On October 16th 2013, I attended the funeral of a much-loved GreenSpirit member, Vincent Tilsley (born 3rd June 1932, died 29th September 2013). The setting was the North Chapel, Woodvale Crematorium, Brighton and the service was conducted by the Rev Ann-Marie Marchant. A Multi Faith Minister. The Chapel was packed with family, friends and a number of people whom Vincent had helped as a psychotherapist to overcome addictive conditions such as alcoholism and drug dependency. Remarkably, Vincent had himself gone through a time of healing from such cravings which had built up during the first half of his life as a writer and dramatist of repute, until he hit the brick wall of ‘writers block.’ This was serious stuff, and in his long and insightful article in the GreenSpirit Journal (now called magazine) of Spring 2005, he describes how this block took effect at first gradually, then more quickly, and in the end, quite suddenly. For two years he was unable to write a word… he describes this period as ‘on my own, jobless in a bedsit – and even this by the grace of Social Security. Depression scarcely described it!’
It was at this stage that two events – one worldly and one other-worldly – came together to set in train the healing process. The first was meeting with others going through the Ten Step programme of Alcoholics Anonymous. Vincent describes these people ‘as authentic as they were friendly but they told me that central to their programme was a belief in a Higher Power.’ This was not good news to Vincent who had a kind of negative article of faith that there wasn’t one, and he was determined ‘not to start telling myself lies again.’ However, what he could not deny was an increasing awareness of the unity of all life, as exemplified by the poet Rumi’s dictum that ‘God is closer to you than you are to yourself’. It would still be another fifteen years before this ‘seamless entanglement’ reached something like clarity. This came when he first saw Brian Swimme’s ‘Canticle to the Cosmos’ but by then Vincent had gone well beyond believing in a God to believing there is nothing but God! ‘Looking back,’ he says, ‘I’d begun to discover the rudiments of Creation Spirituality before I’d even heard of it.’ And, almost without blinking, his physical cravings had gone!
All was now in place for Vincent to take up his pen again and make a start on his Magnum Opus, Holy Night. The elements of this he had conceived many years previously whilst lying on the shingle of Brighton beach, looking up at the stars. Musing on the Nativity, he saw it as nothing less than an allegory about the new birth of our relationship with the Universe. Mixing up the worldly with the other-worldly was now no problem. As well as continuing with his writing he trained as a psychotherapist giving freely of his time to helping those, burdened as he had once been, by fear, loneliness and depression and the consequent recourse to addictive substances. Vincent’s life and work shows there is always hope – that ‘little band of brightness’ of which John O’Donahue spoke in Anam Cara and which opened the funeral service:
‘Death is not the end; it is a rebirth. Our presence in the world is so poignant. The little band of brightness that we call our life is poised between the darkness of two unknowns. There is the darkness of the unknown at our origin. We suddenly emerged from this unknown, and the band of brightness called life began. Then there is the darkness at the end when we disappear again back into the unknown.’