The Meaning of Life: a BBC “Pause for Thought”

Here’s the text for the 25 May 2021 “Pause for Thought” I offered on the Early Breakfast Show with Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio 2 – about trees, physics, and falling in love with God. You can listen in here.


There’s a tree I used to climb when I was a kid.

I loved its branches, sturdy and wrinkly as elephant legs – how they cradled my nine-year-old body and lifted me into communion with the sky and the rain and the bats that hung upside down in the leaves.

My parents weren’t really church-goers but I was a spiritual kid. And my first experience of falling in love with God was lying on my back in that in tree.

My first experience of grief was going to climb it one day and finding it on its side, blown down by a storm. As my friend lay dying, I walked into its muddy roots, as vast underneath as its branches on top. I saw weird creatures who lived with the tree on the other side of the ground from me.

Deeper in, the roots became a cathedral. I felt an energy flowing around me – the hairs stood up on the back of my neck.

It’s not like I hadn’t known about roots before – I’d studied my science book. But there’s a difference between knowing about something and actually meeting it for the first time. This meeting gripped me: I realized there was so much stuff underneath the surface that I hadn’t seen before, and this unseen stuff had been holding me up all along.

Now I’m sure my younger self would not have said of that experience: “this is the meaning of life, this is ultimate reality!” But I believe that IS what I came into conscious contact with that day. Not only the tree and its roots, not only a new part of me – but an encounter with the life force in us both, the everlasting love streaming between me and the tree and everything else in the universe.

We name that mysterious connectedness in different ways.

A physicist calls it entanglement, where two different things separated by a huge distance are still somehow physically affected by the movement of the other.

As a Christian, I call it the Body of Christ, the fundamental unity of everything, seen and unseen, visible and invisible – all somehow held together by God.

The nine-year-old might just call it: Wow!

All those descriptions are good, in my opinion. But maybe the best is the nine-year-old’s. Because the meaning of life isn’t merely knowing about the meaning – it’s encountering it, meeting it, and falling in love. Wow, indeed.

My Eleventh Commandment: a BBC “Pause for Thought”

Here’s the text for the 18 May 2021 “Pause for Thought” I offered on the Early Breakfast Show with Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio 2 – about comedy classes, failure, and what to do when we mess up. You can listen in here.


A few years ago now I signed up for an improvisational comedy class. Improv, as they call it. Now, I’m one of the least funny people you’ll ever meet, but I wanted a challenge.

Improv is a team approach to comedy. You create a story ­­– with others – in the moment. There’s no advanced planning. You start with an idea and you see where it goes. So my improv teacher might say, “Okay, Trey and Vanessa, up on stage. Here’s the scene: you two are long estranged siblings meeting for the first time in years. Go!”

Now, there’s no script – you’re improvising­ – so you have to listen, play, stay open. When it works, it’s hilarious.

It turns out, though: I really stink at it. Every class, I was bombing. One particularly humiliating night, I whinged to my teacher: “I’m so locked down on stage, I feel like I’m dying up there.”

She said, “Trey, you feel like you’re dying up there because – you’re dying up there. You’re trying to control everything. Let it go. What’s the worst that could happen?”

I said, “I could fail really bad.”

She said “Well, you’re already doing that. And anyway, failure is good for the soul.”

I dropped out of class, but her wisdom stuck. In improv, in life, we’re gonna fail. We’re gonna mess up – in small ways that bring laughter, in colossal ways that bring us to our knees. Failure is part of living a true story.

Writer Francis Spufford calls it “the human propensity to foul* things up”. We’ve all been there, we’ll be there again. The question is: what do we do when it happens?

My natural tendency is to ignore it or cover it up or – better yet! – blame somebody else.

But when I got sober, my recovery friends said “we’re only as sick as our secrets” and they challenged me to take an honest inventory of my messy life. To write down the epic failures, the micro-mistakes, the harm I’d caused others and myself. And then to share it all with someone I trusted.

It was scarier than improv, but accepting my failures with compassion has been so good for my soul.

So my eleventh commandment is not another moral from on high, but instead a suggestion for when we foul things up.

Here it is:

Be honest and ask for help.

In my experience, it will set you free.


*He actually uses a different F-word that radio broadcasters don’t endorse. 🙂

Taking Care of My Mind: a BBC “Pause for Thought”

Here’s the text for the 11 May 2021 “Pause for Thought” I offered on the Early Breakfast Show with Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio 2 for Mental Health Awareness Week – about running, sobriety, and faith. You can listen in here.


I read recently that seven million Brits started running during this pandemic year.

I’m a long-time runner, so I totally get it. On a stressful day, before a run, I’m like: “Everything’s falling apart, how’s the world going to make it, am I having a panic attack?” But forty-five minutes later, after a run, I’m like: “Life is miraculous! There is hope! Together we can change the world!”

Running seems to give me direct access to free medicine from God. Whether I’m on city pavements or trails in the countryside, I feel this transfusion of peace flowing through my veins. I feel my soul loosen up.

Running has been a big part of how I take care of my mind since I got sober.

When I first stopped drinking, I felt amazing – fresh, detoxed, with a new lease on life. But soon after, I started to feel like rubbish. This is a normal rite of passage for folks healing from addiction. As someone’s said: Before the truth sets you free, it tends to make you miserable. When you stop using your drug of choice, all the problems you’ve been numbing start to come to the surface, and you get to choose whether you keep ignoring them or actually face them.

For me, to face that backlog of misery that was messing with my mental health, I needed a lot of help. I needed a community of recovery, I needed a practice of meditation and prayer, I needed counseling and a couple years of anti-depressants.

But running has been the healing thread through it all.

At the beginning of sobriety, I ran mostly to escape the temptation to drink again. Whenever I felt the desire to open a bottle, I’d put on my trainers and hit the streets. I’d trade the buzz of alcohol for the buzz of a runner’s high. And it worked: thanks be to God, I haven’t wanted a drink in over 11 years.

All these years later, running is not so much an escape from life but an adventure deeper into it. I joined a running club and made loads of new friends. I ran a marathon and felt embodied in a way I never had before.

I still take my problems with me on runs, but now I try to use the extra oxygen to work through the problems instead of repressing them. At least some of the time.

The Bible says “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” For me, taking care of my mind – and my soul and spirit and body, for that matter – it’s about perseverance.

Day in, day out, whatever the weather outside, whatever the weather in my head, I’m learning that my job is to show up to life as it comes. And – sometimes quickly but usually very slowly – to welcome the healing that’s on offer.

My Favourite Walk: a BBC “Pause for Thought”

Here’s the text for the 4 May 2021 “Pause for Thought” I offered on the Early Breakfast Show with Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio 2. As you’ll read/hear, this one is for our beloved dog Jake, of blessed memory. You can listen in here.


I feel like a bit of an impostor, because I haven’t always been a fan of walks. Maybe it’s because I’m from the US, where people drive more than walk. Many streets don’t even have pavements.

But all that changed a decade ago when we adopted a rescue dog – a big, grey Weimaraner named Jake. Very quickly I became a walker. Three times a day Jake pulled me along the lakefront in Chicago, where we lived. We moved to Birmingham, he pulled me down canal paths – and once he pulled me right through the doorway of very surprised new neighbors. We moved to London, he pulled me down busy streets.

My favourite walks in life have been with him. Especially the walks where Jake wanted to explore – and pulled us from the street into the park, or off the park path into the woods.

At first that frustrated me – I didn’t think we had enough time, I didn’t want to get my shoes muddy, I didn’t want to navigate brambles with 40 kilos of clumsy canine joy – but eventually, I learned to accept it as a gift. If I followed Jake’s lead, I might find myself in a grove of stately pine trees, staring up with him into the swaying canopy. Or crawling on my belly into the undercroft of an ancient hedge. Or taking off my shirt and shoes and walking into a lake to swim, to watch the geese at eye level across the water.

John Muir, the Scottish-American environmentalist, said:

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt”.

Jake would definitely agree.

I’ve been lucky in life to hike the Grand Canyon, in Cappodocian caves, on Icelandic glaciers – but I’m not sure I would’ve said yes to any of those invitations if Jake hadn’t taught me how to walk.

Some people think of faith as merely a list of beliefs you say yes or no or maybe to, but as a Christian, I think faith is more a willingness to walk where I did not plan to go. A willingness to be led into a life more interesting than I can construct by myself: led out of my apartment into the world, out of my head into friendship, off the map into the wild.

Jake died just a month before the pandemic hit, at the gorgeous age of 13. After thousands of miles together, one of our last walks was on a Welsh beach.

Jake wasn’t pulling me anymore; we sort of ambled together across the sand, into the surf.

We looked out across the water again – this time, for that other shore.

Thank you God, thank you Jake: for the gift of muddy shoes, and a faith that life is more beautiful than we can imagine alone.