I woke this morning to the dulcet tones of BBC Radio 4 as is my habit. The sweet voices, however, brought bitter news of more than 70 dead migrants found in a Hungarian lorry and increasingly xenophobic headlines in today’s papers. My mind has also not fully processed last night’s late shift at a homeless hostel for 16 to 21-year-olds where we have seen support for vulnerable young people being cut repeatedly and the range of complex needs increasing.

At our team day this week we talked about up and coming tenders and acknowledged that the harshest cuts are looming over us in the next few years. It is from this context that I am leaving my home life in Sheffield and heading to the bright fields of Greenbelt in need of hope and encouragement. Over breakfast I read the poem by R.S. Thomas that inspired the theme of this year’s festival.

The Bright Field

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

The treasure and the pearl has previously spoken to me of a way of life that answers all life’s dissatisfaction and finally gives certainty and meaning. It is the ultimate romantic vision, the holy grail, the meaning of life, but I have found that optimism fades and becomes a cross we have to bear in the pursuit of an ascetic Jesus.

R.S. Thomas describes the treasure not as something new to be found but something that was discovered before and can be returned to. A hope not bound to future events but bound to a way of seeing the miracles around us.

It was at this point in my epiphany that I was drawn to hear Pádraig Ó Tuama read from his new book of poetry and stories at Leaves. The title ‘saying hello to the world’ spoke of his journey of deepening faith in the poetic and fiction and a diminishing in his addiction to the certain. He spoke about the many situations in which he learned to say hello to the moments and people and places that inhabit his life. He had a wonderful ability to name the torturous places and darkness of the soul and find light in acknowledging the little miracles that take place every day. Not running away from pain but naming it and through doing so being available to the many encounters he told which gave life and light.

As the night fades on this first night of Greenbelt I feel the pull of my attention towards old friends congregating in the Jesus Arms and a diary of overlapping events for the coming days. Tomorrow’s schedule already too full, from the Slackline school at 11 am and ‘The Daily Mirror’ at 12:30 with the brilliant Cole Moreton and guests to folk, willow weaving and animism. Too much to fit in to one day. I’m keen not to forget lessons learned today in amongst the busyness of the days ahead. Maybe I’ll buy Pádraig’s book as a way of taking home a piece of him. A book well worth buying.

Written by Chris Ware

Chris works for a homelessness charity in south London, and volunteers with Housing Justice campaigning for proper housing for those who don’t have it. He’s a fine art graduate from the north who finds the big city too big and too busy. Often found pontificating over a pint of ale.

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