The most memorable summer evenings are usually campfire evenings. From campfires on the beach with foil wrapped parcels of sweet potato nestled in the embers to the festival campfires surrounded by friends old and new, a bottle of whisky being passed around, it’s cork discarded on opening, around the campfire there is a special kind of magic. Songs are sung, and stories are shared and as the sun goes down, there’s something about staring alternately into the fire and at the faces around you that brings out deep conversation. I suppose, it could be the whisky but either way, the campfire is where connections are made and friendships are forged.

How strange it was that this year’s summer campfire took place at the computer, the faces across the fire no more than pixels on the screen. Each time we ‘zoom’ I remind myself that each of those faces are real people with real, tangible lives and real, individual stories that I try to draw out of the screen and bring to life in front of me. It brought home the strangeness and separateness of this online life. It suffices to say that as the shy, slightly antisocial introvert of the group, for whom the initial limit to socialising came as a relief,  even I am starting to miss gatherings of people so goodness knows how torturous this time must be for the extroverts among you!

Having said that, the stories still speak to us. They whisper words of wisdom and comfort, express painful truths and guide us to stand taller and stronger in their wake. No matter the strange online format, when hearts are open, the stories seep in. From the confines of our own four walls, we crossed vast expanses of space and time. Moving between stories and within stories we travelled from jealousy, hurt, death, brokenness, criticism and shame through seeking, avenging, revenge and pursuit to healing and wholeness, fulfilment, honour, respect and finally, to love and tenderness. What wisdom might we take from that journey?

The evening, in aid of a charity who support refugees and asylum seekers, brought to mind another memory, something I recall my Father saying to me time and time again as I grew up. Whenever we saw someone homeless in the street, heard of someone’s ill health or ill fortune, or read stories of tragedy in the newspaper, he would kneel down, look directly into my eyes and say “there but for the grace of God go I”. As a young child, I was confused and bewildered. As a teenager I wondered why I was apparently blessed and protected when others weren’t. In my early adulthood I questioned who was god and where was grace and wondered what my responsibility was in a world that seemed lacking in both. And now, though I do not know the answers, it’s a painful truth that there is too much hurt and brokenness to heal in the world and it’s my responsibility, our responsibility to nonetheless take whatever small actions of grace and compassion we are able to. There is something sacred within each of us and when we listen to that part of ourselves we can be that which is lacking in the world.

Perhaps it’s not the campfire that brings the magic, but the people and the stories. Perhaps it’s not the glowing dancing flames that forge the connections but the willingness to openheartedly face whoever appears on the other side. And so it follows that perhaps that magic can be present in this strange new way of connecting with people and perhaps that magic can inspire us to make that journey towards love and tenderness and lead us towards the courage to take responsibility for our blessings.

Now, where has the whisky got to?!