London Calling (part V)

Two weeks into my placement and I’ve had very little time for personal reflection but the time I have had has, looking back, a very similar thread: ‘home’. I have tried, as much as possible, since starting this blog, to keep my personal life and personal spiritual journey separate from my ministerial reflections. At times this is very difficult but at this time the two reflections have collided and so I’ll be sharing some personal feelings and how it relates to the theatre community and the call of the Church.

Growing up I was always a ‘nester’. When going on holiday I liked to take all my clothes out of the suitcase and put them in the drawers and cupboards. I’d take out the book I was reading at the time and put it on my bedside table and I’d try and take with me as much of ‘home’ as possible. I didn’t cope well being away from home for long periods of time. Being an introvert I treasured my cave to retreat to, the place where I could be myself and say and think all the things I wanted to.

As I grew up this became less important and I adapted to be more relaxed about home and, as a teenager, it wasn’t cool to be so attached to home. While my brother, sister and friends dreamt of leaving home, I was there forcing myself to want to leave the familiar. In the end I did leave home and set out on my own and it was painful as I tried to make completely new things, familiar and to find a place where I was given permission to be myself. I put on personas that allowed me to be accepted and lived a life that meant I survived in the outside world.

After a period of time I was alone, confused and desperately ‘homesick’. ‘Home’ had become not a stationary place but an ideal a state of mind. It was now a memory of that feeling where I knew who I was what I thought and felt and the knowledge that, in the end, I was safe and… complete? Yes complete. In Hebrew thought there’s the understanding of ‘shalom’ which is not just peace but it’s wholeness, rest in completeness. Home was ‘shalom’.

In my desperation I returned to the house I grew up in, to the town of my youth in search of ‘home’ but it wasn’t ‘home’ anymore, life had moved on and I was left, homeless.

When I discovered God, in Riding Lights Summer Theatre School, I found a home; a place in the immaterial. At the same time I found relationships that were ‘home’, where I could kick off my immaterial shoes and relax in safety.

‘Home’, this ‘shalom’, these relationships where I can take off the masks and pretense and be real and honest are very important to me and, I think, to all human beings. As I spend time, separated from my wife, away from the familiar smells and routines of my house, parted from the community that has begun to sustain me in Durham, I find no rest; I’m exhausted but I can’t sleep.

I walked around Earls Court on Saturday and was reminded of my initial feelings about this part of London; there’s no sense of ‘home’. This community, along with large parts of the capital, is made up of people for whom other places are home, be it another country or another part of this one, or where they have yet to find a ‘home’. The word used to describe the people living in this area was ‘transient’. You look at the buildings and they are not cared for they are sleeping pods for people working or spend long times away. The scripture that came to mind as I looked at the people and the buildings and their relationship with each other was.

‘My soul find rest in God alone.’ (Ps 62:1)

In most of my conversations with vicars, members of communities and friends what they want in a church is ‘home’. This is particularly important for members of the theatre community (see ‘Theatre Church (part VII)‘ post). As the church here in Earls Court steps out in mission, to some extent, this creation of ‘home’ is something that has been sidelined slightly.

I visited ‘grace’ on Saturday night. ‘grace’ is a community in Ealing who are striving to be a real, honest community. Jonny Baker, whose blog can be found in my blogreel, has been a part of the team at ;grace’ for some time and his reflections on it would be worth reading. On Saturday night I stepped into a foreign space with strangers all around me and I was amazed how much of a welcome I felt just being in the space. There was no specific ‘welcome team’, there was no big pointing at the newcomer and asking everyone to make them feel welcome it was an acceptance of a fellow traveler allowing me to be me in the space for the time I am there and them engaging in conversation as much as I wanted to engage.

The whole experience of ‘grace’ reminded me of needing sanctuary, rest, ‘home’. For me this is the central, most important part of a community, acceptance of the individual and allowing them to be real with themselves, with each other and with God. Unwrap your bandages and and show your wounds. It is interesting that it is Jesus’ wounds that make him recognizable to his disciples.

Part of the evening at ‘grace’ was spent traveling around three stations; cave, refectory and road. The idea, admitted by Jonny, was stolen from Ian Adams’ book named after these three principles. In the book it looks at the monastic tradition of needing a cave, a refectory and a road. The cave is a place of sanctuary, where you rest, where you are alone and refreshed. The refectory is a place where you can share stories with others and the road is a place of work, of journeying and of striving towards a goal with others.

I made two commitments on Saturday; one was to commit to working from a place of ‘home, rest, ‘shalom’. I have found being away in London, separated from my wife, without the familiar smells and routines of my house, distanced from the community in Durham which have sustained me, difficult because these are things that make ‘home’. ‘Home’ is being in relationship, in a place, where I am known and loved. I’m exhausted because I have no home here. The second commitment was a commitment to the new community that will be forming in Durham. I committed to creating a ‘home’ with and for them. A place which can be both a cave for some and a refectory for others so all can face the road together. I love the fact that we will be meeting in a place called ‘Sanctuary 21’. I hope and pray that we will remain a place of sanctuary and a ‘home’.

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