Friday, August 16, 2019

Shades of Green

I wish oft-times, I wish, I do
That life was all that vibrant green
Of new things spring, and spilling through
Like grass and trees in meadows seen
A promise of a dream fulfilled
The scent of roses by the gate
Peace and joy and love distilled
Now in my palm, no need to wait

My life is more that twisty lane
With summits, dips and hairpin bends
Serenity is swiftly slain
As bile to mouth, the stomach sends
A single track, a passing place
The ditch full flowing, foul and ill
I stand, the cold wind on my face
With unspoiled air my lungs I fill

I sometimes watch with envious eyes
Those that skip and dance through life
Who live beneath the cloudless skies
Avoiding pain, escaping strife
Yet I am carved by sorrow’s pen
To speak a word upon the way
Without my scars, what message then?
What could I truly say?

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Heart Jump-Started

I’m back from the Argyll Convention in Oban. It was not a mega huge gathering. There wasn’t a band or a man on the drums beating out a rhythm. There wasn’t the usual diet of new worship songs. No one wound anyone up to an emotional high. No signs and wonders on display. It was nothing like the events I have been to before.

There were no children, no babies, no creche, a bare scattering of teenagers and lots of grey heads and lots of walking sticks. A man on the keyboard set to a piano setting played hymns – hymns sung in their original tunes.

I can almost see you yawning. I know people who are not hymn singers and who thrive on the energy that some gatherings generate. Sometimes, however, that can all be a distraction – just sometimes. It was in the quiet whisper that Elijah heard God speak. I’m not sure what God was saying to anyone else but He didn’t pull any punches with me.

The days began with a prayer meeting. The first morning there were half a dozen keen souls there. As the week progressed the numbers increased.

Don’t you feel sometimes that there can be a predictability about church meetings? Maybe in the prayer meeting there are the same people praying, perhaps for the same things, perhaps even using the same words. We like patterns and familiarity. We like what we know and distrust the new.

I was falling into the pattern one prayer meeting morning. I was nodding the head and saying “Amen” and not just at the end of the prayer. Did I say there were no signs and wonders? Not the visible kind? Well, that wasn’t entirely true.

I had a picture – incredibly vivid. Out of nowhere a fist appeared. It rammed itself into my chest and ripped out my heart. The fist shook the heart violently. You know those times when your watch stops ticking and you give it a solid shake and then check to see if the second hand is moving? It was that kind of shaking – but not gentle. The heart didn’t seem to be beating so the fist slammed it hard down on the table. You have been to the first aid sessions in work with however many breaths to the mouths and compressions on the chest? Sometimes when the heart stops a soft push won’t change anything and you are told to not worry about breaking a rib with the force of the compression? It was kind of like that – a forceful move to get my heart beating. Remember this is just a picture? It’s not a physical real thing?  Satisfied the heart was now pumping properly, the fist thrust it back into the cavity. My gasp was a real one! My eyes shot wide open and my hand clutched over my heart.

“That’s better,” said God, smiling.

I’m still gasping. My eyes are still stretched wide and it feels like all the patterns and familiarities are on an old path that I’m no longer on. I feel like I am treading strange ground.

The final hymn, Blessed Assurance, the final verse and chorus – there was a bit of me singing, because I like the hymn, and a bit of me telling me not to sing, because it wasn’t true for me.

Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Saviour am happy and blest;
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love

“This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Saviour all the day long.

It’s not story. It’s not my song. I’m not in perfect submission. I’m not at rest. So much of me feels like a battleground. I’m not watching or waiting or looking above. The world and all its concerns, the politics and the poverty and my own day to day survival consumes me. It’s not my story at all.

Gideon, threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. And what does the angel of call hum? “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” Gideon would be yelling out at this point “That’s not my story. That’s not my song” as he gripped the scythe in the winepress and searched the hills for the Midianites.

“Not yet. Not today. But soon.” That’s what God was saying.

My heart thumping, my eyes stretched open – perfect submission, rest, eyes looking always above – “Not yet. Not today. But soon.” Says God to me.

Friday, August 02, 2019


Homework. Don’t we all hate doing homework? I have a confession to make. It’s a bad confession for a teacher to make, or in my case, a retired teacher. I rarely did my homework. I can blame it on the lack of a decent table at home – there was just the one dining table. I could blame it on the lack of a quiet space – the dining table was in the living room which was rarely a quiet space. There was a black and white TV in one corner and a radio on the mantlepiece and siblings that squabbled. I could blame it on the class I was a member of – doing homework wasn’t part of the class rules. Mostly I should blame it on laziness. I had other things to do. Most teachers gave up on giving me ever increasing lines as punishment – they didn’t get done either. It haunts me sometimes – the lost opportunity to really shine in school. It wasn’t until university that I discovered a love of learning.

Homework. The man that runs the writers’ group at the community centre give us homework. He doesn’t do it himself, but do any teachers do the homework they set their pupils? Mostly we don’t do it either. That’s not to say that we don’t write something – it’s just not always on topic.

A few weeks ago, our tutor went on a creative writing retreat. To say he had been a little bit jaded before he went, well, as a lecturer at the local university, setting homework for his classes there, and them not doing it either, these things take a toll. He returned from his retreat restored, refreshed and ready to pen great poetry and prose. This is not to say that what he wrote before wasn’t good – it was always good, a little dark at times, but still good.

Seeing as none of the community centre crew had been with him on the retreat, he decided to try out some of the exercises on us. The focus of the retreat had been about observing the land and the sea and making connections. There seemed to be a lot of outdoor stimuli – sitting on benches and observing things and seeing what spoke.

I have had experiences of waiting for nature to speak. I have stared at fish in a pond – koi fish at the botanic gardens – waiting for them to say something profound. I have held a stone in my hand waiting for it to talk. I’m not nature-fluent. Nature isn’t Mel-fluent. Nature and I have had some long and awkward silences.

The task – yes, you have guessed it, that whole nature speaking thing. We were to notice nature, find something, an object, that caught the imagination and write something from its viewpoint. If I had actually done the homework I would have written about slugs. I don’t like slugs, but I love slug trails. I love the glitter as the sun shines on them. I love the lack of a straight line. I did not want to think like a slug.

So, what else could I write about? I couldn’t really claim to have seen a fish as I walked beside the River Ness. All rivers have fish, right? Just because I can’t see them doesn’t mean they are not there. There are often fisherman thigh deep casting lines. They wouldn’t be there if there were no fish. I wrote about fish.

Part of the task was not just about the object from the object’s point of view. There was a connection to make. What did this object have to say to me?


I have mastered the oceans
Subdued the shifting sea
Flick-finned with the leviathan
Slip-scaled with serpents
Twist-tailed with mermaids

Small, I have out swam the great
Nimble, I have sidestepped the shark
Quick, I have left the school behind
Cautious, I have exploited the hiding places

I have weathered the storms
Felt the bite of lightning and
Heard the growl of thunder
Never tried to count the stars
Felt alone

Now I’m
Driven by an ache I cannot soothe
There’s a yearning inside
I must go home

Oh, what hurdles!
Water that tumbles through rocks
Falling, falling, falling
That I must climb
Marshalling all that I have
Leaping, or falling short of the jump
Always the current against me
Nature rages, my enemy
But I don’t surrender

Crafted into every cell is
My life’s beginning
And its completion
I am home…

Where are you?

I did a bit of googling about salmon and how high they can leap. They swim hundreds of miles from the sea where they have spent a few years to return to the river they were spawned in. They mate and they die. The journey isn’t all horizontal. There are waterfalls to navigate upwards. 12 feet. That’s how high they can jump. It all depends on the depth of the water and the swell of the waves. They wait for the right moment, knowing that if they miss they might not find enough strength to try again.

It’s an urge. An impelling. They are driven to go home. It’s written in their DNA.

It’s an urge, An impelling. I too am driven to go home. Home is God. Eternity is written into every person.

How strong an urge? Not so strong for most people. Most people have strayed too far, pulled the thread that connects them God to a desperate thinness. There’s a lot in the world that lures.

Me? My life’s beginning and its completion is in God. He is my home.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Embracing the Ouch

The time has arrived to rise from the couch
To put on the trainers and embrace that “ouch”
The heart that is beating? It yearns for fresh air
Abandon the TV, forsake the armchair

It’s not the Olympics, no medals to claim
But the passion for chocolate we need to tame
Our fifty-mile challenge across thirty days -
And how do we get there? In hundreds of ways

So, pull on the lycra and sparkly pink top
We’re going to get fit, we’re not going to stop
Begin with a warm up, and then off we go
Run, walk or skip – take care to start slow!

If water’s our forte and swimming’s our thing
Breaststroke or butterfly - arms and legs fling
A length, then another, we swim on and on
Those muffin top hips? They’re history! Gone!

There’s apps for the phone to keep us on track
To tell us the miles we walked there and back
They measure the heartbeat, at work and at rest
And being so active means we’re not so stressed

The brain is a miracle inside our heads
When we are active, good vibes the brain spreads
We walk tall and confident, smile on our face
And all this occurs when that “ouch” we embrace

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Sindy Faces

“A face is nothing without its history. Features on the face are earned not given – age lines, wrinkles, the curve of the mouth, the light or darkness in the eyes are consequences of lived lives, not just DNA. Hurt, pain and joy are all etched there.” Angus Peter Campbell

I rarely go to the book club that I joined. I say “rarely” – I have been once. Sometimes it’s down to not buying or reading the book because I googled it and didn’t like the sound of it. Sometimes it’s down to buying and reading the book and not understanding what it’s about and choosing not to show my ignorance. Sometimes it’s about buying and reading and absolutely detesting the book and not wishing to poke a pin in someone else’s happiness bubb
le. I might go this time – the book was bought, read and, enjoyed? Bits of it.

The book is “Memory and Straw” by Angus Peter Campbell. It has been bought and read and thought about. If you don’t want the book spoiled for you, skip the next couple of paragraphs.

A man works in the robotics industry. There is a recognition that there’s an older generation that will one day need to be looked after. People-carers need to be trained and paid. Robots could do the job better. Rather than have blank faced constructions of plastic and metal the plan was to give them human faces – non-scary, relatable faces. What is it that makes a face a face? The man does his research into his own family history and most of the book is anecdotal, following through the generations. The man’s bosses take his research, make their robot faces and introduce them to the world. There is applause, naturally, but not from the man. He’s looking at the faces of robot faces of his grandma and grandpa. It’s them – but it’s not them. The faces are soulless. He hands in his resignation and leaves.

I rarely look at my face. Mostly, it’s because I can see it without my glasses. I have a mirror that has an ordinary lens on one side and a magnifying one on the other. It’s for putting on make-up which I rarely wear. I prefer the picture I have in my head which has none of the blemishes of real life. I think most of us live life that way – not always facing up to reality.

Somewhere in my thinking, though, is a notion that if you put the real face next to the imagined face I might prefer the real one. Only Sindy dolls have perfect complexions before kids get hold of a wax crayon and add “make-up”. My real face is the lived in one with the age lines and wrinkles – and somewhere in it all is a gentleness and kindness that shows.

I came across “the shield of patience” a week or two ago. It was in the writings of St Thomas a Kempis. Patience, he says, allows suffering, glad suffering, of sorrows and temptations, sickness and injuries. These things are not to be avoided, or even swiftly delivered from, but allowed to shape us. I am aware that for some people the shaping might be a negative rather than a positive – but that is because they are not allowing God to use the suffering to shape them. God gives us all that is necessary to weather the storms. He doesn’t want the enemy to chase us from the battlefield but to claim our victories there.

No one likes to suffer. Jesus stepped in with miracles to bring people out of their suffering. It’s in the next life that all tears are wiped away. I think it may not always be the best move to insist on the healing miracle, to drag people to have hands laid on them and rebuke the affliction. I’m not sure that God wants the pen that draws the lines on people’s faces, the life-lived lines, pulled away so quickly, before it has done its job. He knows the right time to lift the pen away.

God wants people with lived lives, not sheltered ones. We must allow pain and sorrow to shape the face we show to the world – the face that tells them we, as Christians, are not inoculated from life’s up and downs. We live in a real world and have to be real people with lived lives.

God uses all that happens to me to make me who I am, who He wants me to be, who He can use.

God can’t use Sindy’s face to show His compassion.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Let Me Be Me

Don’t ask me to smooth out the wrinkles on my face
Let me own my years and my history embrace

Don’t ask me to tone down the accent in my voice
Let my words and how I say them always be my choice

Don’t ask me to be pretty, to be slim or to be fit
Let me eat cake, drink wine, and sag a little bit

Don’t ask me to turn vegan and cook only tofu
Let me enjoy bacon, eggs and sausages too

Don’t ask me to wear only smart skirts and high heels
Let me fill up my wardrobe with what to me appeals

Don’t ask me to be fluid in my gender, tastes and views
Let me be trusted to respect life in all its hues

Don’t ask me to be courageous, or keep a stiff upper lip
Let me get up in my own time when I fall or when I trip

Don’t ask me to think that science holds every truth
Let me keep my faith that I’ve lived since my youth

Don’t ask me to abandon all that make me so unique
Let me tread my own path and my own destiny seek