Wednesday, June 21, 2017

This Do I Know

Lord, I am crushed, I am ground down like dirt
Day after day, I am wounded and hurt
Fists strike my face and words fracture my heart
Lord, show me mercy, Your aid now impart

My enemies wink, they want me to fall
I’m pushed to my knees but to You I call
Be my strong tower, the place where I hide
The anchor I cling to till troubles subside

What can men do? I have nothing to fear!
Men who conspire, who scoff and who jeer
Lord, in your anger, cast down every foe
Triumph and victory upon me bestow

You know well my path and catch every tear
The praise on my lips You bend down to hear
Of one thing I’m certain. This do I know
That You walk beside me where ever I go

What can men do? I have nothing to fear
God, the Eternal, will always draw near
I offer my life, with its minutes and days
Always to walk in the light of Your ways

(Psalm 56)

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Parable Walking

A friend of mine shared an article with me about parable walking. It was about how Jesus used the everyday things around him to teach people about how they should live their lives and what they should know about God and His Kingdom. We are used to learning in a church setting through someone’s sermon spoken at the front of the church, or in a home group setting – again, inside a building. We don’t have someone who waves an arm at a flock of sheep and tells us a story about a man who had a hundred of them and lost one, and what happens next.

Being outside, walking through a wood, or along a beach and allowing God to speak through these things is something that I do. Usually it’s more to do with stirring up a poem than a parable, and more recently it’s about trying to earn a few Scottish Slimmers “checkercise” points having eaten too much cake, or wolfed down a sharing sized packet of crisps without the sharing part happening.

Yesterday I purposely parable-walked along part of the South Loch Ness Trail. It’s not an ancient path. It’s possible that some form of the path existed ages ago, and just maybe St Columba trod the forest trail in his journey from Iona to Inverness.

Armed with sturdy trainers, a notebook and pen and a copy of the instructions I headed off, stopping off every so often to list the things my senses detected.

Tall trees, straight trunks swayed above my head. Shrubs, ferns and thick bunches of flowers and moss covered fallen logs bordered the path. Pine cones were scattered everywhere, open and empty of seeds. A few lines from a Martin Luther King Speech came to mind

"If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. But be the best little shrub on the side of the hill. Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are."

The route was marked by posts. It’s always nice to feel secure that you are on the right path. One part of the walk takes in a minor road and a hill into another patch of forest. It’s a long stretch without any posts. It was easy to convince myself that I had somehow come off the path.  Passing beside a couple of houses, a barn, a field or two of crops, a tumble of stones, a field of horses, and climbing a steep hill that became less of a minor road and more of a grassy path I saw the marker post in the distance.

A couple of bike riders erupted from the path and wheeled down the hill gleefully. They were the first people I had seen. The parable walking sheet had said that it could be a communal thing – walking together, in silence, then comparing notes at the end. There were prayers to be said and readings to read aloud – but I skipped that. I like my own company, my own pace of walking and the conversation I have in my head.

The wind was quite brisk. I stopped to admire a tall tree with branches and leaves that bent with the wind. I took on a tree-bending-with-the-wind pose and felt a little silly. It was Theresa May who came to mind this time. I thought about how difficult the last week has been for her and the barbs in the newspapers I have read. There may be a time for being strong and safe but there’s also a time to bend. Without the bending comes brokenness. Bending is not compromising. I might not be a people person either, but I’m not a prime minister, I don’t need to turn up and give comfort to survivors but I would have done. She needed to and didn’t.

I made it to the marker post, looked at my watch and the grey clouds gathering. I had walked further than I intended to. Turning around I retraced my steps. Why is it that the homeward journey always seems to take less time?

I stopped beside the field of horses. Had I been my sister I would have made encouraging clucking noises and held out a hand. The horses would have recognised a friend and ambled over. She would have said, “Who’s a lovely boy?” and they would have exchanged mobile phone numbers. I am not my sister.

I was back in the forest,  It was a quiete, peaceful place. I daresay it’s not so peaceful with one bug eating another and plant life jostling over ground for sun-space, and underground for root-space. The trees had enough room to grow. It was a managed forest – some trees felled to give others the room they needed. I thought about my life and whether it was managed enough. Was there too much crowding going on? Did I need to get rid of a few things to allow the planting of new stuff?

I have often had a picture, on various forest walks, of Jesus walking beside me. He would stop at one particular tree and run His hand down the trunk, feeling the contours. He would look upwards, shield his eyes perhaps from the sun, and notice the absence of branches most of the way up and top of the tree with “beanie hat” of life. He would remind me that He was once a carpenter.

“This is a lovely tree,” He’d say. “So straight and tall! What could I do with the wood from this tree? I could make a door or a table. I could frame a window or make a shelf. I could make a baby’s crib or a boat with it. I would craft it to my purpose, smooth it down, polish it and run my finger along the clear grain.”

He didn’t say it, but I knew that he wouldn’t make it into a cross to nail someone to it. The picture usually stops at that point.

Yesterday, I had that same picture and conversation. Then came the next part of the conversation.

He’d touched my arm, and look into my eyes.

“This is a wonderful woman,” He’d say. “So upright and full of integrity! What could I do with a woman like her? I could make a teacher or a preacher. I could make a prophet or a healer. I could make a warrior and a worshipper. So much I could do but I choose to make her a poet and through her words she is all of them. I will craft her to my purpose, smoothe and polish her and as I run my finger along her clear grain I cannot help but smile.”

What a conversation to have!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Finding "Home"

“Vocation does not come from a voice out there calling me to be something I am not.  It comes from a voice in here calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfil the original selfhood given me at birth by God.” Thomas Merton. 

I read this in a chapter of a book I am reading at the moment as part of an online book club. The book “Booked: literature in the soul of me” by Karen Swallow Prior, is a kind of life story traced through the books she has read. The chapter is based on the play “Death of a Salesman”, a play I have not read. It is about not living your life trying to be someone you are not called to be. Someone else’s path to success and happiness is not our path.

I was thinking, as I was reading, of those moments when I knew for certain I was on the right path.

When I first came up to Inverness in September 1989 as part of a Gospel Outreach team I really wasn’t certain of how much the decision to be there was mine, and how much the decision was made on the basis of trying to please other people.  We had travelled up over one very long day. The journey to Inverness is not a short one. I remember we stopped, in a large layby, possibly at the Drumochter Pass, somewhere along the A9. It was dark and the sky was heavy with stars. I had a sense of God telling me that just as those stars in heavens were always there in the night sky, He would always be with me. It wasn’t confirmation that I was supposed to be on that team, but that His presence was assured. We continued the journey to Inverness, arriving late, and tired enough to leave the unpacking till the next day, to simply fall on a bed and sleep.

The next morning I ventured out to see where I had landed. Inverness has the magnificent River Ness running through it, spanned by a number of bridges. There’s a couple of footbridges, little suspension bridges that cross the Ness. The Grieg Street Bridge is one of them and one lurches from side to side in a drunken motion when there’s people crossing in the other direction. I stood in the middle of the bridge looking down towards the castle and I knew I was where I was, for want of a better word, home. I was exactly where I was supposed to be, so I settled down to business.

The second of those certain moments was when I signed up for an evening class at Inverness College. I had intended signing up for a twelve week counselling course, believing it to be a useful skill to contribute to the church I was a part of. Next to the singing-up list was another list signing up to Creative Writing. My hand shifted across. Maybe my heart shifted too. When I sat down at the table in the class and wrote a story about a missing girl, prompted by a school photograph, I knew again that sense of coming home. Words and I had once been lovers in my teenage years and we rediscovered each other.

I have often questioned whether the vocation calling me to be “the person I was born to be” was really teaching. I can’t think of a time when I opted for it or made a conscious decision. Mum insisted that I lined up my dolls in the bedroom, all of given a name that began with the letter “R”, and taught them whatever I had learned at school. I don’t remember doing that – but I have a lousy memory anyway. I know that my choices of who to be were limited by the stream of schooling I had. The English class was deemed not bright enough to read some of the classics that Karen read. My “A” level, just the one, was Religious Studies – so I became an RE teacher.

If a vocation is something that comes easily to a person, then I wasn’t supposed to be an RE teacher – or any kind of teacher. I’m not, nor ever have been, outgoing. But that is not entirely true – put me on a stage, give me an audience, words to speak and I love the performance. I am a closet exhibitionist! I worked my way up the casts of numerous pantomimes in our local village. I never made it to principal leading lady.  I like to think it was my lack of being pretty that stopped me.

My first teaching job was in London, in Walthamstow, where they went through RE teachers like pints of cold Guinness on a hot summer’s day. I vowed that I had given four years of my life to get my teaching degree that I was going to stick teaching out for four years, then, and only then, if I didn’t like it I would throw in the towel, the red pen, the stick of chalk, the piles of marking, the report writing, the parents evenings, the answering-back pupils and everything else.

I stuck it out for four years, plus another thirty one. Whether that was out of fear of admitting I had got it wrong or out of finding another “home” is sometimes not clear. I loved the interaction I had with most classes – I had my stage, my audience, my words and the opportunity to perform every day. But it didn’t come easy.

When words and I re-united after all those years I did wonder if I had been on wrong path. If my ability to earn money had rested on my ability to use words, would I have lost my joy in writing?

Karen, towards the end of the chapter, looks at the reason behind work. Martin Luther once said that before the Fall God created both men and women to work. We work not because work saves us or gives us a sense of “home” but because work meets the needs of our neighbours. We work because of an in-built, God-purposed need to serve others. There is enough of the narcissist in me to wonder if in teaching I am simply serving myself rather than others.

I am into the last few metres of the teaching race and see the finishing line of retirement ahead. I had cherished in my heart the notion of a part time job behind the counter of the local Co-op. I recognise it as something I want to do rather than something God has called me to do – but the one doesn’t necessarily exclude the other! I think of it as something easier than teaching but it might not be.

I also think there might be something that makes better use of the love between words and I. Perhaps it is there that I will find my next “home”.

God knows.

(Not the “God knows” that translates as a shrug of the shoulders and an I-have-no-clue tone of voice, but the “God knows” that is confident that God really does know and will share it with me when I ask Him to.)

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Re-connecting With Nature

There was an article in the national papers this morning, just four small paragraphs or so, about a recent poll involving young people and nature. It seems that only 51% of young people can identify a bluebell and just 4% know what a red clover looks like.  The over 55s did better – 83% knew their bluebells and 45% knew red clovers.

This lack of knowledge about nature was blamed on the growth of technology and safety issues.  Concern for children’s safety means that wandering across fields and wading through minnow-rich ditches is a thing of the past.  I remember school days, afternoons, of walking out of the building and through a couple of fields down to a bridge crossing the Grand Union canal. We poked cow pats and watched a flurry of flies. We picked rosehips and sent them off somewhere to get made into rose-hip syrup. We kept a beady eye on frogspawn waiting for tadpoles in a pond.

Maybe the makers of the games that they play on computers need to decorate the scenery with trees and wildflowers. Rather than skirting around buildings and scaling rooftops armed with automatic weapons to kill people, they should move it into the forest. People perhaps should get shot not on the basis who has the biggest gun or the fastest reflexes, but according to how well or not they can name the wild flowers and insects around them!

Last week on a walk along the river I visited the cathedral. I like the quiet space inside and time to sit and be still.

Part of the space was taken up with an exhibition “My Ark of Nature”. An artist and environmental conservationist, Jonathan Sainsbury, had set up the exhibition. His artwork filled the small chapel space. He is based in Perth and has received a number of awards for his work in protecting the environment. His pictures are amazing. There were a number of very big charcoal sketches next to smaller, painted versions of the same thing. The scenes, of highland landscapes, trees and wildlife had an almost “middle earth, Hobbit look” about them. It’s not New Zealand at its most fantasy-landscape best – but just a few miles down the road, or up the road, or along the way from where I live – the rivers, the forests, the mountains and the deer that appear on my horizon.

Interspersed with the artwork were poems:-

I caught this morning morning's minionminion favorite, darling; also, an underling or servant, king-
    dom of daylight's dauphindauphin prince; a French historical term, along with “chevalier”, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
    Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimplingwimpling rippling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing…

(from the The Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins)

And Bible verses:-

Just as the sparrow seeks her home,
    and the swallow finds in her own nest
    a place to lay her young,
I, too, seek Your altars, my King and my God,
    Commander of heaven’s armies.
How blessed are those who make Your house their hom
    who live with You;
    they are constantly praising You.
(Psalm 84:3-4)

And along the walls at various intervals there were child-level bird boxes to peer into and see pictures of birds.

And there was a wooden shelf stuffed to spilling over with books and feathers and little wooden birds.

And in the background was the sound of bird song.

I think if I had inhaled deeply enough I could have been breathing in a forest fragrance.

It was a delightful exhibition. The artist and his wife were there and talked through some of the pictures. One of them was of sparrows hopping around a blackberry bush. Jonathan explained that it was just the one sparrow that had posed for him, a sparrow that they had nursed as a baby, who lived in their house and ate at their table and really thought itself to be a person rather than a sparrow.

I was reminded of the few nature poems I had written over the years. I shared the poems with them. The last line of a poem “Abriachan” ends with this verse – which brings me full circle to the newspaper article this morning:-

Shame on me I cannot tell
The names of trees some know so well
Hazel, downy birch and yew
A tongue now spoken by so few

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

50 Word Flash Fiction

After watching my boys play the first half of their match in the street league, I headed off to Pol-UK, the creative writers’ group that meets at the Bike Shed on Grant Street. Earlier in the week the Scottish Book Trust had posted something on Facebook about their monthly 50 flash fiction competition – a prompt to write something about an enchanted wood along with a picture of trees in the mist. I thought it might be something we might try.

We didn’t do the enchanted wood theme. We thought we’d save that one for real! A practice go or two was needed first. The first was based on a phrase:-

The Future Will Take Care of Itself

A man on the doorstep. Smart suit and tie. An Identity badge flapping in the wind. A clip board. A pen poised in hand. I squint at the badge. Sunny Horizons Insurance. He smiles. Even white teeth gleaming. I close the door, a winning lottery ticket clenched in my palm.

Impressed that I nailed the word count, I was ready for our next prompt – four random words.

Thursday. Brown. Cat. Seven.

Where is a black cat when you need one? Where are my seven years of good luck? On Thursday I saw a ginger cat on a wall, a brown tabby hiding under a car and a Persian blue staring through a window. I didn’t see the kerb I tripped over.

Bring on the enchanted forest!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Preaching to my Soul

I eat tears for breakfast
And sorrow for lunch
Grief slow cooks my evening meal
The enemy adds lies to the pot
God seems silent
And the lights have gone out

I preach to the downcast soul in me
This soul tethered to the floor
Half rebuke, half encouragement
I declare
That God is my shelter
That I lean on Him

I will open my eyes wide
And seek Him out
I will go to His house
And I will serenade Him there
All of my dreams I have placed
In the basket of His hope

Life may look bleak today
Yet I know He saves
He is my life, my joy, my rapture

So I will keep singing

(Psalm 43 paraphrased)

Monday, May 29, 2017

Things I Did Not Say

I was trying to think how many times I have given my testimony to a group of people rather than just sharing my faith walk on a one to one basis. I definitely spoke at my baptism and I was invited once to talk to the Scripture Union in school. Yesterday I shared my testimony in church at our monthly feast day. What could be said in five minutes you can guarantee I will spin out to half an hour! You can also guarantee that what could be quite a boring story I can make a good tale out of. I added in a few poems to keep people entertained. That said there were so many things I didn’t say…

I have always believed in God. What I believe about God has changed over the years. As I talked about my experiences growing up in a Roman Catholic household and the way church I attended created the distance and the black book mentality, I looked across the room at little Mia Crossley. Did I envy her just a little bit? She is growing up with parents and an extended family of aunties, uncles and grandparents that have really vibrant relationships with God. She will never pick up the idea that there is a black book, that God doesn’t like children and that, yes, although she can never measure up to God’s standards, someone will tell her that Jesus is there to bridge the gap.

Eric Von Daniken might have been an interesting rabbit hole for a while but he never scuppered my belief in God. It is all too easy to avoid the Erics in life. As Christians we need to know not just what we believe, but also why we don’t believe the other stuff. If we don’t know the flaws in other philosophies and ways of believing, because we have never looked for them, we deprive ourselves of ammunition to fight the enemy.

I talked about coming to Jesus when I was eighteen at a house party in Wales. It was one of the hottest summers on record, still spoken about by weather people, 1976. We talk about making decisions to follow Jesus but I think it’s Jesus that does all the deciding to claim us as His. Something that important shouldn’t really be left to us. There was no hallelujah chorus, no sense of planets aligning, peace flooding in – I felt no different, but, you know what, it didn’t matter. I knew, without all of that, that something had happened. God is a God of His word – if I cry to Him, He responds. Maybe it was those memory verses from Sunday School spilling truth inside.

I wasn’t birthed into or nurtured by a church. I fell into the Plymouth Brethren, but they didn’t know what to do with an eighteen year old, new born, spiritual baby. They presumed a church history and experience that wasn’t there. It’s a long time ago now. Maybe they did things and I can’t remember. Not being mothered or fathered made me very independent and self-sufficient. I grew up solving my own problems and not needing people which was never God’s plan. And that has been one of my biggest struggles – to allow other people to come alongside and help. I don’t trust the knowledge that someone else might have, that I haven’t found out all by myself. I do rejoice when I hear testimonies about people spoken to, healing that happen and people coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus, but I go into worry mode. Wil they be like I was – new spiritual babies left without the planting in a church that needs to be there? Will they become self-sufficient and think they can go it alone?

When I was introduced to things like singing in the Spirit and the obviously supernatural side of faith, it wasn’t common stuff at the time – not in my church. The Toronto Blessing was a long way off. It was at the very edge of mainstream churches, perhaps it still is. People talk about the fear of God and swapping words around and calling it respect. What I felt that night at Spring Harvest, in that marquee with thousands of Spirit-singing people, was fear – scary fear. It was Isaiah chapter 6 encounter-with-God fear. It was trembling, pushed-down-to-my-knees fear. It was nothing diluted down to respect. There were other things that I was running away from at the time when I headed to Cyprus – but running from such a tangible experience of God was at the top of the list. I was also running to something. The school offered me an opportunity to teach in a primary school – which it never delivered!

Mum’s letter, or rather her church pastor’s letter following hot on its heels, was a life turner. The Brethren church in Limassol has been bitten badly by the charismatic movement and left with scars. They were deeply suspicious of any movement by the Spirit – which didn’t stop the Spirit moving, just made it that much harder. I was living on a battlefield of what the Spirit seemed to be saying and what was allowed. I was stamping on sparks, trying to toe the party line, but the fire of the Spirit wouldn’t let up.

When I finally left the church, and the job, seeing as I couldn’t have one without the other, it broke my heart. Leaving is not part of my DNA. I have purposely left two churches to date and neither decision to leave was an easy one. It was never down to personality clashes, arguments that I would not resolve or perhaps even doctrinal differences. There were no bitter divorces, just a recognition that our paths were going in different directions. There was a letting go on both sides with a blessing. There was never a gap between one church left and another one entered. I didn’t “church-hunt” and I didn’t take a break from church. I just happened on the next church family and joined in. 

There’s no truth whatsoever in the notion that you can be a Christian and not be planted in a church. God chooses not to make Himself enough in that situation. As much as there is a God shaped hole, there’s a people shaped one too. The body of Christ is so called for a purpose. Maybe the reason why I have not fallen by the spiritual wayside is because of the church families I have been a part of over the years. I don’t claim that they are easy people to live with. No one is easy to live with.

Do I really want to add to anything I said about infertility and barrenness? As a church we don’t do childlessness at all. We fling prayers at it, and prophecies and pictures of mothers and prams, and expectation, and accusations of a lack of faith, and a heavy sense of failure, and compassion, and helplessness, and embarrassment in the end – but very rarely acceptance and a good path forward. Yes, it still hurts but I have found my peace in it all. God is not some heavenly vending machine where we push His buttons and the right stuff comes to us. Sometimes the wrong stuff comes – the rain that falls on the righteous and the wicked alike. How can we come alongside a suffering world and speak to their afflictions if we have been shielded from it all? God wants real life in His people, not the Disney endings we think we are entitled to.

I don’t know how to thank God enough for leading me into the writing world. I confess that I don’t write enough and perhaps I only focus on the Disney endings when I do write. There is a writing journey that I have yet to take.

I love my walk with God. Maybe the road hasn’t always been to my liking. Sometimes the company stinks. Sometimes it doesn’t.  It’s a road I don’t want to leave, don’t want to be lured away from, because it heads to the one place I want to go – to the embrace of my Father.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Stranger

I forgot to be the stranger
And made the world my friend
I let it plant its seeds in me
Its ways within me wend

Another home I used to have
A somewhere-else to be
A longing buried deep inside
That used to call to me

Another path I used to walk
Secure beneath my feet
Another song was on my lips
A melody so sweet

Times past the world had nothing
That I would want to claim
Nothing that would slake my thirst
No zeal to stir my flame

Yet I have laid foundations here
I’ve built a solid home
Forgot that I’m a sojourner
That I was born to roam

My shelter should be just a tent
Not solid walls and floor
And You are all that I should need
Not trinkets, toys and more

Remind me I’m a vapour
A mist that’s breathed and spent
Only in Your presence can
I ever be content

Fix my ears to hear Your voice
My eyes to seek Your face
Cause my heart to beat like Yours
Eternal God of Grace

(Psalm 39:4-7)

Sunday, May 14, 2017

My Fat Soul

For a while, a long time ago, the pastor of my then church encouraged us all to learn verses off by heart. It seems to be something we do well with our children, but not something we do well with our grown-up members. I remembered the verses because I made up little tunes and sang them. One such verse was Psalm 27:8 in the New Living Translation:

“My heart has heard You say, “Come and talk with Me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”

Any verse learned by heart is useless if you don’t make use of it. When I woke this morning after an unpleasant dream my heart heard the invitation to “come and talk with Me”.

Yesterday I had read a newspaper article in the “I” about Teresa May. Someone had apparently interviewed her and asked not the usual political questions of Brexit and balancing the books but about how being childless affected her. The implication seemed to be that being childless hindered her ability to govern. I’m not a fan of Teresa May, not on the basis of whether she has children or not. I’m not a fan of austerity and the way it’s seen as the only solution to dealing with the deficit. I don’t like the injuries inflicted on the-already-struggling and the labels stuck on people.

The article went on to talk about the long history of the childless woman being an object of suspicion – there must be something wrong with a woman who does not have, or want to have, offspring, Too many old wounds were ripped open. I have to admit that sometimes it is the Christian faith that does the ripping open – as if the only relevant role for a woman in any sphere is child bearing, and anything else a woman chooses to do, or has thrust upon her by nature, is something much less that what she was created to do. The article went on to talk about it not so much the childless woman we are suspicious of, but the woman who wields power.

Words read sometimes have a habit of burying deep. For some that simply proves that not reading newspapers is a good thing. There’s so much bad news out there - why open the door and invite it in? I’m not in favour of silencing the voice I don’t agree with, but addressing it and speaking my truth to it.

The whole atmosphere of my dream was one of “being something less”. The house I lived in, particularly the kitchen, wasn’t tidy – I should have done something about it. I had a cow in a barn and a sheep in a sheep pen – they had no reason for being there. I had no children running about the place – it was just wrong not to have children. I had a husband who loved his life, his house the way it was, his cow and his sheep, who was entirely happy – but he didn’t fit the mould because he wasn’t a father, or a successful business man, and he didn't mow the lawn on a sunny afternoon. It was a dream that picked holes in us and the life we had chosen to live. I woke up unhappy.

I sat down with a cup of tea, an open Bible, a notebook and a pen – and a heavy heart. I wasn’t even sure if God could say anything to make it better. Then I read Psalm 36.

“Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
    your justice like the great deep.
    You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
    People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
    you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light.” (Psalm 36:5-9)

The phrase God’s “river of delight” struck a chord. We all need the taste of something other than drudgery, and something other than battle-tainted water – we need to be truly refreshed. The commentary I was reading talked about feasting on the abundance of God’s house, and drinking from His river of delights as nurturing a “fat Soul”. We seem to live in a world characterised by leanness. Efficiency has replaced abundance. Fatness of soul stands out – big soul, big heart, plenty. I may live in a land of famine at times, but in God’s house there’s no ration book! I get a fat soul not by just one morning sitting with God and reading His word – but with a lifetime of coming into His presence, reading His word and making best use of what I learn.

I thought about how often we take little sips from God’s river of delight – enough to take the edge of our spiritual thirst, but never enough to make spiritual dehydration a thing of the past. I had a picture of God offering us the cup of His delights and gulping down the water, having it run not just down the throat, but down the chin too – dripping. What a lovely image. God is not just the sunshine on my face but He is the taste of refreshing water on my tongue.

 I wrote my own little poetic response to the dream, the talking to God, the listening to His word and the letting it soak into my soul.

I woke up this morning under a cloud.
Bad dreams and troubles my spirit had ploughed
Head down and hurting I called to the Lord
All that was in me before Him I poured
He spoke to me gently truth to my soul
Tending to bruises and making me whole
I place in His hands the wounds and the blows
He’s been there before me, my injury knows

Sunday, May 07, 2017

I confess...

“I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin.” Psalm 32:5b

I read these words this morning. It put me in mind of a confession box in the Roman Catholic Church. I grew up in a Roman Catholic household although we weren’t strict about our faith. I progressed through all the rites of passage necessary – first confession and first communion. The communion bit was fine.  The confession bit less so. My confessions were very superficial and quite often fictional. I racked my brain to come up with things to confess, things that would satisfy the priest, but never really touched on the real stuff. The real stuff at the time featured doubts about God’s existence and, after having read Eric Von Daniken’s book, “Chariot of the Gods”, my growing obsession that God was really an alien visitor to the planet. There were other things – impure thoughts about Gary Hyman, the gorgeous boy in my class, and what I would really like to do to the bullies that made my life hell. I kept those things under wraps. They were too beautiful, too painful, too unformed or too ugly to share.
Doing the washing up this morning God asked, “What would you confess to right now if you were in that confessional box? What would you say? Would you parade the superficial stuff or the fictional stuff today? Or would you confess the truth?”

“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” Psalm 32:3-4

Keeping silent is never a good thing.  Things ignored don’t often go away the way we would like them to. Maybe just the speaking things out to another human being is enough to defuse the bomb that builds up inside.

I have to confess to being angry.  

Yesterday afternoon – this is stupid, I know, but it touched a raw spot. We’ve had some wonderfully dry weather and the garden is breaking out in growing thing, weeds mostly and grass. It’s not knee high. Every neighbour was out there mowing, weeding and painting gates. Even the wee boy next door was doing his bit with a bright yellow plastic gardening fork. I was reading a book. Later that afternoon I noticed that someone had cast a pair of gardening gloves on to my unmown front lawn. They weren’t new. They didn’t come with a price tag still attached but I read a message in them – sort your garden out, woman!

In my more reasonable moments I think I believe it’s not a deliberate action. It’s the kid next door, the kid with the yellow plastic gardening fork throwing things, more like. I’m not always that reasonable. I confess to being angry. I’m not quite sure who I’m directing my anger towards = probably myself. We don’t possess a working lawn mower so there are practical issues involved. I think Joe and I must live in a “Bermuda Triangle” kind of place – lawn mowers just stop working for no reason at all once they come through the garden gate. I am angry with myself that I like reading books more than I like doing my garden. I like reading books more than I like doing a lot of other thigs too – housework for instance. If we were a hotel we would have been closed down long ago.

So, yes, I confess to being angry. Angry about the lazy streak in me. Angry, perhaps, about other people pointing it out! 

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Early Days

I had planned a half hour walk around a nearby wood.  We’ve had a few nice sunny days so I didn’t think I would need to do the gymnastics involved in avoiding the usual muddy puddles. I missed the turning on the right – they are building houses out that way - and climbed higher on a single track road. I encountered riders of bikes and of horses, a runner and a few cars. There’s a lot of open sky up above the city, and fields, forests and lochs.

I snarled at a raven, it could have been a crow, sitting on the fence. I’d read an article in the local paper of ravens forming unruly mobs to attack lambs. They peck out the eyes and the tongue and abandon the dead body. It had nothing to do with hunger, just mean-ness. Ravens are the Einstein of bird world. I wondered if they had picked up the habit of ganging up and tormenting the vulnerable from watching people, particularly the politicians.

Then I saw it – a path leading off the road, a style to climb over and a loch in the distance. I wasn’t quite sure it was a public path, not then, not the first time I had walked along the path many years ago. There were notices that it was a site of scientific interest.

I parked the car. There was a perfectly decent gate and I’m probably not as fit as I used to be. Climbing over the style would have landed me in a gorse bush anyway. The road seemed a little more substantial. The notices were still there along with a few others closer to the water warning people that drowning in lochs was always a possibility.  Throwing sticks into the water for dogs to fetch was also discouraged. This water, apparently, was our drinking water so best to keep it as clean as possible.

All those years ago I’d written a short story inspired by the scenery and the “Beware” notice. I was reminded of it as I walked.

Early days

The rattle of stones along the path stirred me from my thoughts. The man was tall and stringy, legs burnt deep brown by the sun, his feet lost in heavy black boots with thick laces. A green jacket bulged in a dozen places with pockets almost spilling out their contents. As he folded himself down beside me, he removed a wide brimmed hat, skimming his hand through short spiky grey hair.

"It's a rare gift you have there, Ma'am." I couldn't place the accent but knew it wasn't the local Highland burr.

"Gift?" Curiously I lifted my face, hastily wiping a finger under a red rimmed eye, rubbing away the last trace of tears.

"To sit so still for so long." He grinned, "Not something I have ever managed to master." There was an awkward pause, "I bet you didn't even see the deer that just ambled across the path there."

He was wrong. I had watched the deer delicately picking its way through the bracken, turning a well-shaped head in my direction, before bounding off in tidy hops into a tangle of thick trees.

Suddenly there was a crackle of static and a tinny voice coming from one of the pockets in his jacket. The actual words were indistinguishable and muffled.

"Ah…that 's my boss. He sent me out here to tell you that you were trespassing." He sounded apologetic. "This place has been designated as an area of scientific importance." He pointed towards a surveillance camera, currently aimed at where we sat.

"Do you think I have stepped on the last surviving member of a rare species of beetle or something? There was a stile back there, just near the fence and there were no notices." My words were sharp and cutting, and I could feel the tears pricking at the corner of my eyes. It seemed as if the peace I had managed to catch hold of, like an elusive fragrance, was gone. "I am sorry, I've had a hard day. I…shouldn't be so rude. I am picking up bad habits from the kids I teach."

"Rude school children? We had a bunch of them on a school visit last week," he said sympathetically. He unwound his legs and stood up, holding out his hand to help me to my feet. He stood for a while, chewing his bottom lip, his finger playing with a loose green button on his jacket.

"Can I show you something?" His eyes twinkled with anticipation. Without waiting for an answer, he took my hand and began to walk further along the path. We veered off towards the left. The ground beneath my feet was soft. Tufts of prickly heather sank down beneath our weight like a sponge, springing back up behind us.

"It's not far." His stride was confident and sure, as I stumbled beside him. I was beginning to feel a cold wetness seeping through my shoes, and heard a soft squelching noise as I walked.

We stopped. Lifting my head I could see a blue stretch of water from a loch that had been hidden by the trees. There were birds soaring in erratic circles high in the air. The man wasn't looking up at the sky, but down beside his feet. Gently, he knelt down, his fingers separating a cluster of light green leaves.

"See?" Nestled beside his finger was a tiny orange flower. Four petals stood upright like sentinels, overlapping at the base. Very gently, he teased the petals apart. A small red tipped rod stood in the middle.

"Not beetles...this is our baby. Doesn't have a name yet. See this tiny bit here in the middle? This is awesome. Squeezed very gently this gives off a tiny amount of really foul smelling liquid. We have yet to discover all the properties of the substance, but early tests show that it has medicinal qualities. We think that it has the ability to repair cells…it's just amazing. It's still early days…but this could be the breakthrough in the treatment of so many illnesses. And there are a hundred other unique species of flowers in this reserve."

I found myself grinning at his enthusiasm, feeling somewhat repaired in my spirit. I reminded myself that for me, in my new teaching job, it was early days too and I had my own breakthroughs to look forward too.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Lost Things

I have just finished reading a book on my kindle – but before I tell you anything about the book, just let me tell you about my kindle cover!

I had knitted a cover, a purple creation with cables and wonderful striped buttons. Sadly, I lost it somewhere – actually that could be quite relevant to the book that I have just read. My sister, Mags, dug through a drawer and found a cover replacement – not plastic, but thick stretchy fabric, the kind of fabric that might make up a swim suit for a well-padded lady to reign in all the flabby bits. There was an orange lady on the front. It did the job and I hadn’t yet thought about knitting a new cover. A group of young ladies completing a textile and fabric course were showing their wares – stuff sewn, pillows, dresses, waistcoats…and kindle/I-pad covers. I asked the tutor if any of the girls would be willing to sell me a cover for my kindle.  A couple of the girls came knocking at my door later on in the day. We didn’t exactly haggle – she possibly might have given it away but I paid a fair price. It’s pink and padded with a heart on a front pocket. It’s good! I can now drop my kindle from a great height, not that I would, and my kindle is safe.

Back to the book – “The Keeper of Lost Things” by Ruth Hogan. I won’t tell you any spoilers. The start of the story, I suppose, is a man losing two precious things. The first is his fiancĂ© to a road accident. The second is a gold medallion that his fiancĂ© had given to him, that he promised always to keep, but it slipped out of his pocket. He never recovers from the loss of either and would like to stay beneath the blankets of his bed. A friend rouses him and persuades him that life is still worth living. He begins to collect lost things – a button, an umbrella, a jigsaw puzzle piece and fills up the shelves and the drawers of his study with all these items making a careful note of when and where he found them. The intention is to find the owners and reunite them with their last property.

A quick aside about lost things. My husband recently lost his walking stick. It’s not the first time. I am a familiar face at the lost property office of the police station. No one it seems hands in walking sticks. We have replaced more than a few. This particular stick had lasted a long time. Then it was lost. A friend at work described Joe without his walking stick as “Bambi on ice”. Imagine his surprise then while waiting at a taxi office for a ride when a driver of another taxi, a different company, pulls up, jumps out, waves the lost walking stick with the words, “Sir, Sir, I have been looking for you…”

Back to the book. So the book is really a collection of short tales about the owners of the lost items and how they came to lose them. The different people meet and their paths cross, and all the characters are so well written. It’s a lovely book. The last couple of chapters made me cry.

Having read the book, I felt the urge to go for a walk, much as he did, and try to find something lost. Fetching the Sunday papers from the co-op seemed to fit the bill. I chose not to take a direct route but walk the path around the estate. There was little to be gleaned in the things lost and I had to resort to poetic licence to claim anything significant.

There were a lot of cigarette butts and bottle tops and the occasional scattering of a broken bottle. The council hadn’t weeded the path so it looked somewhat neglected. I picked up a torn page from a notebook which had a picture of a horse drawn on to it in red ink. I folded it up and put it in my pocket.

I passed dogs and dog owners. Some owners were in the process of losing their patience as the dog stopped at every tree and lamp post along the path to sniff and lift a leg. One dog had lost his freedom to bark, or bite, his face muzzled. Another dog was just on the verge of losing his puppy cuteness.

Trees were losing their blossom to the wind and I walked beneath a shower of confetti. Daffodils and tulips were losing their spring newness. A girl on a swing was never in danger of losing a ball she clutched in her palm. A heron beside the burn lost the grip gravity had on him and flapping long wings lifted into the air.

It was a nice walk, perhaps made nicer because I wasn’t head down, marching forward, but looking about me, eyes searching everywhere. There was nothing lost to claim, to reunite with an owner. There was the folded paper in my pocket, but it wasn’t anyone’s masterpiece. Perhaps I lost a few of my inner cobwebs.

Loosing and finding – I was reminded of a different day, a different walk to a different co-op. It was cold and frosty, the ground beneath my feet satisfyingly crunchy. There was no gate as such out of the field, just a hole. Beside the hole, slipped into the chinks of the wire fencing was a pair of glasses. They were kid-sized, NHS coloured plastic frames. Had I read the book at that point I might have tucked them into a pocket. I thought about writing a short story explaining the events leading up to the glasses being abandoned in such a way. I have met too many young people, yes, even been one of them once upon a time, who resent having to wear glasses, hate being called four eyes, when they clearly had just the two. I would never have had the courage to leave mine anywhere – it would be risking life and limb with just blurred blobs in front of me. And facing my mother without them? Risking life and limb, indeed.

I have a feeling that had Jesus been walking with me today he would have found plenty of lost things. He would have noticed the heron, and the blossom, and the various dogs – but I think he would have noticed the lost people.

Some forty years ago, a different day, a different walk, not particularly to a co-op, He found me – as lost as they come. He didn’t quite tuck me into His pocket, but he took me home to His Father. I have rarely been lost ever since!