This is a book that has taken a long time in the reading. Why? It is so rich, so searching, so challenging that I had to keep putting it down to ingest the questions, stories and wisdom that is captured so simply in these eight chapters. A phrase here, a question there, an idea or theme sent me to my journal for reflection. More often in the last lockdown it catapulted me our of the door for some air and exercise as I walked and wondered !
Herbert writes with a clarity that can only come from a heart and head that has struggled, that knows anger and has faced some perplexing parts of others and self. His writing has edge and a welcome invitation into horizon expanding. Though not written during pandemic the spiritual wisdom that Herbert has journeyed into poses some core issues for us as religious communities. Let me outline at what these chapters explore and through them open up some possible questions that those of faith face in the months ahead and beyond. I hope to think further here about the challenges that Herbert’s story poses.
Chapter One names Alienation as a key feature of modernity that shapes and misshapes our lives. We are introduced to the life and commitments of the Pilsdon community as a place of refuge, connection, discord, hope and flourishing. Through this story we are invited into a deeper consideration of what it might mean to be human through a good dose of honesty about how hard to is to sit with the discomforts in self and others. The Pilsdon community models a living and learning together especially with the broken and marginalised. A steady harmonious note of the promise of re-enchantment is struck and runs through the book. It is hard work and will demand much change in and of us. Objectification is discussed through a number of personal stories which open up into the arena of social justice for the refugee, for those discriminated on the basis of colour or class and especially for the traveller community. We build our houses (and churches and ministries) on discrimination, exclusion and disconnection. The consequences are death dealing.
Chapter Two explores some key features of Being in Community which include: Vision, Boundaries, Generosity, Trust, Need and Celebration. We all need to be a part of something much bigger than ourselves. Each of these core elements of Community are grounded in story and the constant energy and hurtfulness that curating these gifts in fractured lives means. The language is careful and uncompromising !
Chapter Three opens up the subject of spiritual accompaniment ( Walking Alongside Others) through the deep learning that emerged for Herbert as he adventured out on a walking pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. There is insightful description of the reality of loneliness which leads into relflection on liminality, accompaniment and what is set free when we human beings really, really listen to ourselves and others.
Chapter Four embeds the unfolding story in the necessity for us to connect and live for each other by working together. In this activity we are often given shared purpose. When Shared Purpose and Friendships are forged trust and solidarity can be the fruit.This is often the place of healing where we find ourselves rooted in a deeper sense of belonging. It is a radical place that is so often countercultural as it confronts the values that dominate and distort our wellbeing. In the careful organisation of this book the remaining chapters move into some generative space as they constructively offer a framework for the way self knowledge, goodness of heart and for courage to name those attitudes and practices that embed isolation, alienation and marginalisation.
Crossing the Divide ( chapter five) is honest about our instinctive desire to protect and project as a particular community works through its concerns about what kind of people we should live with. Herbert names the polarisation and divisions that come from othering and scapegoating. We are invited into considering what exploring our shadow side might look like and what liberations that journey might bring. We are called into the task of building bridges to counteract polarisation. Herbert puts this into a national and international perspective as his story continues to be unfolded. Despite ‘progress’ prejudice takes grip of us and through us our communities and not least in our Churches ! In chapter six we are invited into building peace through breaking down enmity, conflict and division as a vital step to peace.
Chapter Seven ( Living in Relationship with our Planet ) is a powerful invitation to place creation at the heart of our struggle to live authentically in a deep spirit of interdependence. In many ways the rich stands of the tapestry of this book come together here. We ate introduced to a reshaped embrace of nature through the work of the philosopher Bruce Wiltshire who shows us in his book, Wild Hunger, how addictive and disconnected western living often is. We are invited into thinking and feeling how we might be liberated by learning to live with less, through making interconnections and (chapter 8) in the journey of coming home to ourselves as we discover ourselves in others. Fear must be embraced as we live in the moment in space that is liminal.
There are two helpful appendices – Hints for Accompaniment and essential Ingredients for living in Community. Thank you Jonathan for such a wonderful book carefully and beautifully crafted.
This will be a book I shall recommend to the learning community at Sarum College and beyond. It is delightful and demanding in equal measure. It models a story that reveals the possibility and cost of human growth and flourishing. It is also deliciously subversive.