Sunday, July 27, 2014

Batlefield

Dressed in his best
Angel of light costume
He strides into the throne room
No bouncers with well-defined biceps
And dark suits bar his way
Even the Archangel Michael
With his flaming sword steps aside

He is vexed to have to seek permission
To sift the saved
He takes his cause before
The throne of heaven
It’s not in his nature to ask
And he’s not at home before
The One he once adored

He comes away with the authority
To cause damage
To ransack and dismantle faith
To shred souls
And God’s children surrender their footholds
Arming him with their inflated egos
Petty jealousies and resentments

His success is not guaranteed
Because he knows the Son prays
Not to undo the his plans
Or to bind his work and loose angels
Nor to break a curse
And pull down strongholds
The Son prays for His own

He prays that
Their faith will not fail
That the purpose of God in their lives
Will be fulfilled
He prays for turned hearts and anchored lives
For resilience and transformation
And a community built and flourishing

The Son of God prays and
Satan lies to himself that he can yet win



Saturday, July 26, 2014

A priest, a Levite and a Samaritan Were Walking Down the Road

“A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.” (Luke 10:31-33)

It sounds like the beginning of a joke – “A priest, a Levite and a Samaritan were walking down the road when…”. 

I read the parable this morning and nobly announced to God that I would never see someone in need and walk aby on the other side of the road.  I didn’t get the pat on the head I was looking for.  No brownie points were up for grabs.

“But you do it all the time,” said God. “You walk past people in need all the time.”

“When did I ever…?” I began.

“People lying on the pavement beaten up by bandits are in short supply, I’ll give you that, BUT what about the people sitting on the benches, head in hands, beaten up by life?  You see them and you pass by.”

“What about when…?”  I was about to reel off times and places when I had responded.  Few and far between, they didn’t amount to the number of fingers on one hand.

It appeared that God had cast me in the role of either the priest or the Levite in the story but certainly not the Good Samaritan. 

“The trouble with you,” said God, “Is that you just don’t see.  You walk about with your eyes shut.  You have your to-do list in your head and navigate from one shop to the next and you don’t see the people in need.  The times you do see are times when you talk yourself out of helping.  You think it’s not your business.”

“Can you help me to see?” I asked.

I was scrutinising all the benches in the High Street.  Most people at the bottom end of the street were listening to a young boy, eight years old maybe, playing the bagpipes. It was the height of the tourist season and he had gathered a crowd.  Toes were tapping and purses and wallets were open and money was tossed into the bagpipe case.  He played “Flower of Scotland” and I wondered which Scottish athlete had just been awarded a Commonwealth medal.  I couldn’t see anyone who looked as if life had beaten them up so I moved on.

Further down the street, towards the top end, the “Yes” campaigners had a stall with badges, stickers and all sorts of literature.  We had met the “No” campaigners the previous week at a food and drink festival.  Technically, I suppose, I could claim, now, that I had met a whole group of people, who felt truly beaten, not by life as such but, by the Westminster Government – the ConDems.  They did not look like they needed my help so I moved on.

Austerity has left its mark on the High Street.  The shops that once flourished have closed down and the windows have become poster displays for bands playing in different venues or artists on display in the local gallery.

One widow displayed a Palestinian flag and a dozen sheets with lists of names.  There was a table, a group of people and a lot of pairs of shoes on the pavement.  I asked about the shoes.  For all the people on the list, those who had died in the Gaza over the week or two, they wanted a pair of shoes to match the age and gender.  An artist was going to use the shoes in a sculpture.

I looked at the list. Every day since the conflict began had its own page and listed the names and ages of those who had died.  There were old people, very old people, young people and very young people and all ages in between. And their names.  Page after page.  Name after name.

I’d seen something vaguely familiar – a list of dead people.  The Jewish Quarter in Prague, in a synagogue.  The names there were written on the walls of the building and included not just Jews but people from other races and religions that tried to help them – honoured gentiles.

“Ironic, isn’t it?” My husband and I talked about what we had seen over a cup of tea.

It is one thing to have a number in the newspaper – 500 or 600? And a comment noted by the American president that when the number hits 1,000 then they will do something. To see the names and ages of those 500 or 600 people is an entirely different matter.  A name does something that a number doesn’t.  When you know his name was Sulieman and he was 56 – you add the height and weight and eye colour and clothes with your imagination.  The number becomes a person and a person who isn’t alive any longer who should be. 

Not a man on the pavement beaten up by a robber.  Not a woman on a park bench with her head in her hands beaten up by life – but a name on a list of 500 names, not beaten up but dead because someone launched a missile at their home.  Perhaps there was a warning, like the Israeli army says.  Perhaps there was a basement in a school with weapons in it.  Perhaps there was a tunnel somewhere and a human shield of civilians.

I wanted to place someone in front of the list, someone in power, and get them to read the list of names and tell me why the government abstained when it came to voting for action.

Is a piece of land worth that much blood shed?

Are people not worth something no matter their religion or race?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Power of the Powerless

I will not be swayed by my heart
That widow can knock on my door
Day in and day out if she so wishes
But my resolve is firm and solid
She will not prevail

I’m not cruel or cold but just practical
I’m not blind to the injustice against her
But who will pay me for my services
There’s no advantage for me in siding with her
She is poor

We are fallen people in a fallen world
Why should I stretch out a hand to the stricken?
That some rise while others fall is life
God in His clemency must play His part
Where is He?

Tenacious, she will not abandon her plea
I will shut my ears to her cry for justice
She is powerless, just a woman, but determined
If I surrender to her now, I will open the door
To the flood

And yet she begins to wear me down
If I intervene and settle the score
It will not be compassion that moved me
Or fear of God that prompted my hand
But her persistence

They say God, too, is a judge
He is not blind to injustice either
What is practical is tossed on the wind as
He rises just before the knock comes
Ready to answer

Case Dismissed

It seemed a good idea at the time to hand over the book I was reading to my husband.  Not a small book by any means but a page turner.  I had managed not to start a new chapter just gone midnight and was able to put the book out of reach and go to sleep.  One day already had been lavished on the book, housework neglected and no dinner in the oven come evening. I was determined not to make it another.

The book, by John Grisham, featured a court case about a hand written will that wrote the family out of an inheritance, leaving almost everything to a housekeeper.  One suspected that there was a deeper thing going on, but the lawyer was still digging. More than half way through the book, each chapter was revealing a little bit more of the mystery.  But there were other things that needed to be done and I could not afford another day with my head in the book.

I shifted from the fictional court to the real court.  A friend of ours was due to appear before the Sheriff for brawling in public. Drink was involved somewhere as were slurred words and swinging fists.  It seems that a next day apology made by all involved was not sufficient to avoid an appearance in court.

I’ve never been to the court before. I asked politely if I might sit at the back. No objections were raised as long as I kept my mobile phone switched off.  The man I sat next to was skimming through Facebook on his.  The teacher in me longed to say something but I was a guest in unfamiliar surroundings.  An official spotted the light from the phone and insisted the man hand it over.  I’ve seen that look of innocence before.  Huh?  Who me? The official was no fool and held out his hand.  The phone was surrendered.  There was a certain comfort in knowing that it’s not just teachers that fight the give-me-the-phone-now battle.

I had forgotten my hearing aids.  I am connected to the loop system and was looking forward to using it. I had to content myself with analysing body language as I could hear almost nothing.  There was none of the theatrics of John Grisham.  No one accused the judge of being a racist bigot.  The judge did not need to warn anyone about being held in contempt of court. There was no jury.  No large woman wafting a folded piece of paper to keep herself cool. No fan whirred noisily on the ceiling shifting hot air around the room and there was no crowded gallery of “town folk”.

The folk that were there – I think I recognised a face or two.  I think I taught the kid in the suit a year or two ago.  His face was familiar.  He was up for joy riding – I think.  He was banned from driving for three years and given a fine.  Another kid was definitely in one of my classes just recently.  Without his school uniform he looked different somehow.  

I spent an hour with my good ear pushed forward but it was really no use – all participants from judges and lawyers, criminals and court officials mumbled quietly.  There was a steady stream of men and women, sitting and rising in the dock and nodding their heads as the sentence was pronounced.

Some of the younger offenders, first timers, looked very scared.  They were dressed on their Sunday best, scrubbed red behind the ears with eyes that stuck out on stalks.  Others looked as if they had been there before.  Dressed in jeans and sports hoodies they nodded at the other regulars.  Respect for the system was just a veneer.  One man on being sentenced turned to a pal with a victory fist – the kind you see in tennis matches after a well won point. Perhaps he gained a lighter sentence than he expected or deserved.

I wasn’t sure if my friend had already been through the system.  He wasn’t sitting on any of the benches outside the courtroom.  I wanted to show support.  As the hours wore on, I felt my eyelids fall.  Not being able to hear anything, and having sat through more than half a dozen cases, with not much to tell them apart, and nothing nail-bitingly tense I decided to not stay.  The sun outside was shining and I could taste an ice cream in my future. 

I thought about other courtrooms.  I wondered how Jake was faring in the book.  It was much more interesting than the real life court I was sitting in. 

I imagined me, in the heavenly courts.  The prosecution, the devil, would flick through a thick file of my offences.  While he is puffing himself up for his opening statement, Jesus, my advocate and saviour, strides in waving a sheet of paper.  One word written in red – not ink, my friend, but His precious blood – SAVED. 

Cased dismissed!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Jesus Said It

I can remember a song we used to sing when I helped to lead a Scripture Union group after school with primary school children:-

“God said it and I believe it and that’s the way it should be, Hallelujah!”

There were actions that went with it like pointing upwards and doing something that involved fists.  It was a cheerful tune and we sang with gusto.  Whether we actually put into practice is a different matter.

“Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me…but after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”  Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”  (Matt 26:31-33)

The song came to mind this morning as I was reading these verses.  Jesus said that the disciples would fall away.  They, the sheep, would be scattered once He, The Shepherd, was struck.  Jesus was simply telling them how the events over the next few hours would play out.  He wasn’t trying to manipulate them into staying around out of duty or obligation or guilt. He had been with them long enough to know how they would behave.

He went on the talk about “after I have risen” but they were not listening.  “After I have risen” made no sense to them, but falling away did.  Peter was swift to say that even if the others abandoned Jesus he wouldn’t.

"To death, I go
With you, if will"
My lips, he touched
"My friend, be still."
My words, knew he
Flamed hot in me
But by his side
I would not be

Jesus spoke His word of truth.  Peter spoke an alternative version of that truth.

Jesus said it – but Peter chose not to believe it (and that’s not the way it should be, Hallelujah).

In Jesus’ version Peter denied that he knew him three times.  The first denial was gut reaction, perhaps – our natural instinct for self-preservation kicking in.  But then came two chances to choose a response.  Peter chose denial.

Peter did not want to agree with Jesus’ version.  He didn’t want to be the man Jesus described, the man who fell away.  Peter wanted to be the man who stayed.  Perhaps right up until the moment came he thought he could be the man who stayed.  Jesus’ assessment of him was right.

He should have been listening more carefully to what Jesus said afterwards about the resurrection and the meeting at Galilee.  He would have known that denying he knew Jesus would not be the end of the story – that there was an afterwards coming.   There may be a telling off perhaps, or a rebuke of some kind – but an afterwards none the less.  For Peter there was forgiveness and a redefining of his task.

We don’t get a swift “afterwards” when someone dies.  There will be a resurrection and a meeting in heaven but not three days later. Sometimes the temporary end of the story when it concerns friends or family isn’t always a good one.

Do I really believe what Jesus says about me and what I will do?  Or do I try to tell him my own version of things.

When Jesus says - “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, but by me” – do I add a list of other things that if done faithfully will bring me nearer to God?

When Jesus says -”But seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” – do I obsess about the “added” things more – the job, the house or the holiday?

When Jesus says –“Ask and it will be given. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened for you” do I think about all the things done, or not done, that will disqualify me from asking?

I need to start singing that refrain over and over again. And not just singing it because it’s a catchy tune or simply singing it with gusto – but singing it with faith.

God (Jesus) said it and I believe it and that’s the way it should be, Hallelujah!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Gone Fishing

A weaver of stories
A spinner of truth
This preacher who sits
In the prow of my boat
He tosses His words
Gently into my heart
And then draws me in

One lesson concludes
Another begins
We put out to deep water
And let down nets
Night’s empty work is too close
But I am here
Because he says so

Can a man understand
The ways of the sea?
Yet this man reads
Patterns beneath the waves
and invites yesterday’s fish
Into my net
Now heavy and full

Beside this man
It’s not possible to stand
He sees the deep in me
Yet chooses to stay
He casts out his love
To catch my heart
I leave my boat on the shore


This One Woman Aglow!

It must have been way back in March when I was asked to speak at the Inverness branch of Women Aglow.  Things happened and dates had to be rearranged.  Months came and went and then the day was upon me – Monday.

Monday was spent speeding up the A9 from Glasgow – or rather not speeding since there are speed cameras littered along the route – the government’s alternative to a dual carriageway.  There was also no speeding involved on account of lorries.  I think it must have been an Asda lorry jamboree.  I’m not one for overtaking long lorries.  I also sleep badly in beds other than my own and confess I wasn’t at my most alert and the slow pace worked for me.  I think the Asda lorries were all a part of God’s plan.  I could see from the way some drivers positioned their cars on the road that they were less than happy at the speed.  They were itching to overtake but the line of traffic was nose to nose.

I had the opportunity to wait for another date to speak, but I had spent time thinking and praying and felt prepared.  Being a teacher I didn’t want to turn the whole evening into a lesson, although I did have a task for the ladies to do.  I didn’t want to turn things into a sermon either – but just to encourage people in their walk with Jesus.

Seeing as I was going to talk about poetry it seemed a good idea to set them a task of writing a poem.  I remember doing a “please take” (minding a class while their teacher is absent – my husband has the idea that as it is called a “please take” I should be able to say “No, thank you”) that involved writing a poem based on a poem “Ten Things Found in a Shipwrecked Sailor’s Pocket”.  It opens up the way to be creative – in this case writing about the things a person might find in God’s pocket.  I didn’t expect the silence and the seriousness with which they tackled the poem.  It was very quiet.  They wrote with enthusiasm.  Some chose to read out their poems – beautiful – and far better than anything I might have written.  Had we stopped there at the end of the poetry reading, we would all have been encouraged and uplifted.  One lady used the notion of the pocket as somewhere she could climb into and find refuge and security – that safe place we all need.

Then it was over to me to share about how I discovered the poet inside.  On the outside events might look like a series of coincidences – accidents that just happened to toss me into pencils, paper and words.  The seed of a poet was always there, right from birth.  The soul soil took a long time to warm up before the first green shoots appeared. 

I had gone one evening to the local college to sign up for an evening class on counselling.  The “Creative Writing” sign-up sheet was on the same counter just a pace away. My head said “Counselling – very useful in a church Setting”, my heart signed up for creative writing and I fell into the sweetest spot possible.

Of course, there were poems to be shared.  I talked about my book “Wider Than the Corners of This World”.  I had the privilege of reading one of the poems at the funeral of my mum-in-law.  The book is dedicated to “Alice and Eileen” – our two mums – Joseph and I.  It is sad that neither mum was able to read the book.  My mum died shortly before it was published, and Joseph’s mum was in a care home with progressively worsening dementia. 

One of the ladies at the meeting talked about my book.  Her father is not well at the moment.  She visits him and talks to him about her faith.  Recently she has been reading the poems from the book.  He holds her hand and smiles and nods. He loves poetry, and she loves the gentle way that God is shown through the poetry.  I wish I had read my poems to Alice.  Maybe someone did.  Maybe God’s reading them to her now in heaven.  I shall try not to miss other opportunities.

I might have fallen into a very sweet spot but it’s been hard work staying in it. The gifts that God gives require effort on our part to polish them up and making good use of them. The working at the gift to make it do the job God wants is His and mine in collaboration.  Any gift given to His Child remains a gift that belongs to God but there is work to do to develop that gift. 

For me it’s not just about writing lots of poems but looking to learn how to structure poems properly.  I was once told that my poetry is too simple.  There are not enough layers and depth to appeal to academics.   It was never my intention to appeal to them anyway, but exploring a richer vein of poetry does appeal.  I have a couple of websites that list different poetic forms.  It had been challenging to try out new ideas and play stricter heed to rhythm and syllable stresses.  Sometimes in sticking to the formulae I have lost the heart of my poem, other times it has led to a really great poem.

I’m sure you’ve heard people say, or even said the words yourself - “I haven’t got a gift”.  It’s so not true.  There are lists of gifts in the New Testament and maybe church leaders have an inclination to assume it’s a complete and final list of gifts related to building the church.  Building the church? Yes. Complete and final? No. The gifts and talents God distributes certainly don’t come with a number ranking.  It’s not better to be an apostle and not quite so better to be a prophet. 

I don’t have ten steps to identifying a gift.  For me, it was just about being close to God and the poetry being an expression of that closeness.  God planted the seed and as I drew close, it was as if the soul soil in me warmed up and the seed sprang to life.  God had birthed a gift of writing in me and then nudged me towards it. 

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

A Picture of My Consciousness



I am beginning to wish that people wouldn’t recommend books to me.  Some books I am simply too mean to buy – the purse simply refuses to open and allow the debit card to reel off its numbers.  Other books, mostly the Kindle variety, get a more positive response.  The book I settled on was “The Sound of Paper” by Julia Cameron.  I read through a number of the reviews.  They were a mixture of fives and fours with the occasional one thrown in.

Each chapter comes with a craft activity and a writing exercise.

Try this:

Gather fifteen to twenty magazines with pictures.  Buy a large piece of poster board and glue (the purse said “No” to the poster board reminding me that I had A3 drawing paper and the glue was harvested from the old Sunday School materials box under the stairs – old but still up for the task – a bit like me). Spend half an hour cutting images from the magazines.  (I have lots of these – mostly food related – I refused to surrender any writing magazines to the cause – not the same concerns with my husband’s history magazine).  Don’t fret about trying to make sense of the pictures you connect with.  Take another half hour to cut out the images, arrange them and paste them on to the board.  You are making a portrait of your consciousness.  What you see may surprise, delight or even alarm you. Using words take to the page and describe your personal discoveries.

I am surprised that it turned out so good.  It would be really interesting to have someone else look at the finished product and tell me what they see in, what it tells them about my consciousness.

There is a chair in the centre of the picture.  It’s very much in contrast to all the other images on the page.  The other pictures are very active pictures.  It could be that the chair is all about my strongest desire being comfort, or than I am basically lazy.  God seems to be saying to my heart that it is about doing everything from a place of rest. Resting in His presence is where everything I do has its root and centre.

The top pictures, a set of tools and a hand scraping clay, came from a car magazine I picked up from a garage waiting for tyres to be fitted.  I was fascinated to discover they made a full sized clay model of a car before they made the real one – just to see how it might look in light and shadow.  I think it is about the work that God is doing on me.  He uses the situations I face like tools to scrape away the bits of me that are not needed – attitudes and mind sets that hinder growth.  My part is to cooperate with Him.

The bottom corner has boats and windsurfers and there is a glass half full.  I had windsurfing lessons once.  One lesson is never enough.  The surf board on the sand and the sail dug into the sand is not preparation for the sea.  I think this is all about taking risks.  There is a kind of recklessness about some windsurfers, but they don’t head out to the waves without knowledge and experience, and cutting their teeth on baby waves.  The half full glass reminds me that God has confidence in me to take on risk and adventure and to not always to play safe.

The other corner is a colourful picture of a religious festival that involves dye.  It’s the Hindu festival of Holi.  People throw coloured powder and dye.  It is a spring festival about new life.  Everyone in the picture is covered in coloured dye.  This to me is about getting into the crowd and not keeping a distance.  It’s about not expecting not to get dirty and not minding, perhaps not even noticing.  It reminds me of time spent in a black orphanage in Durban, South Africa.  The smell of the place and the children was very strong.  I minded at first, but then, as I spent time there, I got to smell just as bad as the children and I stopped minding.  I no longer wrinkled my nose as I gathered them into my arms.

What else is on the picture?  There is a letter.  I used to write lots of letters.  I tried to revive my letter writing but with all the other demands on my time it never really happened.    Mother Teresa once said that she was a pen in the hand of a loving God who was writing a love letter to the world.  Writing letters may not be the modern thing to do today but it is the most lasting.  They can also be the most treasured thing that someone possesses.  God writes His-story in my life, asks me to tell that story through words, through actions, through prayers, through forgiveness – through living.

Behind the chair flies superman against a background of coloured cotton reels.  I’m not superman or wonder woman.  I think this might be about me giving myself permission to be normal. There are lots of pressures to deal with – just the normal stuff but lots of it.  Add in to the mixture one or two of the not so normal things and life gets manic.  It’s not the worst thing in the world to drop one of the balls – or all of them – and sit down and relax sometimes.

The cotton reels?  No idea on that one.

The word “vote” reminds me, not about the upcoming Scottish independence vote.  In more general terms it is about being an active participator in life.  The other day I asked a history teacher if she could come up with any examples of non-violent protests that had changed the world significantly – excluding Martin Luther King or Gandhi.  From the top of her head she conjured up the suffragette movement.  To not vote is to dishonour their memoires.  And if I feel I have nothing to vote for?  Whose fault is that but mine for standing idly by while those in power whittle away the compassion of a nation?

The carrot? That’s about reward.  The best way to get the best out of people is to show them the rewards.  Joe and I have just started watching re-runs of “Alias Smith and Jones” – those latter-day Robin Hoods of the wild west.  The promise of amnesty if they can keep out of trouble for a year dictates their behaviour.

The heart and spirit of a person is seat of all action.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Faith Writing at the Farmhouse

You can tell that the instructions to get to the farmhouse were written, not by a level headed man, but an eye-for-detail artist woman.  I would never have got to my destination without the house with the red roof, the sign about the eggs and the big fir tree near the drive.

The event was a creative writing morning.  As much as I love my Saturdays with a lazy breakfast, a lucky fifteen bet and my gorgeous husband across the table – I will hand all three over without a backward glance to spend time learning a little more about writing.  I am a writing addict.

The morning was led by Chris Leonard, a professional writing tutor. She has written lots of books and presided over large groups and small groups of creative writers.  I missed some of what she was saying as, like the inattentive pupil at the back of the class, I was talking to my friend, Cliff, about other, perhaps what was at the time, more urgent stuff.

The room was full of people mostly at the beginning of their writing journey.  They were pushing the door to see what was behind it – but all very much creative people in other disciplines.  There were artists and musicians and a woman who was about to build a house in a field.  There were some of us who were not quite at the start of the journey but some place along the path.   

The opening exercise was all about stretching the muscles.  A lot of writing is about connecting with the five senses.  Given the start of a sentence we were to fill in the end. 

Darkness smells like… wood smoke

Chocolate sounds like… a sigh

Surprise tastes of … lemons

The exercises weren’t anything new.  It wasn’t new either that there were so many similar and different responses.  Taking time to read through what we had written and to try and explain our choices – that was new.  Other creative days have been perhaps a little bit more filled up and fast paced and the focus was on the writing rather than the reading and reflecting.

Next we were presented with some plates of stuff – some edible, some less so.  Although the olives were on the edible plate – they are not edible.  Having spent five years in Cyprus it was expected that I would develop a taste of olives, but I never did.  Some twenty five years down the line, and spurning all things olive, I wondered whether I had developed simply a prejudice rather than an active dislike.  I once thought I didn’t like Wheatabix, but I was wrong.  I popped an olive into my mouth intending to give it an unprejudiced chew.  I really don’t like olives and it’s not a mental thing but a taste bud thing.

I settled on a piece of moss to write my piece and retrieved a memory about Sunday school, “making Jesus with an empty toilet roll and crepe paper” and racing snails along the windowsill.

Being ladies, many of the women, picked on basil or rosemary, and wrote about meals they had made, or eaten, or remembered parents making when they were young.  Writing anything, whether it’s poetry or prose, is about engaging the emotions.  Chords were touched and tears flowed unexpectedly.

My favourite writer of the morning was Marion.  I am not sure I understood much of what she wrote – herbs and I are just passing acquaintances.  It was her reading of it that captured me.

There was a musical round.  Lorna, who had opened her home for the morning (indeed, invited us to stay as long as we liked and pointed to a couple of empty bedrooms if we so needed), is a wonderful pianist. She has recently produced a DVD of inspirational music.  She played while the rest of us wrote.

Last week on a church retreat we also had a time of listening to music, soaking in the presence of God, and tuning in to his voice.  Using music as a writing prompt wasn’t something I had tried before. 

Eventually I wrote the first draft of Summer Play. It was a very fresh tune, not heavy or slow, but light, with arpeggios up and down the scales.  I have a thing right now about trees and leaves and light breezes and it began to fit together.  

I am always surprised at how much of a positive response I get from the things I write.  I think about how this could be improved or that, and I pour over a thesaurus and swap words endlessly round, trying to find just the fight combination.  I need to write and let go!  Launch it and let it fly!  (and a hundred other sound bites!) I definitely hold some things in my hand too long.

We had lunch in the sunshine.  I had made a promise to myself that I would stop eating tuna sandwiches – I know fish is good for you I don’t think I like tuna that much.  It was the only sandwich filler in the cupboard.  Maybe it was the bread rather than the tuna, or the sunshine and scenery, or the company and the creative words still swilling around my head, or the echoes of the music, or the knowledge that I had not got lost on the way and arrived late, or a first draft of a new poem waiting to be polished up – it was a good end to a very good morning.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Summer Leaves

“Come play with me, little leaf,”
says the wind
tugging it gently from the branch
“I’ll be “it”
and chase you
In eddies and spirals.
I’ll draw you upwards
Close enough to touch the sun
And stroke the clouds
I’ll carry you in the
palm of my hand
I’ll toss you
like a father tosses his child
Let’s play
You, me and thousand other leaves
Till bed time comes
Then I will gently set you down
On the flagstone path
And sing you to sleep

Thursday, July 03, 2014

In the Darkness of the Clouds

I asked my husband for his permission to write about this.  It’s his story rather than mine – but it is a good one.

Last Sunday our church spent the day together on a retreat.  We had been looking for ways to do things together that lasted longer than an hour and a half and aimed to build deeper connections with each other, with God and with His creation.

We had been given the use of the forest classroom and had the forest, stretching away in all directions, at our disposal.  We had a plan for the day that was open to change, a box of teabags, a jar of coffee, a litre of milk and a plate of shortbread biscuits to get us going.

An afternoon session was all about crafts.  When we join the family of God, and He becomes our Father, we take on the DNA of the Almighty.  God is the creator and we have inherited His creative ability. Sometimes we need a gentle shove into a pile of empty boxes and paper, glue and fluffy things to awaken that creativity.

My husband Joseph is a very clever man. The school he went to, St Mungo’s, in Glasgow, were into ranking in a big way.  After all the various end of year tests had been marked and collated pupils were ranked from number 1 to number 250 or what ever the roll of the year group was. My husband hovered around number 11.  It was art that let him down badly.  Without the art result he would have clinched the top spot year in year out.  He just doesn’t do art. He has promised himself that once he retires he will learn to draw and paint properly.

I am not great at art either…but this is his story.

We had a whole box of stuff to play with and a half hour or more to make something.  There were no guidelines except to have fun.  No one was expecting Picasso to turn up, or Michelangelo.

Armed with a sheet of paper and a box of coloured pastel crayons, my husband drew a picture of Noah’s ark.  The sea looked like the sea.  The ark looked like a luxury liner. The sky was dark with clouds.  A dove in the sky held an olive branch in his beak. 

I’d glimpsed over once or twice, a couple of pipe cleaners twisted in my hand. I thought it was something to do with World War 2.  I thought it was a plane ready to drop a bomb on a warship – but, yes, on closer inspection it really was a bird.  There were feathers.

Time up and we were asked to talk about our creations.

He talked about Noah and the ark.  In the clouds’ darkness Noah would not have been able to see the dove.  He wouldn’t be able to see the water level dropping or the land in the distance – not in the darkness of the storm clouds.

All he could do was to rest in God’s promise that there would be an end to the storm.

At the end of the day, climbing into bed, talking about some of the things we had thought about during the day, there was a knock on the door.

Long summer nights meant that outside was still light – there were no clouds, but a storm was heading our way.

Family had been trying to reach us from Glasgow with the news that mum had been taken into hospital.  There was the possibility of the end coming.  She had spent a number of years in a nursing home.  She had pneumonia and was finding ti hard to breathe.

Bags were packed and tickets and train times chased down.  Facebook came to the rescue with an opportunity to ask people to pray.  The response was wonderful.  It was such a positive testimony to our family – and so effective too.

There has been an improvement in mum’s condition.  She is comfortable and breathing much better.  It may not be that a return to the nursing home is on the cards. 

I think about the picture – with the dark clouds and the dove that Noah couldn’t really see – and the trust he had in God that the storm would come to an end.  What a timely picture and an even more timely truth.

My husband is now home.  He has spent time with mum and with his family.  There is a settled peace about the situation.

Thank you so much to all of you who prayed and who continue to pray.  It has been such an encouragement to us all.