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.