Saturday, October 29, 2016

Bard-antics in the Botanical Gardens

Poetry in Motion this month, this afternoon, the last meeting of the year, met at the Inverness Botanical Gardens.

I am not sure that I am a fan of the hot-house, glass house part of the gardens. I am aware that it’s possibly the closest I will ever get to visiting a rainforest environment. I’m a cold weather girl. Heat sets too many sweat glands working.  It’s a very green and lush place and it seems as if they ought to issue machetes as you walk through the door. I felt I was about to come upon a lost tribe of pygmies just around the corner.  Naturally, being the height I am, I would have been invited to dinner, not as the main course, of course, but as an honoured guest. That’s not to say they wouldn’t have eaten Stevie or Colin.

We were issued with a slip of paper with a prompt. 

“Gaze into the pond and watch the koi fish.  Notice one in particular - it’s markings, size, shape and character.  Listen with your mind.  What does the Koi say?”

Koi carp, or in Japanese “nishikigoi”, are "ornamental varieties of domesticated common carp (Cyprinus carpio) that are kept for decorative purposes in outdoor koi ponds or water gardens."  There were one or two big ones, big enough to feed a family of eight easily, and some medium sized ones and some tiny ones. They seemed not to eat each other but swim around and quite often bump into one another.

This is what one of the medium sized ones, a fish with an orange band worn around it’s middle like a Miss World sash had to say to me:-

i’m a
koi fish
a scales and fins real fish, not a
toi fish
not a girl, but a young growing
boi fish
i’m a leave me alone, don’t
annoi fish
an each and every day
enjoi fish
a no-wish-to-harm-the world, or
destroi fish
can I answer your questions about
the meaning of life?
no

The fish were talking to most of the group. There was the distinct feeling among the big fish that they were fed up with the small pond and the other fish. They were fed up with being stared at by onlookers. One fish was heard to say, “Bloody pond!”

We moved on to the cactus part of the botanic gardens. The topic was about endurance with the idea that it must be hard to live in dry desert conditions. For me it was like walking into the Wild West. Cacti tall and prickly marked the curves of the paths. Just as the pygmies might have been in the rainforest bit, I imagined Indians lurking and fires sending out smoke signals. There was a notice, not about any Indians, but warning parents to mind their children. No one worried about them touching the prickly cacti and getting needles embedded in fingers. They wanted the children to leave the gravel alone.

I am aware that I can be quite prickly at times. A short poem popped out:-

Have I found my home here with the cacti
In this dry, harsh and arid place?
Can I in this hostile environment
A prickly existence embrace?

Paper filled with notes and pictures we headed to the café for a spot of tea and cake. The staff kindly let us have the overspill room all to ourselves. I think they had just finished cleaning it and had pulled the doors close to discourage anyone going in.

We talked about the things we had seen, sharing pictures, observations and poems-still-in-the-womb-stage. Sadly, it is the last meeting of the year and we will have to wait until March. Perhaps, poetry, like the birds, flies south in winter!

As a parting gift we were given an endurance prompt to do something with or not. My prompt was of a small man pushing a very large rock up a steep slope. What came to mind, at first glance, was not a man pushing the rock up the slope, but trying to stop it from rolling down the hill. That’s possibly a telling glimpse of how my life feels right now!

As ever, it was good to deepen friendships and make new connections, to write poetry and to laugh!


Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Men of Ephraim

“The men of Ephraim, though armed with bows, turned back on the day of battle; they did not keep God’s covenant and refused to live by His law. They forgot what He had done, the wonders He had shown them.” Psalm 78:9-11

I don’t think any of us would like that to be the way we are remembered. It’s the kind of truth that we would prefer not to be reminded of.

The weapons, apparently, were bows. The men of Ephraim were excellent archers.  Some commentators seem to think that although they had the bows to hand, they were not strung properly. There’s also a lot of speculation about which battle it was they turned away from or whether, in more general terms, it was about the split between the ten tribes (called Israel) and the two tribes (called Judah) and the lack support they gave when needed.

I knew someone who indulged in opposite truths. If one particular scripture had a very negative slant to it, he liked to work out what the opposite truth might be. If it was a positive truth, he liked to work out the opposite truth and be challenged.

God wasn’t impressed with the men of Ephraim. Their actions robbed God of the glory that He was due. Had they fought, and won, had they kept His covenant and laws, had they remembered His amazing miracles the word written about them would have been so different.

“The men of Ephraim, armed with bows strung firm and arrows sharp and true, stood unwavering on the day of battle; they honoured God’s covenant and refused to deviate from His law. They remembered and kept alive everything He had done, they never forgot the wonders He had shown them.”

That makes for a much nicer testimony!

It makes me think about the equipment God has given me. It’s no use having a sword if the edge is not sharp. It’s no use having a sword if I don’t know how to wield one. God does not ask me to do anything without first equipping me. If I feel ill-equipped and inadequate – perhaps I’m on the wrong battlefield. Or perhaps I am too lazy to allow the Holy Spirit to train me.

Last week Joe and I found ourselves in Pocklington, a pretty market town not far from the city of York. Joe was amazed that such a small town could have so many tea shops. There were only so many customers to go around – how could they stay open for business? They also had a theatre and the play that week was “Journey’s End”. It was about the trenches and World War 1. There was much glorification of war but the play was about the damage done to the young officers. On the day of battle they were frightened boys, not brave men, but they went out to face the enemy anyway.

It feels like lately I have been facing more than a few battles. Some of them are physical ones – my body is reminding me that I’m not as young as I used to be, or as well looked after as I could have been. Some of my battles are mental ones – I discovered a definite yellow streak in my mental make-up. I used to be quite courageous. I still am to some extent but it takes a lot of stoking up the fires to get there. I am determined to stand unwavering because to do anything else would be to deny the power of God to transform situations or to transform me.

At the heart of God’s covenant has always been God’s desire and intention - “My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Ezekiel 37:27) The world doesn’t want to work on that principle. They want nothing to do with God – irrelevant at best, dangerous at worst. They don’t want to be accountable or answerable to anyone. When we do God properly, authentically and genuinely we should be creating in people a hunger for God. The trouble is that we don’t do God properly. Sometimes we do God very badly and people believe that God is cruel and judgemental because that’s the way His people behave.

In Psalm 74, the men of Ephraim forgot what God had done.  They forgot the wonders God had done. I like my opposite truth - “they remembered and kept alive everything He had done”. The reason I can remember how to make pastry the way Mrs Barton (?) taught me at school is not by reading through an old school notebook – but by making the pastry! Keeping alive is more than remembering – it’s doing. If we want to see God doing wonders today, in our sceptical world, we need to give Him room and opportunity to do them.

One of the reasons I started writing was to keep an account of the things God had done in my life. I leaf through old notebooks, blog entries, or poems and I am amazed how much encouragement I find in them. The insight I had then speaks to me now. I speak to myself and lift myself up. But then, as good that is, me speaking to me, me speaking to you and you speaking to me is so much better. I can only tell myself what I already know – you can tell me the things I don’t know, things I need to know. A good conversation is to the heart what a good meal is to the body. Heart-wise we exist on snacks and junk food and wonder why we are not people of character.

I would like God’s verdict on my life to be a good one. I don’t want to be a man of Ephraim – not the Psalm 78 one. God’s verdict on my life is already a good one because of Jesus. I have something that the men of Ephraim didn’t have – Jesus in me.

Monday, October 10, 2016

A Day Without...

I am sure I have mentioned sometime in the past that I can remember getting drunk only twice – perhaps the fact that I remember it means that I was never drunk in the first place or that there are times that I did get truly drunk and I don’t remember! Actually I love my self-control too much to relinquish it. There was a time in my early days of teaching that a half pint of lager at the end of the week eased by troubles. Then one glass was not sufficient and it turned into two. I decided there were better ways to ease my troubles and began praying more!

Someone asked me at the end of last week, learning that's I was about to go on holiday, whether I was planning to spend some of the time, if not all of it, drunk. She was insistent that a good time could not be had whilst sober. I’m not teetotal by any means it’s just my addictions lie in other places. Give me a large slice of cake any day.

On Sunday our church hosted a lovely lady from the charity Hope UK, which provides drug and alcohol education and training for children and young people, parents and youth workers.

She talked about the week she spent at a Keswick Convention some years before. Hope UK had a stand and she spent the week avoiding going anywhere near. She didn’t want to get involved. God had other plans and when she wandered close enough to the stand, the woman manning it told her boldly that God had chosen her for the job. A card was thrust into her hand which she put in a pocket. Once home she put the card in a box under the bed, deciding not to think about it. The card kept finding its way out of the box and onto the bedside table, until she relented, filled it in and sent it off.

I have to say that I didn’t go anywhere near the woman after she spoke.  I didn’t want to give her the opportunity to tell me that Hope UK was my next placement. I have had my time with young people. And besides which, I really don’t have a history of alcohol or drug abuse, which might perhaps be an essential part of the story of what you learned through experience and would like to pass on to the next generation.

I have to say that I have heard it all before – identifying different drugs, the colours and shapes of different tablets and their effects. Have I heard it done better? The police did a good one years ago with a good visual aid. Was I just lucky that I never fell down that particular rabbit hole? God made me best friends with a wonderful girl who loved reading, and another wonderful girl who loved music and another wonderful girl who introduced me to tinned sweetcorn.  He then introduced me to His Son and I fell in love. He also introduced me to my brain, not the size of planet, but in good working order and I discovered I loved learning. Of course, then He also uncovered in me a passion for writing. Would I write better if I was drunk? It might work for some, but not for me.  I never was the experimenting type and nerd-like kept my focus on my degree.
As with other charities, Hope UK has its plastic bracelets in rainbow colours. Not a marketing gimmick the words on the bracelet are something along the lines of “an alcohol free day”. For friends that make the pub their meeting place, a man needs only to show the bracelet to his friends and they are supposed to respect his choice of having an alcohol free day and not push a pint in front of him. She talked about a man who was homeless who chose to put his bracelet on daily to remind himself that alcohol was not the solution to his problem.

A friend of mine was sitting next to me in church. We have known each other a long time and have quite a volatile friendship. We don’t just speak truth to each other, we shout it, standing on doorsteps, yelling at closed windows! It’s only just recently that my friend has started to come to my church. She has replaced the quiet contemplation of a small chapel with boisterous clapping and songs that make you cry. God is on her case and every meeting has touched her heart. She needed one of those bracelets and took away a red one. She couldn’t guarantee that she’d wear it every day, but she’d try.

She looked at me carefully.

“Everyone’s got their addictions, Mel.”

If I could have a plastic bracelet mine would have nothing to do with an alcohol free day. It might be “a day without cake”. I have a sweet tooth. Or “a day without chocolate.” Perhaps better it would be “a day without worrying”, or “a day without negative thinking”, or “a day spent saying thank you” or “a day singing God’s praises”.

So many days and so many opportunities to remind myself that this day can be different.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

What We Build

I came across these words in a poem I was reading this afternoon -“Was Blind” by Dave Harrity. It was a poem, for the most part, I didn’t really understand.

“There are words we haven’t ever made with our mouths,
But that we built with our hands.”

Earlier in the day I was flicking through Facebook as I was eating my breakfast. There was a youtube link. A very creative dad had built a ninja assault course in his back garden. I watched, and held my breath, as a wee girl hopped, skipped and jumped from one part of the course to another.  There was a row of every doll and every cuddly toy she possessed watching and cheering her on. A little clock in the corner registered her time as she made her way around the obstacles. There must have been a button to press at the end of the course and she jumped up and down with delight. It was amazing.

I thought of every child in the neighbourhood queueing up to have a go and a leader board being fixed somewhere.  Of course, health and safety issues would not permit that to happen.

I am sure that every day her father told her how much he loved her. They were words spoken with the mouth, but what he had built with his hands also spoke a message of love. Perhaps it put a little bit of pressure on all the dads in the neighbourhood to come up with something equally impressive.

When I read the two lines of the poem I didn’t think of the youtube clip straight away. I thought about the things that we build with our hands and came up with Auschwitz. What a horrible thing to build! And what it says about how we regard people who are not “us”. And how we don’t speak out loud about the incarceration and death of so many people, but we whisper. It was never a proud moment in anyone’s history – never something to cheer or to celebrate – though people did, and still do.

I went on to think about the other things we build with our hands, or plan to build - Donald Trump and his wall along the border with Mexico.

Or perhaps it’s to build a new road and uproot a row of ancient oak trees.

Or perhaps the things that we build are not physical things at all but made from words, not spoken but written – zero hours contracts that some workers prefer, but many workers dislike, that really favour the employer more than the employee. Or re-writing human rights laws because it doesn’t suit “us” to treat “them” with such respect that it costs us “too much”. Not so much building something but dismantling it.

There are just some things we shouldn’t allow other people to build.

Then I remembered the youtube clip – the dad building the ninja assault course for his daughter. It’s encouraging to know that there are people that are building a good things with their hands, or with their words, spoken and written. 

What are you building?

I am building my second book of poetry which makes it was to the publisher sometime this week! Thanks to all the people who have been a part of the project.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Prayer

“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Micah 6:6-7

 Lord,
Yet again I find myself
In Your throne room
I have learned that my good deeds
Don’t grant me entrance
My brownie points mean nothing
To You
Jesus is my letter of introduction
The only key that opens the door

Sometimes I come
Empty handed
Not asking You to mend the things
I have broken
I am content simply to sit
To gaze upon You
To watch You and
And feel the thrill of knowing You
I bring only my adoration to
Place before Your throne

Today
My hands are full
My heart aches
So many concerns
Burdens too heavy to hold
Where words refuse to be spoken
Tears spill
You listen
To my heart

You lift me up
And straighten the shoulders
That bear Your yoke
And I am strengthened