I’m way late posting this here, but for online posterity, here’s the text for the 17 May 2022 “Pause for Thought” I offered on the Early Breakfast Show with Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio 2. Listen here.
I was in Scarborough recently for work and went for an early morning run along the beach, where I noticed a group of women in bathing costumes. I stopped to chat and discovered they were going sea swimming.
How cold’s the water? I asked.
8 degrees, they said.
Wow, that is intense, I said. Why do you do it?
One woman said, well, it depends on the day: sometimes it’s just a bit of fun with friends, sometimes for my mental wellbeing, sometimes it’s totally spiritual. You should come with us!
Oh, I said, I gotta work
Tomorrow, then, they said. We’re here every morning.
The next day, I woke up, put on my trainers and thought, we’ll see what happens: maybe, maybe not.
As I ran up, the women called out:
Wahey! You’re going in with us?
I want to, I said, but I also don’t want to! I’m really scared about the freezing cold.
They said: The cold is real, but it gives way to something else, and it’s worth it.
I trusted them. We walked into the surf up to our waists, and then together we dipped down until the sea covered our shoulders.
It hurts, I said.
Yeah, they said. Breathe, and talk to us. I did, and – they were right – eventually the discomfort transformed into something totally different. Something serene, something euphoric. A quiet joy flowed into the centre of me and right through me.
The icy waves rose and fell softly, like the sea was breathing around us. And as we swam, we talked. One woman was marking the anniversary of her dad’s death. Another was mourning a nephew born still. Another nursing a hangover from a fabulous party the night before. It was one of those moments when I felt exactly in the right place: somehow at one with the elements, at one with those women, with myself, with God.
When we talk about going green, sometimes we imagine it as a sacrifice we have to make. And while I think that’s true in part, as a Christian, I think of going green mostly as a gift we receive. It’s something good for us; it’s a delight. The flourishing of the planet and the flourishing of all creatures, human and other-than-human – it’s all connected. The ocean’s joy and my joy are intertwined – all held together, I believe, by the God who breathes through everything.