Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Fifty Shades of Grey

It was closer to six rather than fifty. Last night saw the first meeting of the art class I joined in Alness. I am finding the Vincent Van Gough in me.

“Count me in,” I said when a friend of mine told me he was going to be running a series of art sessions for adults in the Alness area. I confess to an absence of talent and imagined my "O" level art teacher turning in his grave with the idea of letting me loose with a paintbrush.

We were introduced to tints, tones and shades. As a writer I would have used the terms interchangeably.

“In the field of design, every colour has what are called tints and shades. A tint of a basic colour is a lighter version of that colour, and a shade is a darker version. Tone is a general term to describe the lightness or darkness of a basic colour”

Armed with a couple of brushes, a jam pot of water, a piece of heavy paper, a palette and a dab white paint and dab of black, we set about painting boxes and cubes. The lady sitting on my right had the experience of children and painting and had no trouble. I skipped the tints and went straight for the shades overestimating the amount of black paint to mix with the white. The man on my left also headed into the shades.

The man on my left was a friend I had told about the class. He has once upon a time, over four months or so, produced a wonderful picture of a tree. He intended to keep painting but it was something that fell by the wayside. I wouldn’t say it was his painting skills that prompted me to tell him. The drive over to Alness isn’t a long one but as the days shorten and the nights become dark, I’m less happy driving. The bus routes could have got me over to Alness but not home again. I’m happy to share the petrol costs.

I googled Piet Mondrian when I got home. He painted a very nice tree using shades of grey – he night have been the one who coined the phrase long before the book came out.We looked at his tree in an art book.

There was an instant connection. Piet Mondrian was born on 7th March 1872 in Amersfoort, the Netherlands. He’s Dutch and I’m a quarter Dutch. Maybe it’s my right hand and the fingers on it that are specifically Dutch – painting Dutch. He became a primary school teacher and he painted in his spare time. Another connection – we are both teachers. We are both artists – his preferred media is paint while mine is words. His early paintings were mainly landscapes, featuring fields, rivers and windmills. No connections there. I visited a windmill when I was in Amsterdam years ago – and a cheese factory. And that’s where all the things Piet and I have in common. I’ve not moved to Paris and I know nothing about cubism. It’s the Dutch Connection that matters.

We began our own version of his tree. The secret is in the layers. One could be talking about lasagne. A black tree with branches and stuff overlapping was followed by filling in the spaces with white paint being very careful to merge a little with the black branches. Lots of grey – fifty shades perhaps. Then fine white lines on the black branches. The next bit I think I misheard. Did he say olives? The bits between the branches we filled with olive shapes – or almonds, maybe. My tree was looking less like Piet’s. It took on its own life and personality. I was amazed at how much movement I had created.

There was the end of class thing of showing the teacher what you had done. My neighbour on the right had a Piet-looking tree, as did my neighbour on the left. They were nothing like mine.

It’s amazing how we had all been given the same materials, the same dabs of paint, the same glimpse of Piet’s tree and the same instructions and yet we had produced very unique trees of our own.

What might have been interesting, if we had tramped on to a psychology class, was to try and work out what the tree revealed about states of mind or personality. I got caught up in the swirl of the brush creating the olives or almonds in the spaces between the branches. I liked the shapes. I liked the act of creating something and capturing a sense of movement.

God has created us in His image – His creative image. I might strive to find connections with Piet Mondrian but my connection with God is very clear. I am beginning to look like Him and act like him more and more every day.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Poets and Bards - the Sequel

There are no doubt some rousing speeches out there. Churchill…

“We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France,
 we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
 we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,
 we shall fight on the beaches,
 we shall fight on the landing grounds,
 we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
 we shall fight in the hills;
 we shall never surrender…”

And who can forget Mel Gibson in Braveheart?

“Run and you'll live -- at least a while. And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom!!!”

If we go back in the Bible to the story of Gideon, his speech has a different ring to it.

“Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.” Judges 7:3.  Two thirds of his force walk away.

Still stirred by the visit to Armadale Castle and the museum, I’m still caught up with the role of the poets and bards back then in the MacDonald clan – their task this time of rousing the warriors, stirring them up for battle.

Let’s get back to our imagined great clan meeting hall with the huge fire blasting our heat, wood spitting and smoke curling around the rafters. Let’s imagine this time that our visitor, the stranger, has listened to the poet praising his chief and chosen to stick with his first impression -that weak man, unable to muster a strong army. He’s done with counting the fighting men in the hall and decides to make his challenge.

What if two thirds of the fighting men think they are outnumbered and have little chance of victory?

The poet steps forward:-

Battle Cry
You reek of fear
The fear of man
The harm he brings
Because he can
You see yourself
Then him you see
Think “powerful him”
And “little me”

The battlefield
And war you dread
The blows that rain
Upon your head
The sword, the shield
Not lifted high
You flinch with
Every battle cry

Step back and see
Your greatest foe
The fear inside
That seeks to grow
You give it birth
And feed it lies
What starts so small
Grows in size

Now switch your gaze
And see your King
The one who rules
O’er everything
He speaks a word
And mountains quake
He owns the throne
That none can take

Your king strides forth
Across your world
His victory banner
Bold, unfurled
With angel armies
At His side
He fights and wins
And claims His bride

The king who heals
Who mends, restores
Leads us on to
Heaven’s shores
Conquerors all we
Plunder hell
What glorious tales
We have to tell

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Poets, Bards and Armadale Castle

It was a focussed week of writing, this last week spent in Skye with a friend. The house is TV free,   adio free and the only way to get sufficient bars on the mobile phone to call anyone is to stand in the garden. It makes for an atmosphere where there is little to distract.

The house is a few yards up the road from the Armadale ferry port where is a small coffee cabin, a rather expensive wool and clothes shop, a path up to a woodland campsite and two quality souvenir shops. There a beach on one side of the house and and on the other side a bay that fills up with the incoming tide.

I had left the Fitbit at home. I did not want to be pulled in by its insistence that I walk the daily 10,000 steps. It’s not that there is nowhere to walk but I was there to write.

On Wednesday my friend headed off to Portree on the school bus. I’m still new to retirement and did not wish to play bus monitor to how ever many pupils they picked up on the journey. A 7.15 start to the day didn’t appeal either. I decided instead to walk over to Armadale Castle and the Clan MacDonald centre.

The Fitbit might have celebrated at the idea of the 10,000 steps, but the place was a lot closer that I supposed. The bracing half hour walk turned out to be a mere ten or fifteen minutes. The entry price was steeper than I wished to pay but it was nothing to my friend to spend a half day there and still not have seen all she wanted so I thought it would be value for money.

I am not my friend.

The castle itself is a ruin and off limits to visitors because of falling masonry. It was raining and not a day for exploring the gardens and forest trails. That left the museum and the cafĂ©. The cafe was not up to scratch – the coffee was fine but the scone was not a fresh one. The museum was crowded, likely because of the rain and the dry scones. The commentary came in mobile devices. All at once I missed Joe. There was no sneaky finger pressing buttons and changing the language setting to Urdu.

I didn’t go so far round. I stopped to listen to the commentary for point 5. It explained the role of poets and bards. The poet in me went no further. I kept pressing the yellow extra-information button and listening to what seemed to be my purpose in life. Poets were necessary to the clan. They wrote praise poetry about the clan chief and they stirred the men to fight before the battle.

Imagine if you will the great clan meeting hall, the huge fire blasting our heat, wood spitting and smoke curling around the rafters. Imagine long tables piled with food. The chief sits on a raised stage. Imagine a visitor, a stranger. It is the clan code to welcome strangers, so he is invited to join the feast, after surrendering his sword.

Imagine that the visitor thinks he knows what kind of man the chief is. Perhaps he thinks him a weak man, not an adversary that can muster a strong army against him. He’s looking around, perhaps counting the fighting men. He’s nodding to himself and notching up a victory in the near future.

Imagine the poet steps forward:-

Jesus – My King

Don’t look at Him and
Think Him meek and mild
Don’t glance at the cross and
See blood, bones - and defeat
Don’t swallow whole what is said
By those who don’t know Him or
His kingdom or
His Power

Don’t fool yourself into thinking
He is words without action
Know that He inhabits every word
He speaks and offers healing
To the injured and
Release to the imprisoned

His words are potent
His touch has power

He will transform you if
You let Him get close enough
He will plough the ground beneath your feet and
And expose your starved and shallow roots
He will tear up your life’s tree
And plant you in His good soil

For He is determined you will be
All He intends
All you were created to be
All that makes you complete

Open your eyes
Feast on His unseen wonders
Wake up your ears
Dance to His whispers and
Answer the cries of the wayside-fallers
Let Him pour out the sweet honey of
His word on your tongue
Lend your voice to His melodies
Then He will wrap around you, like a cloak
The fragrance of life
Though some will insist they smell death
Open your embrace to lepers

He will let you be Him
In the world He will
One day rule

Friday, September 07, 2018

The Persecuted

This is the last of my series of sonnets based on the Beatitudes:-

I live my life each day aligned with You
Your nature visible in all I do
Some take their poisoned arrows, bend the bow
They launch their spiteful words, their hate on show
The prophets on my path they have reviled
Slights and insults on them gladly piled
“Rejoice, My child”, is Your command to me
With promise of the blessings I will see

I ask for strength to swim against the tide
To stand bold on a hill and not to hide
Though burning words be heaped upon my head
Let not hot tears arise but joy instead
Turn the tide, Lord, that I might win the fight
That I might always be Your burning light

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Music and Words

When did I stop reading things properly? I pick up one or two words and make a connection that isn’t there.

Last night I was all geared up for writing a song. Words and Music – I just presumed that the words written would fit a melody. I presumed someone would be there with a guitar or a keyboard or some other musical producing object. There would be a short talk, perhaps, outlining five key essentials to a good song. There would be a simply melody, perhaps, and ten or fifteen minutes working on possible lyrics.

This is where the mind goes when one doesn’t read the information properly!

In a book about walking I came across the term “desire paths” or "desire lines”. We’ve all been there. Rather than follow the flagstone path around a corner, we just cut across the grass. Backwards, forwards, everyone does it and before you know it there is a well-established path. When it comes to the arts – the paintings, the books, the poetry, the music and other creative acts – there’s a lot of backwards and forwards between them – desire paths. A piece of artwork inspires a poem. A poem inspires a piece of music. Last night was about following the path from music to poetry.

It doesn’t appear to be a very well-established path, but it was one that we found ourselves upon last night. Some of the poems we read emulated the structure of music trying the capture the movement of notes, the breaks, the rests and the melody of carefully chosen words. A prose piece tapped into the memory associated with a piece of music.

Once upon a time I went to a creative writing workshop where a lady improvised on a piano and we writers were encouraged to produce something provoked by the music. I don’t know that I am wired that way. The desire path between music and poetry, for me, is blocked by a bramble bush or something. I just can’t do it. I can’t write to order. I need a few days to mull things over, to marinate a little bit.

I don’t really have that much experience of classical music. I seem to remember some of our music lessons at school focussing on music appreciation – listening to the works of great composers. This was in the days before everyone had a keyboard and a set of headphones. I don’t remember the music stirring me to tears, or stirring me at all. I can’t think of a piece of classical music that I would be able to claim as a favourite. Debussy's Clair de Lune perhaps. Music for me was all about Donny Osmond. 

Last night we listened to the finale of Mahler’s 10th Symphony. It brought to mind a scene from the film “Pride and Prejudice” with Kiera Knightly, the just before dawn scene where she is tramping around in a coat over her nightdress, and there coming over the horizon is Mr Darcy. They kiss as the sun climbs over the horizon. I wasn’t the only one thinking that way, apparently. Oh yes, there’s a lot of films out there with a musical score that builds up to a crescendo as star-crossed lovers declare their undying love.

A friend of mine was very clear about what the music evoked in her - a sense of leaving on the one part and returning on the other.  Perhaps we have been away from a place with so many memories, that when we return, as the music reaches its crescendo, the joy, rather than any sorrow crowds in.

I have, thankfully, lost the piece of paper I wrote on.  A line or two that I liked, but far too much that I didn’t like, I’m not even going to try to reconstruct the poem.

Here’s one I wrote later, after having listened again to Mahler.

it begins
with nothing
no form, no filling
empty and
nothing moves
nothing stirs
only silence and waiting

something hovers
anticipation, expectation

a voice
“Let there be light”

and then
nothing becomes
something and
takes up its position
in obedience to
the Creator’s

…and there was radiant light

Sunday, August 12, 2018


“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us[c] from Your Majesty’s hand.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:18-19}

The words were spoken by Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to Nebuchadnezzar when they refused to serve his gods or worship the image of gold he had set up. I have always loved the “but-if-not” phrase, giving God the freedom to save them or not. Rescued or not, pulled alive and not even smelling of smoke or being burnt to a crisp didn’t matter. They were not about to waver.

The other day I was watching a clip posted on Facebook of a father’s response to his daughter’s tantrum. I don’t know what it was that she wasn’t getting. She was sat outside the supermarket carpark, on the bonnet of a car, wailing. The father was sat next to her, eyes rolling in his head. He didn’t shout at her, or smack her or tell her she was a bad girl. He just talked, not to her, but to the camera in his phone. He said that if he gave in it wouldn’t do either of them any good in the long run. He wouldn’t be being a responsible parent. She wouldn’t be learning essential lessons for the years ahead. He talked about his own upbringing which wasn’t good. He got shouted at and smacked. He didn’t want to do that to his daughter. He wasn’t going to enter into negotiations or bargain with her. He was quite happy to explain why this or that was better. If she chose the option that wasn’t better she needed to know the consequences, which were not open for discussion. He told her all of this, after insisting that she stopped crying and listened. He went on to say they would go back into the shop if she wanted to, but if she started crying again, they would just come back out. Was she ready to go back in now? She nodded.

The preacher this morning was talked about just getting on with being Christians and to stop with the tantrums. If we didn’t like a word preached we were not to gather our stuff and storm out of the door. If we didn’t like the music, or the particular worship leader on today, or the spelling mistakes in the screen, or the tea or the lack of any heartfelt welcome – that was not permission granted to leave. We were not immature toddlers in the faith and tantrums were just not allowed. We need not to pick at the word and snip here and there to get a comfortable fit. We were the ones that had to fit ourselves to the word. We were the changing ones – not the word. I liked that!

He talked about Job and all the troubles Job had to deal with because God had boasted about him to the enemy. The devil was granted permission to wreck Job’s life. I have a feeling that now, when God boasts about a chid of his, and the righteous life they live, the devil says nothing. The little voice in his head warns him to remember Job and how that turned out.

But Job’s wife was a different kettle of fish. Job didn’t know about the conversation between God and the devil. Job’s wife didn’t know either but their reactions were so different.

“Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” Job 12:15

His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”” Job 2:9

I think of the vows that I made at our wedding – the “in sickness and in health” bit. For most of us most of the time it is the “in health” bit that we enjoy. We deal with the “in sickness” in small doses of man flu and the occasional toothache. Job’s wife’s “in sickness” was really bad. Following God did not seem to be bringing much blessing.

I’m reminded of my own “in sickness” issues. Some surprised me in their swiftness and cruelty. Others I knew were headed my way. I never vowed to stay with my husband while the going was good. I never said I’d walk away when things got really bad. “But-if-not” – if there isn’t a complete restoration of all working part – I’m not being given permission to walk away and find an easier life.

“But look!” he said (Nebuchadnezzar). “I see four men, walking around freely in the fire, completely unharmed! And the fourth man looks like a son of the gods!”

When we walk away, or we fall on our knees before the golden statue to keep the king happy and ourselves out of the fiery furnace; when we gather up our stuff and storm out of the church meeting; when we live with someone’s harmful words echoing in our head: We don’t get to find the man that looks like the Son of God, walking in the furnace with us. All the resources I need to meet the challenge – I possess them.

Who wouldn’t rather be in a furnace with Jesus than in some other safe place where Jesus isn’t there?

A Time to Walk

You never promised
That the path beneath my feet
Would always be level
I just never anticipated the climb
Scrambling for handholds
With my feet slipping

You never promised
That the sky above my head
Would always be blue
I just never anticipated the clouds
Dark and forbidding
With the rain falling

You never promised
That the spirit burning inside
Would never be tested
I just never anticipated the trials
The heat of the fire
With the ashes drifting

I find that I have waited too long
To walk away
You and I are knitted together
Shared laughter and
Shared sorrows
Have woven our hearts

I will look for the
The hand outstretched
To lift
And the sun that
Breaks through the cloud
To shine
And the man
In the furnace
With me

Monday, August 06, 2018


They tell me peace is all that isn’t there
No conflict, no disorder and no war
But I peel back peace, lay its heart bare
See wellness and wholeness and so much more
His shalom fractures when I step away
From His comfort, His favour, His power
God’s peace in my mutiny cannot stay
Without His Kingdom love I will not flower

He sends His Son, the Prince of Peace, to me
Breaks down the wall of my hostility
He writes His timeless covenant of peace
With promise to establish and increase
His child, I now pursue His harmony
And shape the world the way it’s meant to be