Saturday, October 29, 2005

Shallow poetry

Do you ever write something, post it off, and then look back at it later and cringe with embarrassment? If it had been a blog entry there is a delete option that is always available, but in this case, it is non-deletable!

I have been a member of Fathwriters.com, a Christian writers internet web-site and discussion forum. Every week they set a writing challenge. They have a panel of judges that read all the entries and the top ten submissions are published. The stimulus is usually just one word - in this case "Rain"- and they leave it up to you to interpret the word in a poem, short story, devotion or whatever. Poems rarely win. Good poems may be somewhere in the top ten, but rarely hit the top spot. Bad poems don't get anywhere.

I wrote a poem based on the story of Elijah and Ahab racing each other back to the city in the rain that fell just after the victory on Mount Carmel. The rhythm and meter were just about perfect and the rhyming scheme was spot on, and I was delighted with the whole thing and posted it off, confident that it would not be ignored.

After last night's "soaking" and being inspired to write the poem about encountering God, I looked back at my Elijah poem. The only words that came to mind were "empty" and "meaningless". It might have been a master class in rhythmic meter and rhyming schemes, but it was cold, calculated and too precisely put together. It didn't stir anything within. It didn't light my fire. It was an incredibly shallow poem and I would really like to delete it.

I thought that I didn't do shallow - it is kind of a shock to acknowledge that I do!

Having said that, I also know that I do deep! I had an email from a friend who edits a Christian newsletter called Cross Times. He wrote to confess that he had used a poem of mine, "The cool of the day", in the November issue and was writing to check that I didn't mind! I have a following in some parts of Illinois and Nebraska!

The cool of the day

Once I waited
In keen anticipation
For the sound of His footsteps
In the cool of the day
As the sun at dusk
Stole colours
From the sky
And hid
Behind the horizon
Far away

Now I hide
In dreadful fear
At the sound of His footsteps
In the cool of the day
The taste of fruit on my lips
Steals peace
From my heart
And sin separates me
From God
Far away

So I wait
And I listen
And I hear
His Voice
Calling
But my shame
Binds me
Forbids me
To answer

He knows
That I know

Too much

Friday, October 28, 2005

Connecting

Our church is introducing a variety of mid week meetings with the idea that while some might not appeal or be what you are looking for to strengthen your relationship with God, others will just hit the right spot.

For want of a better word, the Friday meeting was called "Soaking". It is a word bandied about lately with the notion of being in the presence of God without any agenda and connecting.

It didn't sound like my kind of meeting, and it took a lot of spiritual arm wrestling to get me there. Part of it was the fear of not connecting! What if everyone was having some deep spiritual experience while I was just not connecting at all? The times that I make significant connections with God tend to come through studying the word. My mind engages in meditation and my spirit warms up. I thrive on activity and to be so almost passive does not sit squarely on my shoulders.

I hate missing out on things. I was consumed with the idea that I might miss out on a spiritual outpouring of some kind. Inevitably there was also a tinge of guilt about not turning up too - that's the Roman Catholic in me.

One thing that became very apparent to me was that although I might be quiet, my thoughts are not. It was like chasing rabbits down holes!

Joe had been watching a program earlier on in the week. It was a "what if" scenario. In this case it was "what if" a person living a hundred years ago was born today. Would they be able to cope with modern day technology and the pace of life. The picture that stuck in Joe's mind was of the person standing with their hands over their ears trying to block out the noise! There are cars and truck trundling up the roads, aeroplanes taking off, thumping music blasting out of shop doors and mobile phones pressed to people's ears. It seemed to him, to make sense to find time to come away from all the noise, and in the silence, to listen for a small still voice.

What occurred to me as I tried to be silent and connect was just how often I did make the connection to God throughout my working day. Muslims pray five times a day, at specific times outlined on a calendar, with the notion that they connect with Allah regularly throughout the day. I love making the connection with God, but I can't switch it on at certain times. Throughout the evening I was aware that to some extent I was failing miserably. It has to be something of a learned habit, something that comes with practice - and I will continue to practice, though, maybe not on Friday evenings. Even so, I was prompted to try to express my encounters with God in a poem.

Sometimes we touch
A brief encounter
Soft as a whisper
And a tender smile
An easy glance
Or a gentle touch
Gossamer threads of contact
Like commas and pauses
Punctuating the day

Sometimes we dance
Hands resting lightly
Spinning and twirling
Matching steps and strides
In perfect synchronicity
Rising and dipping
Enjoying closeness
Moving as one
Together in harmony

Sometimes we stand
Arms enfolding
Embracing and holding
Supporting and steadying
Strengthening
Shoulders damp
Soaking up tears
Reassuring
Restoring peace

Never abandoned
Never alone
Always
With You

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Lifting my gaze


Autumn is not really a season where I take notice of things. I just tend to focus on the day when the clocks move back and then anxiously endure the next few months until spring arrives. The first leaf that falls from the tree is something I don't look forward to. I am looking for the leaves on the ground rather than at the leaves on the trees, and I miss the changing colours.

Yesterday I saw colours! We went for a drive over to the West Coast of Scotland. There are times when I wish I could paint and yesterday was one of them. The colours were just magnificent. I don't know enough colours to adequately describe the variety of shades of brown, and yellow and red. For a writer that is an appalling confession!

At certain points along the way I became a dangerous driver, more concerned with the beauty of the scenery than with the twists and turns in the road. It was awesome! For long stretches there was just acres and acres of bracken in a million shades of brown ending at the base of granite mountains. We didn't discover that we had the camera in the car until late on in the afternoon, so the breath taking scenery went unrecorded.

We stopped off a Loch Marie. The water was so still that Mountain behind was perfectly reflected on the surface. We both lamented that we didn't have proper walking boots as there were a number of walks around the woods and along the loch side.

Then there was this perfect rainbow. (That is when we discovered the camera in the car!) The colours were very crisp and defined.

I am amazed that I live in a country with such awesome scenery to be enjoyed now and yet here I am ticking off the days until spring comes! I am appalled that I can live my life looking for the dead leaves on the ground and not lift my eyes to see something more spectacular. I think yesterday was a wake-up call to stop living my life gazing down at the ground, and lift my gaze upwards.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A leap of faith


There we stood, half a dozen people, leaning over a rail, watching the water, waiting patiently. It wasn't a big waterfall by anyone standards, but there again it wasn't the water that interested us, not even what was in the water, but just for a moment what hung above it, hurling itself upwards. Salmon leaping has just got to be one of the most awesome sights of nature.

Something inside compels them to head back to the water where they were born. An irresistible urge, a suicide gene, draws them on to swim against the tide. No hurdles are too high, no foes are too fierce, to stop them.

Did you know that they listen to the water? Before they attempt to jump, they wait for just the right amount of water to flow at just the right temperature. They gather just enough oxygen, and with one spectacular burst of energy they make their jump. If they fail that first time to hurtle over the obstacle, they have to wait another six or seven hours to replenish their strength. And then they try again, and again, and again.

How often do we look at obstacles in our way and see them as too big? Heaven is birthed in our hearts and yet we are earth bound. We don't listen to the Spirit, we don't wait for His timing, we don't gather His resources, and then with a burst of our own strength we make our move. When we don't hurtle over our obstacle, do we try again?

Just as we watched the salmon, urging it to make the leap and willing them to clear the waterfall, angels watch us, urging us to make our leaps of faith, willing us to soar above our obstacles!

Friday, October 14, 2005

The next eleven years

I received an email from one of my nieces the other day. It took the form of a chain letter that you were encouraged to copy and paste and send on to hundreds of other contacts. Like most chain letters it played on people's fears. The content was about the Jamie Bulgar murder done by two ten-year-old boys. After having spent eleven years in a young offender's institute they are about to be released, being granted anonymity for the rest of their lives.

I was told in the letter that "We cannot let this happen" and "They are getting away with their crime" and warned that "if Robert and Jon could be so evil at 10 years old, imagine what they could do as adults!"

The people we were at ten years old are not the same people we become at twenty-one or twenty two. I am not the same person I was at ten years old. I can't believe that the two boys have been sitting in their young offender's institute planning their next murder as soon as they get out. I don't believe they have got away with their crimes either - they have lost their freedom and most of their childhood. Yes, they took away someone else's childhood too, and the rest of that person's life, but I don't think that there haven't been times where they have regretted it. Regret doesn't bring someone back. Executing the criminal doesn't bring someone back either. Keeping them in prison merely makes it three wasted lives instead of one.

I am perhaps naïve in thinking that they wouldn't be released if a group of people didn't think that they were no longer a threat to people. If they have to be granted anonymity, they are the ones being threatened.

What is the alternative to release? As I see it, they are becoming too old to remain in a young offender's institute. That means a transfer to "grown up" prison. Leave them there for the rest of their sentence - another eleven years. Each day they rub shoulders with grown up criminals, not children or youth, but the real hard cases. What are they going to learn in that environment? I think they might possibly learn how to become better criminals with any lack of respect for authority being totally eroded away. At twenty one, outside in the world, going to university, getting a job, earning money and contributing to society, rubbing shoulders with people who love others and are capable of demonstrating compassion - they are not so old that they are fixed in their ways. Leave them in prison for another eleven years with people who for the most part do not know how to show compassion, who hate, and then release them when their attitudes and opinions are fixed in place - that is dangerous. Let's face it - they are going to be released one day. I refuse to see the next eleven years as chances and opportunities for them to kill more people, but chances and opportunities for us to show them why life is sacred and must be respected.

The gospel, the Good News, is about the possibility of change, to be new creations. God doesn't write off anyone, and I don't think we should either.

I am not copying and pasting the letter.

Put a staple in it!

Yeah, well - they did! The Daily Record put a staple in it - two staples in fact. This might seem a very insignificant point. I am sure that lost of people would welcome people putting staples in newspapers, but not me.

This morning, quite spontaneously, Joe and I went out for breakfast. We have a thing where we split the paper. He gets the outside pages that contain all the sports articles and I get the middle bit - mostly pages of advertisements I have to admit! We chomp away at our bacon butties in relative harmony.

Today, we encountered the staples. There was no division of the newspaper. There was supplement in the middle devoted to cars which didn't hold my interest, and one or two single sheet adverts. One was for life insurance for the over fifties - maybe in a few years I might start reading those. The other was for Sky TV for half price. I thought for a moment whether it was worth cancelling our subscription, and re-subscribing to get three months for half price. I wish that some company would do the same deal for existing customers and not just to entice the new ones.

I am glad that God doesn't do that. We all get the same deal whether we have been a Christian for thirty years, or for just the last thirty minutes.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

This is the Place

I was inspired by the phrase that ends Isaiah 18:7 "the place where his name dwells." For the Jews in the Old Testament, that place where God dwelt was Jerusalem. For me that place can be anywhere. It is not so much a physical place as a in a church building, or beside a river. Where I am with God is that place. I got inspired to write a song.

This is the Place

This is the place, Your quiet place
Here there is rest for my soul
This is the place, Your holy place
Here I'm restored, I'm made whole

This is Your sanctuary
This is Your throne
This is Your dwelling place
I make it my own
My place of surrender
And worship to you
The place where your glory
Fills all - all that I do

OK - is a song without music just a poem? Is it a poem because it rhymes? There was music in my spirit as I wrote it and it kind of just flowed. I had read as article from Christianity Today about worship and, not what is wrong with it in our churches today, but more what could be more right! He mentioned about the need for churches to write their own songs. The experience of our church, our testimony as a body, is not going to be the same as another church. When you try to express that experience of God, you can end up leafing through the hymn book and not find just what you are looking for.

I can remember years ago expressing the view that we should be writing our own stuff and getting shot down on flames by the music group at the time. They said that there were lots songs and songwriters, more than enough for our needs. I don't think there can ever be enough songs. I don't know whether because you are a talented musician, or singer, that inevitably leads you into writing your own songs, or whether that is a specific gift. It just seems to me that song-writing should be the fruit of a heart of worship.

Having said that I wrote a song - I don't really do tunes. I am not a musician. If I hear a sequence of chords and a rhythm I can sometimes catch a melody. Left to my own devices what I come out with always sounds like something else. The last time I tried to come up with a tune, my husband said, "I've heard that before-…Ah yes, it Bali Hi from South Pacific!" So last night I took my song to music practice and explained that I couldn't do tunes. What happened next was just awesome! Our guitarist on hearing the words a couple of times strummed out a rhythm, sang a verse, declared the it "fitted" and we all got down to fine tuning the melody. It was amazing. Between us we created a beautiful worship song, that was ours, and not Matt Redman's. It still needs work done on it but it was amazing. We were all tremendously encouraged and felt that we had grown up and matured in some way.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Just dreaming

I have a writers’ inspirational book at home which I picked up from a second hand book stall at the Marymass Fair in August. The author sets little exercises every so often with the aim of provoking the creative juices. One of them was about writing down your dreams. Writers should be writing and she suggested that one source of inspiration can be your dream life. It is not with the aim of digging out a dictionary and analysing them, just describing them, to practice your writing skills.

I confess to being a dreamer – a very vivid dreamer. Sometimes I can trace the source of the dream, other times it is a mystery!

Last night I was dreaming about a memorial or a monument. It was built beside a church. I didn’t recognise the church. Along the side of the wall of the church was like a series of neon tubes, various sizes and thickness, much like a church organ that cast a gentle white glow over the sculpture below. The sculpture was a table. It was rectangular, and one end had an empty seat. The other seats were filled with children. I got the impression that they were from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds. They were all laughing and smiling. I once knew a wee boy, Peter Petra, about two years old, who had not yet mastered the art of talking properly. He used to tell these awesome stories in gobble-de-gook complete with wild hand gestures! These children reminded me of him. It was very lively and full of fun, open and inviting. I don’t remember seeing any food on the table but there were words carved into the table – love, justice, peace, joy – those kind of words. The light spilled down from the neon tubes.

I knew that the empty seat was about providing a space for the presence of Jesus, but was also aware that other people had come up with their own reason why it was there. Some said that the empty seat was a reminder that some children had died in needless wars and the seat was empty because that shouldn’t happen. Other people said that the empty seat was to remind us that there should always be space for more. We should always be ready to invite new people into our friendship groups and never exclude anyone.

I wish I was an artist – I would draw a picture of it. I wish I was a sculptor. I know I can try to paint a picture with words -–but words fail to convey the mood that the monument evoked.

The world we leave behind, is the world that the next generation of people will have to inherit. A world where people laugh and smile, and where peace and love are carved into people’s hearts – only Jesus can create that kind of world.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Called, Cleansed and Commissioned

I brought the word in church this morning. The pastor has loaded it on the internet. Here is a link if you have a spare half hour to listen!

  • Called, Cleansed and Commissioned
  • Boar burgers and peanut butter icecream

    Joe and I spent the afternoon at an event organised by the Highland Food festival. All this week there are special events on in different towns. The idea is to make use of local produce to cooking up unique mouth watering recipes.

    At Nairn, some fifteen miles away, there was an afternoon of food tasting and a cookery demonstration extravaganza. The weather held up just for the couple of hours we were there, and then the skies emptied in torrents as we drove home.

    Maybe I will just list all the goodies I had a taste of, plus any little anecdotes that come to mind. Tasters of most of the things were free, but you could pay for a proper portion if you wanted one.

    Glenmorangie whisky kicked off the taste buds. I am partial to a wee dram - not watered down, or on the rocks, just neat. Malt whiskies are my thing. When I went home this summer for a week to see my family, I stayed with my niece. Her husband to be is also fond of a wee dram - and as he says, "Ye canny drink alone." What could I do? He has an interesting collection of whiskies.

    The other drinks on offer - a few tables along was locally brewed beer. I had a taste of a light coloured beer while Joe went for the stout. Very nice, but I didn't really want to wash the taste of the whisky from my lips, so Joe drank most of my wee cup.

    Then there were fruit and veggie juices freshly made. I had a small cup of something that had spiced apple, banana and carrot in it - interesting, but quite sludgy when all was said and done. Much later on we tracked down a highland roast coffee company and their coffee was nice - that is praise from a mostly preferred tea drinker.

    The eats - I remember mueseli in a plastic cup with a tad of milk swirling around. I have a packet of mueseli in the cupboard at home. I am aware that it is probably a very good source of fibre and stuff, but it usually only comes out when the Rice Krispies box is empty. This mueseli was nice. It had blueberries in it.

    Wild boar sausage was another thing. Joe knows the man. He was looking for funding from the Crofter's Commission to buy a boar. He had a boar called Caesar and lots of sows - a harem of Caesar's wives. As long as Caesar was around, the wives respected each other, but when he died, the sows turned on each other. The man was looking for another boar to replace Caesar and bring order and stability to the harem. Later on in the afternoon we had boar burgers and boar sausages which were quite tasty. They are low in fat apparently.

    Oh yes, haggis pakora! Not content with a taster I brought a whole portion! The Caledonian Curry Company produces some really great chutney's and chilli sauces. The first time we met up with them was at the Muir of Ord Agricultural Show. The man had just cooked up haggis samosas. He had added his own peculiar mix of curry spices to a traditional haggis, wrapped it up in triangles of pastry and cooked them - delicious. The haggis pakora was superb.

    There were lots of jars of preserves. I am not really a jam person. Joe bought a jar of mustard. I tried an apple and ginger jelly which was very sweet.

    Peanut butter ice-cream has got to be the most disgusting stuff ever! There was also Irn Bru flavoured ice cream too which I left well alone.

    Yes, it was an interesting collection of nibbles. In one of the other tents they had cookery demonstrations, and in another tent they had children under the supervision of chefs, making pizzas. It was very participatory! There were fishy things too, but I don't like fish so I kept my distance.

    I never knew there were so many nice and interesting local things to eat!