, and rescuing the beautiful damsel in distress….They were NOT fantasy. They were REAL. They were You and they were Me trying to teach you…help you to understand your role in all of this in language and images you – a child – could understand. I AFFIRM your desires for love, for justice, for peace, for acceptance, for forgiveness. I AFFIRM YOU, whatever the world or church or christians or priests or ministers or congregations think of you. I…GOD…affirm YOU. YOU ARE LOVED.”   

It’s difficult to explain, but that’s how worship can feel – like a beautiful, intimate, tender dialogue – simplified perhaps as God saying: “You are loved.”   

I had that experience participating in the worship on saturday morning as Andy Flanagan, a small group of musicians and a talented young actress brought together a superb musical and dramatised journey through the story of Mary of Bethany’s love of Jesus, loss of her brother Lazarus and gratitude to Jesus for bringing him back to life. A very touching experience.   

Vibrant colours and flags flowing in the wind of the Spirit represent the variety of humanity and the movement of God's Spirit at Greenbelt

Mark Yaconelli – Our Desires, the Prodigal Son and a God of Compassion

Listening to mature and wise writers and speakers like Richard Rohr, Simon Parke and Lawrence Freeman speak on matters from the importance of holistic worldview to the tortured lives of mystical geniuses such as Van Gogh, Leo Tolstoy and Meister Eckart or on how to practise contemplative prayer were among the highlights of this year’s festival for me. However, the great spiritual breakthroughs for me this weekend came hearing North American author and youth specialist Mark Yaconelli speak on the true nature of our ‘desires’ and on the nature of God in Jesus of Nazareth as a God of weakness and vulnerability, rather than conceived of as an abstract all-powerful, all-controlling and dictatorial Deity ‘up’ in heaven.   

  

 I have never heard Mark speak before, yet listening to him this weekend communicate so passionately and inspirationally the Love of God for human beings – all people – represented for me, two of the highlights of my religious journey and human life. Some of the ideas I had encountered before, yet others were original and new to me. However, what struck me in particular was the bringing together of the ideas with moving real life, true stories. One idea that I had never met before was the notion that the Father in the Prodigal Son story approves generously of the prodigal son’s ‘desire’ to escape the Father’s House and find himself/express himself in the world. I had always thought that the Father (and therefore by implication God) only reluctantly and regretfully releases his younger child into the big, open world. Mark turned this action of releasing around, into a Father who longs to see his child venture out, experiment and express their desires for creativity and self-fulfilment in the wider world. For me this was a new and poignant revelation, made all the more moving by the personal testimonies Mark told which made us laugh out loud and quietly cry at the irony of the passions of adolescent and young people’s desires managing to find expression in spite of the stifling repression in traditional and conservative religion. Thanks Mark, for all your patient work with young people and for not losing hope in a God who is vulnerable and weak, a God who rejoices, not resents when people discover their true desires in their hearts and have the courage to live them out. Thanks also for believing in the God who can redeem and heal all of us. Both those people, like the Prodigal, who are themselves wounded and living in an injured world fall into the trap of abusing their desires and hurting others in the process AND those who out of a desire to do the right thing bury their feelings and passions and end up trapped in dutiful lives, feeling unappreciated and unloved by parental figures and God and feel resentful toward their wasteful and self-indulgent peers.   

Mark Yaconelli’s talks can be bought and downloaded from the Greenbelt website.  

  

More flags at Greenbelt, Bank Holiday Weekend August 2010

 

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A Night Sky Poem

August 23, 2010

There Will Be Stars

A poem by Paul Field

 

Watch the sky tonight

there will be stars

there are always stars

Sometimes hidden

by clouds

illusion

confusion

darkness

 

but there will always be stars

 

Sometimes one will fall

shoot across the timeless sky

and in an eternal split second burn brighter and shine

if we glimpse it we are blessed

 

It will scatter the diamonds of heaven around our feet and guide our

footsteps

for a few precious seconds of our journey

through clouds

illusion

confusion

darkness

 

The stars that remain can burn on brighter from it’s loss

become more radiant through having shared

it’s power

energy

joy

grace

it’s beautiful, priceless, irreplaceable verse in the eternal song

 

There will always be stars

when we glimpse one on its fragile, fleeting journey and touch its light

we have been truly blessed

Watch the sky tonight

there will be stars

 

 

Words copyright of Paul Field. Taken from the album Rites of Passage  by Paul Field and Dan Wheeler, available from www.elevationmusic.com

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Sunlight through a kitchen window…

August 23, 2010

The simple, yet exquisite beauty of natural light falling through a kitchen window at sunset

  

 Thoughts. Observations. Reflections on summer 2010. 

It’s been a lonely walk the last month or two. Feeling aware that something was missing I have turned again to my much neglected blog and decided that I needed to return my mind, hands and body to the tap-tap-tap of the laptop key-board. 

Life has been good, but hard in a subtly abrasive way, like the feeling of stumbling into a concrete wall, whatever our needs or feelings – the concrete does not shift. It stays resolutely hard and it is our bodies, feelings and souls that must compress and change shape to adjust to the solidity of the obstacle we encounter. A concrete wall – plain, grey, cold, hard or in this case the circumstances of life, even in a ‘promised’ land remain unforgiving and unmoved. 

As a man who sees himself as taking part in a spiritual journey, one might think that I have extra resources from which to find comfort in such hard and dull circumstances…and you’d be right. I do have access to spiritual traditions, disciplines and wonders that are usually able to shine light on life during a period of struggle or difficulty. Yet, once again this summer when religious resources have been widely available, I find myself saturated by their sweetness. Somehow they taste too sweet. They do not satisfy. Christian conferences, church attendance and activities, Christian books they seem to contribute to the sense of alienation, not alleviate it. 

So, what does one do in such circumstances? 

In my case I think I take care and time to appreciate the ‘details’ of life. The subtle, easily ignored, particles of beauty, splendour that permeate even the most ‘ordinary’ circumstances. There is beauty everywhere, if you have eyes to see. Just like the Kingdom the ancient Jewish man Jesus of Nazareth spoke about – it is within us or near us, if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear. 

I took the picture above because the  translucent and shadowy scene in my humble rented accommodation struck me as special in a unique way. I sensed that it may not last or that I may never see such a scene of earthly beauty quite like it gain. I chose to pay attention to the details of my physical life in those moments, and paradoxically what was revealed was a kind of  spiritual epiphany. 

In my experience it is rare to hear a Christian seminar on discovering the beauty of God through the precise falling of particles of light through a kitchen window, across a sink full of cups and plates and cutlery ready to be washed. Rather, we rush ahead see if we can harness the spiritual powers of the Bible or in the name of the God of the Bible to accelerate the growth of ‘our’ church. In the back of our minds are targets and financial goals and plans, we lose sight of the graces of each day – light, shadow, thin curtains flowing in the breezes. 

I wonder if true spirituality will take place on earth if we set down our plans and just praise the God of Creation for the wonder of the Universe and thank the God of History for the chance to be alive…and free…and fed…and watered…with clothes and shelter, that we might be still for a moment and notice, watch the changes in light across a first floor flats rooms. Maybe in these transient whispers of the material world are the trails of glory from the other heavenly world.

Summer breeze moves the voile curtains and evening sun lights up the kitchen window