August 2019 - Escape or Integration?

Dear friends

I was recently listening to Emily Eavis (daughter of Michael Eavis, the founder of the Glastonbury Festival) being interviewed on Desert Island Discs. She was a fascinating, competent and compassionate woman, who told stories of juggling one of the world's biggest music festivals with three small children. I was particularly struck when she said, “For me it’s about creating a parallel universe where people can escape from the real world and be living in a completely different space”.

As I drove on (I listen to a lot of podcasts as I spend quite a bit of time driving between our four parishes, and Desert Island Discs is proof of impending middle age!) this caused me to ponder what it was about needing a parallel, a divide, between the real world of our every day lives, and a place where we find joy and freedom. It also reminded me of a friend who often tells me that he escapes into novels or films as a form of relaxation and escape from the stresses of his life, describing a process of stepping out of reality and into an unreal world, simply to cope with life. There is something about it that discomforts me.

But what if this were different? I'm not talking about a life that is void of the stresses and complexities that humans face, or denying that modern life moves faster and is more invasive of our privacy and disruptive of our peace. This is a search for integration. If stepping into a parallel universe seems necessary for our very survival, or escape into a book for our very sanity, surely this tells us we have got something wrong.

The church has often been accused of being a place of escape, of the denial of reality, of being a crutch on which the weak are want to lean. But I never see it that way. For me it has to be a place of truth, confrontation of the realities of human fragility, and the integration of joy and sadness. But never a parallel place of escape and detachment. The author Simon Parke, in his book The Journey Home, offers 10 New Commandments 'for coping with the stresses, strains and pressures of modern life'. In summary these are: Be present; Observe yourself; Be nothing; Flee attachment; Transcend suffering; Drop your illusions; Prepare for truth; Cease separation; Know your soul; Fear nothing.

For me, I believe that this works just as well for the God-bothering enthusiast as the avowed atheist. There can be no true joy and contentment in life in a separated existence. With or without a spiritual path, when we become disconnected from ourselves, the realities of life and a commitment to the truth, it is a long journey home. It is not about escape, but integration – transforming and embracing the life we have.

Nick Bird

Your Rector

This letter from Revd Nick Bird appeared in the August 2019 issue of The Grapevine