THIS is an open book — painfully revealing at times. Gareth Higgins grew up in Belfast during the Northern Ireland Troubles. The violence marked him as did life in a community that has a fine-tuned ability to make a sensitive adolescent feel guilty, anxious, and even afraid. Higgins now lives in the US, where he has had a successful career as a festival organiser. His writing now is very much in the American tradition of personal development and exploration.
So, what is Gareth afraid of? The answer is . . . his country, its violence and ethnic enmities. Afraid, too, of his body and the puritanical religion that sought to dehumanise him and his sexuality. Worst of all, “I grew up afraid of God — who, I was told, loved me just as I was but was still determined to make me into something else.”
Higgins teases out the threads of those fears — bravely revealing his hard-won understanding of what drives them and makes him vulnerable to them. But his forward-facing vision is about where the journey out of fear might lead. Put simply, he believes that “the antidote to fear is not optimism but action rooted in hope.” This self-described “recovering evangelical” is on a positive and transformative journey.
There is so much that is good in Higgins’s writing. I’m still thinking about “spirituality is our living relationship with mystery.” And he says this about his storytelling: “If we never know when a story is over, especially when we’re in it, we can’t assert that our fears will hold the final card. There is always room for a surprise.”
We all have our dark places. This book is a deeply personal guide to the journey that leads from fear to hope.
The Rt Revd David Chillingworth is a former Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church.
How Not to Be Afraid: Seven ways to live when everything seems terrifying
Canterbury Press £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £12
Listen to an interview with Gareth Higgins on the Church Times Podcast