Wednesday, June 27, 2007

In heaven

In Heaven

There is a door I heaven
A door thrown open wide
There is an invitation
To me to come inside

Upon a throne of gemstones
I see a mighty king
Beneath a brilliant rainbow
That circles everything

Four and twenty elders
Stand dressed in robes of white
I hear the rumbling thunder
And lightning flashing bright

The Holy Spirit dances
A purifying flame
His sanctifying presence
Burns away my shame

Four living beings rise up
With wings spread out in flight
They gaze upon the Father
Their hearts filled with delight

They never stop declaring
“Holy is the Lord”
Lifting praise forever to
The One to be adored

I stand beside the elders
And kneel before my King
My golden crown surrendered
And with it - everything

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Gaelic Mass - the sequel

After the mass Joe and I were invited to stay for a cup of tea. The only denominational school in Inverness is St Joseph’s primary school and St Mary’s is next door, so it was the school hall that the venue of the tea. It wasn’t just tea. There was a whole evening of entertainment planned, part of which was a ceilidh. The priest who had conducted the mass was a good friend of Joe’s, father John Angus. A few years ago, while Joe and a friend from work had been visiting him in Glasgow, the three of them had drank their way through a couple of bottles of whisky!

Entering the hall, I was greeted with a chorus of embarrassed giggles, a few waves and one or two “Hello, Miss”s. Seated around one table, and lined up against one of the walls were an assortment of pupils from many of my classes.

It is always interesting to see people in a place other than the environment that you associate them with. Whereas in the confines of a prefabricated hut, forced to learn something they may have no interest in, surrounded by like minded people, they might form a fairly hostile mob, here in the church setting – they were different. They had cast off the hostility. They were just really nice kids! They are bound to say something to me next week!

The evening was a feast of fiddle music, Gaelic songs and ceilidh dancing. There were a few other things thrown in for good measure. One of the parishioners was an Italian opera singer, so he did a couple of songs. One of the fiddle solos brought a group of the kids to the floor to line dance to! A man and his guitar busked through another couple of songs.

Joe had been to Tyree a few weeks ago and the islanders had hosted a similar kind of entertaining evening – although on a slightly bigger scale.

There was a break in the middle for a buffet of sandwiches and sausage rolls.

Joe and I later danced our way through a couple of reels. One of them was quite chaotic with everyone swinging each other around. – an Orcadian “Strip the Willow”. The young people knew what they were doing and generally pushed us in the right direction!

It was a thoroughly pleasant night – most unexpected. Joe felt totally at home from the moment he entered into the church, and he recognised many people that he knew from his work and from travels around crafting country – and he knew Father John Angus. I wasn’t so sure about feeling so settled as I felt like I was intruding into another world. I wasn’t sure just how happy some of the children were to see me there! Quite a few parents crossed to room to introduce themselves!

However, we got invited back to the next one – along with some interesting bait - poetry readings being included next time round.

Gaelic Mass

A number of years ago I went to a teacher’s In-service meeting. One of the activities was to highlight reading problems from the perspective of the student. The lecturer handed out a passage to everyone – much like we would hand out a worksheet or a book, and then asked certain people in the room to read – much like we would. One of the “volunteered” said that she had left her glasses at home and couldn’t read it. The lecturer’s eyes lit up with delight. It turned out that he had given her a copy of the passage typed out in Greek and rather than make a stumbled effort to plough her way through it, she had thought up some excuse. For those of us who had the English version – it had been no problem. To some pupils in school – the passage might as well be in Greek for all that they can read it, or understand it.

Last night Joe and I were invited to a Gaelic mass! Roman Catholic mass I can probably remember from my childhood days. I know that for some people the idea of a written liturgy is stifling, but for me there is a certain comfort in the words – I affirm my faith as I listen to the words of the priest and speak my responses.

Having a Gaelic order of service handed to me – was like being given the Greek passage at the In-service day! Even trying to follow my phonetically stumbling over the words doesn’t work either because the letter that are written and how you think they might sound as a word don’t always match up. So I just remained silent throughout. Can you imagine how frustrating that can be?

I contented myself with looking around and trying to match my Roman Catholic memories with my current surroundings. They didn’t match!

St Mary’s Church is beautiful inside. I think it is the simplicity which makes it so beautiful. I cut my spiritual teeth as it were in a small chapel in a village two miles from where I lived. It was a wooden hut – you don’t get more simple than that. The two proper churches I remember were one in Rugby where I took my first communion. The place was very grand, quite gloomy, with a distinct smell of incense and crammed with statues posted at every pillar. The other one was in Northampton next to a convent we were “visiting” while my mum was in hospital. That was even more imposing. It was ditto to the nth degree.

The walls of St Mary’s are white and the ceiling is blue. There are windows down each side of the aisle – some of them are stained glass but most are just plain frosted glass. The window opposite where I was sitting was of Jesus carrying a sheep with the words “I came to serve” written beneath. I was reminded that Jesus has given me the same commission – to serve, to follow in his footsteps. I am not here to build my own house, or have my own troubles sorted out – but to serve others.

Another window – when the meeting was over and we had a chance to meander – was just awesome. I could have stood beneath it just gazing upwards! It was Jesus walking on water reaching down to grasp Peter’s hand. Peter’s head was above the water, the rest of him was underneath with the fishes! There was a rainbow in the sky stretched between the clouds. It was a really beautiful window. How often have I felt like Peter? He was not just ankle deep in water but his head about to disappear beneath the waves – about to be overwhelmed. Sometimes I feel like that. Sometimes I feel that I shouldn’t feel that way and I hear in my ears “You of little faith.” Sometimes I feel that I shouldn’t share with others that I feel that way because I am expected to be a pillar in the church. I am sure that no one would actually deny me my moment of weakness. My church body would gather round to support and pray for me if they knew I was feeling that way. But it is what I do that counts – so calling out to Jesus – “Lord, save me!” – and he does.

I have been thinking a lot about remembering our weaknesses. Talking in a meeting a number of weeks ago with some of the teachers in the church I broached the idea of confessing weaknesses. We seem to encourage one another to confess strengths and build one another up that way. We speak of victories and positive testimonies – which I am not denying that we need to do. I don’t think we treat our weaknesses in the same way. Maybe it is a matter of pride that we don’t tell people about them – bit it all leaves an impression that we are strong and that we don’t have our crushing doubts and uncertainties. I am not sure that I am looking for rallying prayer support at those moment either. I want to be accepted with all my bumps and bruises. Do I want to wallow in my sorrow? No. I don’t want to wallow – but to rush away from weaknesses, and cast off suffering as quickly as we are inclined to do – I am not convinced that is beneficial either.

I guess the window has made me think. In my mind Peter may sink in the water – but never to the point where his head is about to disappear beneath the waves. To have him gulping almost a last breath before he cried for help – I never pictured that kind of desperation. To have Jesus leaving it until that last breath to pull him out – I never pictured that kind of heartlessness, if that is the right word. Because I know the end of the story I think “He was never really in any real danger.” That’s not what his face on the stained glass window showed!

Is it a mind-set of Christians that they think they will never be in any real danger simply because they are Christians?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A "Barry Manilow" moment

Barry Manilow occupies a very unique place in my life. It was a long time ago, when I was at university. I think it might have been in Woolworth’s that I happened to be browsing at the time – I was a poor student, so actual shopping was a rare event! They were playing a record over the loud speakers. It was Barry Manilow. I loved the timbre of his voice – I still do. I bought a cassette tape – just because I listened to the songs and I liked what I heard. I played that cassette over and over again until it became all warped!

This afternoon, on the way home from work I had a “Barry Manilow” moment. I thought it was the Lighthouse Family. I have a couple of their CDs – but it turns out to be someone called Simon Webbe. I was just suddenly aware that my ears were listening to the words.

Grace is an amazing word! It is not just an amazing word – but an amazing experience! God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense – G R A C E. I have been given so much that I don’t deserve.

Why do I find it so difficult to extend that same grace towards other people? I am on the receiving end of grace, yet sometimes I feel that I make people jump through endless hoops before I will show kindness. And then it is so quickly withdrawn at the first sign that the person doesn’t deserve it! And God never withdraw his kindness towards me!

Grace

Reaching out, looking for some way to escape the crowd
You whispered words that I’ve been searching for
Somehow you answered my call
Reaching out I feel I’m rising up

[Chorus]
You give me (grace)
In a world that doesn’t sleep at all
You give me (grace)
It’s a place I’ve never been before
You give me (grace)
And in all of the confusion you’re the peace in my soul
That’s why I will never really be alone

Suddenly, I’m up on the surface now where I can see
And picture the person who I need to be
And I know, yes I know I can make it
See me now, I’m slowly rising up

[Chrous

Well yeah, these are difficult times
These are difficult days
But I know we can face it
Ours are difficult lives
In a difficult place
Oh you give me grace to say when I got it wrong
The grace and the will to carry on
Reaching out I feel I’m rising up

lyrics from ALLYRICS.NET

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Appraoching the King


Last night I caught just a small bit of “Marco Polo” on Sky One. I had not ear-marked it as something to watch – I was channel hopping at the time.

Marco and his companions had reached Genghis Khan (I think) and were being given instructions about how to enter the presence of the ruler. They were to crawl in on their hands and knees, and not look directly at the leader. It all looked very humiliating.

In today’s western culture we place such an emphasis on equality and dignity that no one is allowed to feel subservient or inferior. I am not saying that we should return to an era where we take off our hats and salute the upper classes, but we have lost our sense of awe. Even the queen no longer gets the curtseys and bows when she meets member of the public.

We feel so equal to everyone that I think that it affects the way we enter into the presence of God. What Isaiah experienced in Is Ch 6 is so remote from our own experience that very few of us relate to it. At best we can only imagine what it feels like.

At the end of the day, God does not expect us, or even want us, to come crawling into his throne room. He has, through the cross, restored to us our dignity as sons. The devil would love us to come crawling in, overwhelmed by a sense of our unworthiness, the litany of our sins played on the screen for all to see, but not God. We have access to His throne room and He welcomes us.

He does not wait for us to clean up our act, but embraces us, even though we reek of the pigsty. He covers us with a robe of righteousness.

I just don’t think God is looking for “high fives”. He is not looking for “best buddies”. We may be sons receiving the Father’s love, but we are also servants doing the master’s bidding, and subjects approaching the King.

I just think that sometimes we’re a little too casual.

Open the eyes of my heart

I began writing a poem this morning. My husband knows when I am thinking of rhyming words – I get a glassy look in my eye! It is not the finished article, but just the stirring of something.

You say, “Son of David
Have mercy on me.”
You cry, “I am blind
And I want to see.
I’m trapped in a world
Of darkest night
Lead me, Sweet Jesus
Into the light."

But what will you focus
Your gaze upon
In the light of day
With the darkness gone?
Will you see the things
That break My heart
That grieve my soul
And tear me apart?

Will you see the tears
The needy cry
Or gaze on clouds
That scud the sky?
Will you see the scars
That people bear
For those who hurt
Will you be there?

I am mindful that I don’t always see things. A week or two ago, we employed a man to cut back the tree in the garden. It was big enough to scrape off the pebble-dash on a neighbour wall. We also asked him to remove a couple of conifer stubs. Last year we had hacked away at two conifers, but the roots went deep and we did not have the right equipment.

I noticed the tree cut back, but walked right past the missing conifer stubs! There was a space in the garden that I had not noticed!

I was reading the opening chapters of the book of Acts. The story where Peter and John see the lame man sitting at the Temple gates always challenges me. The man was there everyday, Peter and John were there everyday – but they never saw him. Even more so, if the man was there everyday, then Jesus also would have seen him – the day he overturned the tables in the temple. Jesus did nothing, Peter and John for a while did nothing.

Here is my speculation on it. Jesus saw the man and he left him alone because he knew that Peter and John would one day see him and act in faith. Jesus could have healed the man, but he chose not because he trusted Peter and John to follow in his footsteps and do the things he himself did. The man was marked for healing – but not right then.

What made Peter and John turn and look this time around was the man’s appeal for help. We have been given all of our senses – our sight, our hearing, our sense of touch – all from God that he might make his appeal to us through any one of them.

Jesus has trusted each one of us to follow in his footsteps and to do things that he himself did. The plea to “Open our eyes” isn’t so we can see the light at the end of our dark tunnels, but that we can see the light at the end of dark tunnels that other people inhabit.

Too often we live with blinkers on, self absorbed and in-ward looking. God want us to use our eyes to see more than the clouds scudding across the sky. He wants us to see what He sees – be broken by it – an act to bring things in line with His word.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The A to Z of Mel

A few months ago I joined something similar to My Space. I hate the phrase “social networking” but that is what it is all about. I joined because I wanted to read a friend’s blog, but they don’t let you just read stuff. There were lots of boxes to fill in to give a full profile. I skipped that so accessing my profile tells you absolutely nothing worthwhile! It amazes me that I keep getting requests from people to “be my friend”. Why do they keep asking? They know next to nothing about me and yet they still want to be my friend. I put out no feelers whatsoever. I am sure that there are some people that just blast out an invitation to all and sundry and they don’t pick out people as such.

I thought I would kind of remedy the lack of a profile by doing an alphabet of my likes and dislikes.

Ankles – this is a dislike. A number of years ago I had a DVT – a deep vein thrombosis. It has left bruising around the ankle. Even without the bruising – they are not slender.

Bananas. I am very choosy about the kind of bananas I buy. They have to be Fairtrade. Teaching a unit on justice in the world and poverty issues has altered my shopping habits.

Chocolate – It was Dianna Troy on Star Trek that said she had never yet met a chocolate she didn’t like. Ditto, Dianna!

Dark mornings – My serotonin levels take a dive during the winter. Apparently bananas and exercise are the solution.

Elegance – no matter what I wear, or how much time I take over my make-up, I just never hit “elegant”. I am not clumsy and I’m not frumpy – just not elegant. I put it down to the lack of a decent length of neck!

Frodo Baggins – is he not one of the saddest characters in literature? “Sad” in the dictionary definition sense of the word. He goes through so much hardship and he doesn’t really come out at the other end blessed.

Gardens – my neighbours have wonderful gardens. The grass is green, the borders are free of weeds and they have such a magnificent display of colour and fragrance. And then there is my wilderness in the middle!

Help – something I should ask for and offer more often than I do.

Independence – the reason why I don’t ask for help. For the first few years of my Christian life I wasn’t nurtured, but left to fend for myself – I have just got used to doing it, and not inclined to invite other people in to solve my problems.

Joseph – my wonderful husband is the perfect partner for me. He’s my toy boy! He keeps me grounded and real.

Knitting – I have recently joined the knitting club where I work. I used to knit a lot, and quite complicated patterns. I am rediscovering my knitting passion but with all these new yarns available it is confusing. Why don’t they say that it knits up like double knitting?

Loosing weight – I have been a member of Weight Watchers since September. My body is a battle ground. My will power is being eroded by the smell of fish and chips!

Melanie – I love my name. I have never wished to have another, more interesting name. It means “dark and mysterious” and I try hard not to live up to it.

Nun – I think I may have missed my calling! Every Catholic girl who ever watched “The Song of Bernadette” wanted to become a nun!

Orbo – he is a character in a book I have not yet written. He is not actually a person but a planet with a consciousness – deep, huh?

Poetry – once upon a time I would have insisted that I was not a poet – a writer perhaps, but not a poet. I was wrong!

Quiz nights – our team is called “Jams” and consists of Joe, Archie (Joe’s friend from work), me and Sandra (Archie’s wife). We are almost unbeatable – almost.

Rhubarb – best fruit on the entire planet!

Silence – something that I will never experience in this life. I suffer from tinnitus – ringing in the ears. It is there all the time and I have got used to it. I try to avoid loud noisy places as they tend to make the ringing that much louder.

To do lists – I love writing them out. It gives the impression that I am well organised. I even manage to do some of the things on them!

Unravelling – I love untying knots!

Vimto – not the fizzy variety, but the diluting stuff. I used to get through bottles of it when I was at university.

Writing – words are the paint that this particular artist uses to create pictures.

Xmas – I hate the whole X bit of it – taking “Christ” out of Christmas. I also hate Christmas decorations and Christmas music appearing in October!

Yellow – I once shared a house with lots of other girls, and the bedroom that was mine had yellow gingham wallpaper. It was hard to feel downhearted for long surrounded by yellow walls.

Zeal – the kind displayed by Phineas when he speared the Israelite man and his Canaanite floozy. I don’t particularly want to spear anyone, but I would like to be that passionate about honouring God’s name.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

How does your garden grow?

If I knocked on your front door to ask if I could sit on the bench in your garden would you let me?

It is not so much on the way into work that I notice the bench, but on the way home it looks so inviting. The garden in question runs alongside the golf course. All that separates the bench from one of the holes is a wire fence over grown with some climbing variety of rose, a fast slowing burn and, on each side of the burn knee high nettles! The bench doesn’t have a back to it and is painted green.

It is not so much the bench that attracts me, but the even lawn and the border of brightly coloured flowers. The time that I am walking past is just at that moment when I am far enough on the way home to feel tired after a day on my feet. The garden is bathed in tranquillity and I would just like to soak a bit of it up.

As I was looking lovingly at the bench, and eyeing up the doorbell on the front door, it came to me that the garden didn’t just happen by accident. The owner of the property didn’t just wake up one morning and there it was all in place – the bench, the grass and the flowers. It was planned and it was planted. Borders were dug over, seeds scattered and watered and nurtured. It didn’t just happen. A lot of work went into producing the tranquillity!

You have to plant a flower in a garden to get a flower to grow – it doesn’t just happen. (Alhtough I once had a most exotic looking mushroom that grew entirely of it's own accord, and according to the book of mushroom I looked at later, that particular mushroom tends to favour "rubbish tip" conditions!) You have to build a bench and place it in the garden – it doesn’t just appear. And once it is planted, it takes time and effort to maintain. Ignore it for long enough and everything gets overgrown as it is as it was in the beginning.

What is true for the garden – the whole process of digging the soil, removing the reeds, planting flowers, watering and maintaining – is true of my spiritual life. It is no use looking on the vibrant life of another Christian and longing to “sit in the bench” and soak up his or her tranquillity. If I have the annoying weeds of bad habits and critical attitudes – I have only myself to blame. If I want to see patience and gentleness and kindness – I have to plant them and nurture them.

Joe and I are about to do the whole garden thing – last year we had someone build up a patio. This year we are brining in someone to cut back the tree. We bring in the experts to do the things that we are not able to do. Who better that the Holy Spirit to bring in to do a bit of the spiritual pruning?