Lessons in Spirituality

Martin Wroe
3 min readSep 9, 2023

‘Fifty, A Festival Lexicon’, a limited edition volume marking fifty years of The Greenbelt Arts Festival, is a book of clues for those trying to keep faith today.

Making it. The artist. Everyone with that original instinct. All of us. That first urge. To take the form and the void, to face the darkness and the deep, to imagine that something else could be made from them. To let there be light…’

In 2023 I’ve been part of a team making a book to mark the fiftieth appearance of the Greenbelt Arts Festival. As this festival has been a holy ghost in my life ever since I first arrived in a green field with a tent as a 17 year old, and as I was a trustee on the festival board through rain and shine for several hundred years, I always wondered if we could mark it with some special publication.

Something as good at being a book as Greenbelt can be at being a festival. Poetic not propositional. Less festival history and more spiritual geography. A kind of ‘portal’.

This was the word Barbara Brown Taylor elected to write about for the book, observing that the best that words ‘can do is point in the right direction…’

‘… to the greenness, freshness, and aliveness that mark portals of all kinds. Sometimes they open in human form, with a face or a body that lets you right in. Other times they open in a forest, by a sickbed, on a long drive, in a song you can’t stop singing.’

And maybe also this could be a book of clues for those trying to keep faith today, which is where Carmody Grey went in her essay on Love.

‘We need spaces in which we can reflect on what it means to be human, so that we can cultivate the right loves… where we imagine, cultivate, and interrogate shared visions and values: where art, culture, faith, philosophy and humanistic learning can flourish.’

Working with my brilliant poet and editor friend Katherine Venn and with genius creatives Paul Northup and Derek Hill from the Greenbelt home team, we asked about fifty writers and fifty visual artists to take on a word in this ‘festival lexicon’. From Cole Arthur Riley (“practising wonder is a powerful tool against despair’) to Brian Eno (‘Religion is a way of imagining community into being.’ ) we aspired, as David Dark puts it in a meditation on Exorcism, ‘to expand the space of the talkaboutable’.

Beautifully designed by Wilf Whitty, this one-off volume hints at a way of being alive in this world, whether or not you ever get to visit the Festival that inspired it. Lessons in spirituality, like those of Lucy Winkett.

‘We are interdependent with all that lives and our capacity for mourning, imagining, sacrifice and love is a daily inspiration. A spirituality that recognises the celebration and lament of the world, that searches for truth and expects to travel with others, human and beyond human, not least in a field once a year for fifty years, is an authentic spirituality for our troubled times.’

‘FIFTY, A Festival Lexicon’, was crowdfunded with the faith, hope and cash of eight hundred believers. Another two hundred copies were run off in case anyone else wanted one. There’s a few left. Email gbinfo@greenbelt.org.uk.



Martin Wroe

‘Trying to get to heaven before they close the door.’