a statement that, despite sound reasoning, leads to a conclusion that seems senseless, illogical, or self-contradictory.
a liturgical formula of praise or giving glory to God.
'Paradoxology' is when the two definitions above combine. Or, perhaps, collide. It's about discovering, exploring and celebrating the Christian faith in the midst of questions, struggles and doubts.
It's also the name of an experiment that we tried for the first time in 2013 at Electric Picnic, Ireland's version of Glastonbury and winner of Ireland's 'Best Big Festival Award' four times since the awards were launched in 2007. Picnic is more than a music festival, it's a multi-sensory experience of music, art, education, spoken word, comedy and creativity.
In 2013, Electric Picnic allowed its first ever Christian sacred space, a prayer tent run by Greg Fromholz, Pam Rooney and Scott Evans. Our little 6m x 6m was located on the Arts Trail between Trenchtown (a reggae venue) and The Salty Dog (a shipwreck stage in the forest). Our fears were that we would be laughed at, vandalised and warned off. Instead, the feedback and impact of our tent was beyond our wildest dreams.
Our tent featured three interactive installations built and decorated by Wicklow natives Mike and Rob Lee. The first was a Wall of Lament, a caravan window where people could write their doubts, questions and accusations to God. This was an incredible conversation starter that led to long chats about life, love and faith. The second was An Altar to an Unknown God, a place where people could write down things they wanted to leave behind as an act of crying out to God for help.Which ,many did. The third was a bit of a risk. We called it The Shiva Confessional and it was a full size confessional. On one side, a member of our team prayed silently for those in the tent and at the festival. The other was open to the public, a place where they could come, sit and vent. We didn't encourage people to confess. Instead, we encouraged them to talk in a place where they knew they would be alone without being alone and loved without being judged. It was powerful for both the speaker and the listener as both learnt lessons in compassion, intimacy and vulnerability.
This year we arrived at the festival to discover that we were in a new space. We were further from the action but closer to the entrance which led to even more opportunities for conversation and connection. The Shiva Confessional and the Altar to an Unknown God returned for a second time but the Wall of Lament was replaced with In Your Head, an installation that invited people to take glass beads with them to know that people are praying for them no matter what is happening in their hearts and minds. We also continued to give out free tea and coffee but this year we decided to do it a little differently. Our cups featured stickers with the hashtag #PayItForward and told our patrons that the only payment we wanted was for them to seek out the opportunity to do something kind for someone else at the festival. Some helped lost people by directing them to campsites, others spoke kind words and some even helped others carry gear from place to place. It was a privilege to, in our little way, help introduce a culture of kindness among some of the festival-goers. The stickers on our cups also featured a verse from Romans:
‘Love one another with affection. Outdo one another in showing honour.” (Romans 12:10)
We have served around two thousand cups of tea and coffee in the last two years but we hope that we have done more than that. As we do life with festival goers, we hope that we have offered kindness, compassion and companionship in a world that so often lacks it.
We don’t hand out tracts. We don’t bring megaphones. We don’t preach messages or shout words. What we hope that we are doing is embodying the love of God that flows, without condition or interruption, to us and to those that we meet.
This, in itself, is the glorious paradox that we discover for ourselves every year.
That in giving, we receive.
That in serving, we are changed.
That our message is most profound when it is lived rather than explained.