‘Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear,
And Grace my fears relieved,
How precious did that Grace appear
The Hour I first believed
Get your flower crowns on and your glow sticks out, it’s festival time. Having just come back from one, I feel like festivals around here are an odd blend of the extravagant and the British. We’re willing to make complete fools of ourselves, wear those trousers or hair accessories we’d never dream of in general public and live dangerously – if someone talks to us in the queue we even venture to reply. How precious are these few carefree days. But, like the true Brits we are, if we see a queue, we join it. We get that suspicious feeling when we walk past that everyone in the queue knows something we don’t, that we must be missing out, so we wait in anticipation until we get to the front and realise we’ve been waiting an hour for a porta loo. We also stand with that absolute determination in the pouring rain because we’ve paid to be here and we will see what we came to see. That is, until we finally crawl back into bed, totally exhausted yet totally satisfied, feeling indestructible in our tents as we listen to the amplified sound of running feet of the downpour outside. (Until, of course, you realise you really need to pee).
This year, as well as listening to music, comedy and a lot of literary delights, I went to some truly inspiring talks, meeting and speaking to some really remarkable and interesting people. It was like a door to the rest of the world. Going to the beer tent in the evening, you could find yourself doing anything from crazy Dutch dancing that is only possible after a pint of Redemption or Jonah and the Ale at the Jesus’ Arms, to deep discussions of pressing worldly issues. You said you’d be in bed by nine, at quarter to one….you’re freeing Palestine. I met a wonderful Dutch girl who taught me what it really meant to dance as if no one was watching. I spoke to former street children from Burundi and Pakistan, once living with no birthdays, no identity and no record of existence, now uniting in football, playing in world cups with each other. It was inspiring, good things are happening in this world, homes are being remade, lives are being rebuilt and, for me, dreams are being dreamed, if just for the weekend. Fearless of the world, in my dreams.
At the end of the weekend, it was straight from one camping experience to the next as I met up with some friends from university to partake in a conference of five days of evangelism training for CU leaders. Now, bear with me, it’s a lot more fun than it sounds. Among the fun of popping airbeds and cooking attempts, catching up with friends and meeting people from CUs all over the country, one thing that was particularly prevalent for me, was the way we could be so united in song. Quite frankly, when you’re stood in a tent with over a thousand other students all with the same purpose belting out one song, it doesn’t matter if you went in the tent with your shoes on or left a tea towel on the floor, finally you understand what Charles Wesley meant when he talked about being totally lost in wonder, love and praise.
And it wasn’t just in designated times of worship. Sitting round a campfire with new friends, singing worship songs into the night, simply because we wanted to, out of sheer joy, out of sheer adoration. As I approached the campfire in the dark I heard people calling out my name and I thought thank goodness I’ve found people from my CU. The thing is, they weren’t from my CU and that was even better. Suddenly we weren’t just people camping next to each other, we were genuine friends, united in song. For one moment around the campfire, I thought I had glimpsed glory; and eternity in joyful praise.
When we’ve been here ten thousand years
Bright Shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun
One afternoon, my CU whiled away the time walking from our staying place of the Shropshire countryside to the beautiful country of Wales. We walked through a dark aqueduct, just over 400m long, singing as we went. At one point we were walking through the middle of the tunnel alongside the canal and the feet in front of me started to disappear, it turned into the kind of black where you can’t tell if your eyes are open or closed. With nothing but a rail between us and the canal and the feel of the cold stone wall on the other side, there was absolutely nothing to be seen, only our voices bouncing off the walls and echoing around the tunnel. The only thing keeping us together in one long line, with nothing else to follow, was the sound of song. Somehow it didn’t have quite the same impact outside the aqueduct without the tunnel acoustics to magnify our singing. It really was a magical moment.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have been truly inspired about what is going on around the world and yet reminded that wherever we are, we are all in this together and I can’t wait until the day when we are all in one place with no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun 🙂