Friday, January 27, 2012

A Touch of Tartan

It was Burn’s Night on Wednesday. We had the invitation to join friends for a marathon haggis, neeps and tatties night but I had too much homework to do.

The school is hosting a Burn’s Night celebration tonight. To get us all in the mood, and to raise money for a group of young people going to Romania in the summer, it was a dress down, or dress up, day. “A Touch of Tartan” was the theme - but as long as you paid your pound, you could wear just about anything.

Most people opted for something comfortable and casual. I saw at least one kilt during the day. Most “touches” were just that. A group of girls sported tartan fingernails!

I had trailed around the shops last night – having just been paid, looking for something tartan in the sales. It had to be something in the sales, not particularly expensive and something that I would wear again. There are too many things in the wardrobe worn once, or waiting for a slimmer me. Nothing took my eye sufficiently for me to dig out my money.

In the end I settled for a tartan ribbon. It had been tied on to one of the kitchen chairs many years ago. A box of chocolates, a presentation box of toiletries or some such other object had been tied with the ribbon. It was too nice a ribbon to throw away.

Sporting the ribbon tied in my hair I went to work.

The last time I can actually remember wearing a ribbon in my hair I must have been ten or eleven years old. Ribbons were not part of my growing up. Hair was tied with elastic bands.

I associate ribbons in my hair with a Roman Catholic orphanage. My brothers and sisters and I stayed there a couple of times in our childhood when my mother was very ill. It’s not a place that I associate with happy memories – but I loved the ribbons.


Nazareth House

The headline in the paper, bold and black stands out.
A nun, in an orphanage, knocking kids about.
My memory, like a tape, pressed to fast rewind,
Stops some thirty years ago to somewhere in my mind.

Nazareth House was hell behind a hedge
Smelling of carbolic soap, boiled cabbages and Pledge.
"It's only just for two weeks," Father Patrick said,
"While your mum recovers in a hospital bed."

Unlike "The Sound of Music", these nuns looked rather mean.
No compassionate expressions on their faces could be seen.
All black and white and waddling, like penguins in a zoo,
If they had a sense of humour, it wasn't getting through.

For their first "act of kindness" they took away my clothes
I wore someone else's dress, tied with someone else's bows.
The person that was "me" were they trying to rub out?
Was I just another kid to them, among thirty round about?

Some kids taught me skipping songs, and Irish jigs as well
I joined in complex clapping games that taught me how to spell.
I hid among the rose bushes in a game of hide and seek.
I counted up to twenty and I promised not to peak.

Some kids came to tease me. "Your mum is really dead.
You're never leaving here. Just get it in your head.
You'll not be leaving soon, You'll be here for quite a while.
If you want to be adopted, you must learn how to smile."

If days I could endure, the nights I never could.
Dormitories with many beds, and panelling of wood.
Embroidered in an ornate frame, and hung upon the wall
"God is watching you" - a grim reminder to us all.

Familiar sounds were absent, the creaks and groans I knew
Fears so small in sunlight, in darkness slowly grew.
Was it true, what they'd said, that mum was really dead?
Fear and dread surrounded me, and then I wet the bed.

I like a happy ending, two weeks was all I stayed.
On the outside I was fine, but on the inside rather frayed.
To be just one of many, neither special nor unique,
A thought that's quite unsettling, uncomfortable and bleak.

Should I jump upon the bandwagon, and sue those nuns in black?
The security I lost back then, can I ever get it back?
They never meant to harm me, they forgot one thing that's true
To know you're loved, that someone cares - that's important too.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Taking the Later Train

The radio in the car switches between Radio 2 (for the Breakfast Show with Chris Evans), Radio Scotland (for the local news) and a medium wave channel that covers football matches.

Yesterday it was on Radio 2 with Graham Norton and a guest. A listener had either phoned in, or twittered, or e-mailed or written in to share an experience. Apparently a new person had started at her office and the two of them shared a train journey to get to work. At first the woman quite liked the company and the conversation. After a week or two, the woman realised that it was basically the same conversation each morning. Obviously not happy in her marriage, the new person settled down each morning to criticise her husband.

Graham Norton and the guest were invited to give advice on what to do about it. I have no idea who the guest was. Her advice was to take a later train, or an earlier one, so as to avoid sitting next to the woman.

Graham’s advice was to tell the woman straight that she needed to stop criticising her husband. If things were so bad between husband and wife may be they ought to think about separating. She didn’t need to be cruel about it, or aggressive, but simply not put up with being someone else’s dumping ground for what was wrong in their life. It was time to encourage the person to move forward, move on, and make changes and climb out of the rut.

I have been thinking on and off about the comment about Enoch in the book of Genesis.

“Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” Genesis 5:24

Imagine if it wasn’t walking, but taking the train every morning to work(for 300 years?). Suppose God was sitting next to Enoch and the two of them talked. How soon might God have decided to get a later train, or an earlier one, if all Encoh did each morning was regurgitate the same conversation bemoaning his lot in life, or pointing out the faults of fellow passengers or just complaining about the price of a season ticket on the train?

What was it about Enoch that made God allow him, encourage him, invite him to walk beside him each day?

I think there might have been days when Enoch might have bemoaned his lot in life, or pointed out the faults of fellow passengers or just complained about the price of, not exactly a season ticket on the train…but something. Enoch was a human being. If that is all he did I am not sure that God would have enjoyed their time together…and you kind of get the impression that He did.

Maybe it wasn’t so much about what Enoch said at all, but about what God was able to say to Enoch and how Enoch responded. God found in Enoch someone who would listen to Him.

It challenges me to know that God allows me, encourages me and invites me to walk beside him each day. The Bible says that I can cast all my cares upon God because he cares me for me – so, I can, to some extent, make God the dumping ground for all that is wrong in my life.

If that was all I did, I am not sure that God wouldn’t want to take the later train to avoid me some days!

God has so much to say to me moving forward, moving on, making changes and climbing out of my ruts. He would like to find in me someone who will listen to Him and respond.

Does he?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Walking Faithfully With God

I have been mulling over the life of Enoch – just the part of it described in a few short verses in Genesis. I know that his name crops us elsewhere in the Bible, but I am not inclined to hunt down the references.

“When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” (Gen 5:21-24)

I confess myself to be fascinated with those first 65 years.
It is not until his son comes into his life that Enoch changed and began to walk faithfully with God for the next 300 years.

Another Son has come into my life. Not my own personal chromosomes and DNA reproduced in the next generation of human flesh – but the Son.

Can anyone say of me that I have walked faithfully with God in the 35 years I have known Him? It is unlikely that I will get 300 years of His company here on earth – but there will be a day when I will be no more because God takes me away and then I will have an eternity to be with Him.

I am not inclined either to do the mathematics to work out how old Adam was when Enoch was born. Or how old Enoch was when Adam died. But I will dig out the calculator and have a go.

Adam was somewhere in the region of 627 (feel free to check my adding up, I won’t be offended if you correct me) when Enoch was born. So, he and Enoch had some 303 years to get to know each other. Enoch was well on his way to walking faithfully with God when Adam died.


I wonder as Adam watched Enoch walking faithfully with God whether he thought about his own walks with God in the cool of the day.

I wonder whether my own walk with God challenges anyone to think about theirs.

I think, perhaps, that Adam and Enoch talked about it. I think, perhaps, that Adam encouraged Enoch in his walk and warned him not to make the same mistakes he had made. I think Enoch encouraged Adam to seek God out to fall in love with Him afresh.

I think, perhaps, there is much that I could say to encourage those in the faith younger than I. There have been so many conversations God and I have had in the cool of the day (and in the heat of the battle!).

There could never be a Garden of Eden for Adam or Enoch to walk in – but walking anywhere with God makes any place paradise.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

A Thousand Origami Cranes

I have in my possession 366 squares of coloured paper (A friend reminded me that it's a leap year). Each square is exactly the same size – 15 cms by 15 cms – and they all fit into a plastic holder. Yes, it’s a calendar. By the end of the year, assuming I will not miss a few weeks and toss the paper into the recycling bin, I will have 365 paper sculptures!

Three of my squares have embraced their destiny with an assortment of folds and creases. The motor sail, which will never take to the high seas, is on the desk just beside me. The nightingale, which will never sing a tune, is next to it. Today’s creation, a ladybug (that’s a lady bird to residents in the UK) is downstairs. She is unlikely to fly away home.

Three days in July are ear marked for frogs according to the index. For Christmas Day next year I have a Santa finger puppet to look forward to!

We are talking origami – the traditional Japanese art of paper folding.

I seem to remember that one Chinese New Year celebration many years ago fell on the day our Church house-group met. Ever looking for ways to build relationships, in among the Chinese takeaway, I issued everyone with a square of coloured paper and led them through the mechanics of making an origami crane. (According to my calendar index the crane is scheduled for a day in August.) I had been practising for days and it was no problem to me to fold, crease and twist the paper as instructed but it proved a little more difficult to those trying to keep up with me. I think there was only one person with the determination to produce her own crane. The other cranes remained in various states of incompleteness.

According to one article on the web “The crane is auspicious in Japanese culture. Japan has launched a satellite named tsuru . Legend says that anyone who folds one thousand paper cranes will have their heart's desire come true.”

The article goes on to tell the legend of a young Japanese girl named Sadako Sasaki. While she was just an infant she was exposed to radiation during the bombing of Hiroshima and became very sick. By the time she was twelve in 1955, she was dying of leukemia. She heard about the legend and decided to fold one thousand origami cranes so that she could live. However, she realised that the other children in her ward were also dying and she couldn’t fold cranes for them too. She wished instead for world peace and an end to suffering. According to some versions of the story Sadako folded 644 cranes before she died. Her friends at school completed the task in honor of her. She was buried with a wreath of 1,000 cranes to honor her dream.

I have no intention of folding a thousand cranes in hope that I will be granted my heart’s desire. There is a better way – a way that is guaranteed to work.

“Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4)

Sunday, January 01, 2012

The Absent Voice

I was reading Psalm 148 this morning. It is the psalmist’s call to praise God and he calls not just to people sitting in a pew on a Sunday morning to praise God, but to the whole created cosmos. The heavens and the earth are summoned to join the song of praise.

“Praise the LORD from the heavens;
praise him in the heights above.
“Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his heavenly hosts.
Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars.
Praise him, you highest heavens
and you waters above the skies.” (Psalm 148:1-4)

There are many examples throughout the Bible of angels praising God. Some of them are before God’s throne constantly singing His praise and declaring His holiness. It’s not so easy to see how the sun, moon and stars praise God. Not all praise is audible, although that doesn’t mean that the stars are silent by any means.

“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4)

In the praise that rises from heaven and earth to God’s throne – God hears every distinct voice. He hears the song of a single star in a galaxy of millions many thousands of light years away from earth. He hears the single note struck by one raindrop in the melody of a shower. He can identify the tune of a single sparrow in the dawn chorus. He would know if it was missing.

In among the cacophony of angels and stars, whale song and dolphin clicks, lightning and storms, lambs bleating and dogs barking, nightingales and song thrush – God hears my voice – my own distinctive song of praise.

He listens out for me.

Among the angel anthems
And songs from stars on high
And melodies from deep sea whales
And birds that fill the sky

He listens for my single voice
Unique among the throng
That soars throughout the heavens
To sing salvation’s song

My soul why are you silent?
My tongue – why are you still?
Where is the praise that tumbles out
To heaven’s temple fill?

My eyes so fixed on circumstance
His splendour cannot see
He shifts my gaze toward the Cross
It shouts its victory

I sing, His precious sparrow
In sunlight or in shade
The glories of the Great I Am
Through heaven and earth displayed




(c) Mel Kerr Jan 2012