Reflection on Greenbelt - 29 August 2007

 This was my second Greenbelt Festival. The weather had turned out hot and sunny and, after putting my tent up ­ overcoming my trepidation at the challenge of camping ­ I scoured the programme for the interesting, inspiring and unusual. What did I take away from this Bank Holiday weekend, apart from memories of the unexpected heat? How relevant for me was this year's theme, 'heaven in ordinary'?

The films on offer were thought-provoking. I watched The Mission, with its excellent performances by Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons, to the accompaniment of Ennio Morricone's moving score; the award-winning Babette's Feast, and The Rains of Fear, a short film, written by a prisoner, about violence in the Irish traveller community.

I signed up for a 'meditative pilgrimage' up Cleeve Hill, a local beauty spot. The walk was arranged by the Scripture Union movement which has published a series of inspirational books called the Wise Traveller series. As we walked, reflections from the books were read which, using the metaphor of the journey, spoke of the importance of focussing on the ground beneath our feet, the way before and behind us, our surroundings, and the sky above us. It is a familiar metaphor but one that truly grounds.

As I walked I thought back to Mark Yaconelli's talk of that morning, where he recounted a funny anecdote about his son's founding of a club called 'slow club', and of how this taught him to slow down and enjoy life, to take Sabbath time as a necessity of life. Yaconelli, who is director of the Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project, had also spoken of the importance of really seeing people as they are, holding them in a loving gaze rather than looking at them with prejudice. As I stood on Cleeve Hill on the Wise Traveller walk, the necessity of such slowness and such a gaze seeped into me.

John O'Donohue said 'behind every face there is a secret, hidden, inner life'. I was moved and strengthened by hearing this poet and philosopher explain that we have never seen our own faces. So it is only through love and friendship that we know ourselves, as other people reflect our faces back to us. The litmus test of true friendship, he said, is when it allows others to be whoever they are, and to be that to the fullest extent possible.

But each of us is essentially alone. Quoting the Scottish psychologist R.D. Laing, O'Donohue said 'we never see another person's experience'. It is wonderful, he asserted, reflecting on his time as a priest, to help someone to die when they have really entered their lives, really lived them without regrets, having become themselves fully. Yaconelli spoke of what breaks us as a gift from God that allows his healing love in. Perhaps the secret of those who have really lived is their grasp of this truth.

But the Greenbelt experience would not be complete without coming away with some awareness that, as the Ugandan Bishop Nelson Onono-Onweng said, 'we live in a global world of humanity'. Something that affects Uganda affects Britain. Wisam Salsaa, a Christian from Beit Sahour, just outside Bethlehem in the Palestinian Territories, spoke of the importance of patience, good humour and hope. He called on Westerners to go to the Holy Land and tell the story, to be hope by being with the people. Such solidarity in humanity seemed to me to be the message of the festival, the only way that 'heaven in ordinary' can happen. As Salsaa put it, 'We have obstacles in our lives but we always try to go above them. It's not easy'.

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