An article by Revd Will Gibbs for the Redbourn Common Round
When I was little, I can remember my Dad saying on more than one occasion, ‘What’s the point in going off around the world when there are so many amazing places we haven’t seen in this country?’ It might have been prompted by the fact that he was 6 foot 4 and flying in an aeroplane was never going to be a very pleasurable experience for him. Or it might be that with four of us children, going abroad was always going to be quite an expensive exercise for the whole family. Or it might just have been a reflection on his genuine love of this country and its beautiful countryside, history and places.
Whatever the reason, and it may well have been a combination of all of the above, I have many happy memories of holidays in my childhood spent in Cornwall, Devon, Pembrokeshire, on various canals and campsites and some pretty remote parts of Scotland. We always had a good time – despite the vagaries of British weather – and Dad was right; there are some lovely places to visit and see right under our noses.
It meant that the first time I ever went abroad was for a French exchange to Granville in Normandy in Year 7 (as it’s known in new money, but it was always known to me as the First form!). I was 12 years old and I thought it was amazing – I loved the huge ferry, the fun with classmates on the trip with me, the new food to try and even the language. It opened my eyes and since then, I’ve been making up for lost time, travelling as much as I can and enjoying some amazing parts of the world which I’ve been so fortunate to visit.
Well, we won’t be going anywhere overseas this year. We had booked a trip to Lanzarote for two weeks but after several days (quite literally) in a telephone queue we managed to transfer the booking to August 2021. So long did we wait to get through that we’d used all the free calls allowance for the month, and then some, by the 3rd day of the month and then we had BT on our backs. That trip to the Canaries will feel extra special when we do eventually get to go.
So, for this year we will stay at home. Not perhaps always at home but a day trip here and there, and perhaps a few nights staying somewhere not too far away so we really can switch off and get away from emails and the telephone. In the past we might have been disappointed with this option but not this year. It feels like the right thing to do, and not just because the modern portmanteau words of ‘stay-cation’ and ‘holi-stay’ try and jolly us along about this.
There has been much about the pandemic that has caused us to grieve. There has been the conventional grief of death with a staggering death toll that still rises each day even if, in relative terms, we have been blessed to have been spared the worst of infections and fatalities in our community. We perhaps have had to grieve for our routines and activities and for some, our jobs, savings and livelihoods. For some, the grief has been for special plans that were in place for birthdays, weddings or christenings that have had be put on hold. And we grieve for our sense of freedom – the chance to go where we want, when we want and to meet up with who we want.
But alongside these things, I won’t grieve for my foreign holiday this year. I’ll miss it and I will worry for the many people whose jobs are dependent on travel and hospitality, at home as well as overseas. But I won’t sulk or feel sorry for myself.
I can console myself with lots of positives. If we like our day trips and minibreak then we can go there again so much more easily. And it won’t have cost the earth to get there – financially and environmentally. We can carry on enjoying the sounds and sights of nature that have been so vivid and special this year and that remind us of the huge blessings we enjoy day by day in our lives in this country.
And then there’s coming home. There’s always that lovely moment when you’ve been away – wherever you’ve been – when you pull up on the drive, go through the front door and all the familiar possessions and homeliness come flooding back. We’ve spent a lot of time in our homes lately and that’s not a bad thing really. It challenges our habits of constant movement – from our car-centric lives to our distractibility – which inevitably and regrettably shape our souls. We feel that the restrictions on travel have somehow inhibited us and harmed our freedom – what one writer calls the obsession with space over place.
Instead, if we stay closer to home, and more rooted we might just see and hear and feel the things that we were looking for all along. Because of what is called the incarnation, of God coming into this world in the person of Jesus, we know God in the particular rather than in the abstract. And God still makes himself known to us today through the material and relational: through the natural world when we’re stunned by a red kite soaring overhead or the pathway of a passing snail, when a line of poetry strikes us or a verse leaps from the page.
Whatever you’re doing this summer, and wherever you’re spending it, we can know that we have a home with God and that God is always near, wherever we are.