Thursday, July 26, 2007

Seeds and weeds

My husband is not much of a Sci-Fi fan, but one of his favourite films is “Blade Runner”. It’s all about a policeman chasing replicants – people who look and act like human beings, and are totally convinced that they are humans, but they are not. The great mystery is whether the policeman, played by Harrison Ford, is himself a replicant, but just doesn’t know it. The secret, so my husband insists, is in the origami animals.

I was reading one of the parables this morning – the one about the farmer who sows good seed, and then the enemy comes along and sows weeds. When the workers realise what has happened they ask whether they should pull out the weeds. The farmer tells them to wait until harvest time. If they start pulling out the weeds now, chances are they will end up pulling out the good plants by mistake.

When it comes to working out who is a Christian and who isn’t, it is pretty much like “Blade Runner” – according to the parable, it is hard to tell.

I can remember a few weeks towards the end of term. It was not a good time for me. I felt that I was being assailed on every side. I know that 2 Corinthians:8 talks about being pressed on every side by troubles but not being crushed and broken – well, that might be many people’s experience, but it wasn’t mine. I was feeling well crushed and broken. I was reacting in a less than positive manner!

Being a teacher of Religious Education, I am often asked about my own faith. In this incident, the question was whether I was a Christian or not. I generally feel that if I am asked about my faith, I have an opportunity to witness – I have not initiated the conversation. Sometimes, it is not appropriate to talk about my faith. In this particular incident, all I could think about was how bad a testimony I had been giving. I was missing the mark by a long way. It mattered that God’s name was honoured, and I wasn’t doing that through my actions.

The word “Sometimes” crept out of my mouth. The minute I said it I was overwhelmed by a sense of shame. My intentions were good in that I did not want my faithless behaviour to be associated with God. I had badly let God down. I felt I was doing more harm than good to His kingdom, and perhaps until I sorted myself out, I should not claim to be His citizen.

God’s reaction came to me so clear - “Do you seriously think that I would ever disown you just because right now you have a lousy testimony? If I refuse to disown you, I expect that you will not disown me.”

Anyone looking over my life in those weeks would have been hard pressed to believe that I was a Christian, based on the way that I was living my life – and yet, I was. I looked pretty much like a weed – and had those workers come along, I would have been pulled up without a second thought.

Right back from the time Eve looked on that apple and took a bite, we have been inclined to be swayed by what we see. We look on the outward actions of people where God looks at the heart.

I have nurtured too many weeds in my garden and pulled up too many genuine flowers to know that I really don’t know enough to make judgements about who is or who isn’t a seed or a weed. God knows!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Custard pie on the walls

My husband seems to be under the impression that I need projects to occupy my time during the summer holiday! Some projects crop up year in year out and never shift off the “to-do” list – like the garden and the decorating. Amazingly enough I have made serious inroads into both. I guess the fact that it is permanently raining does not make for nice days out and picnics, or stretching pasty white limbs out of the patio chair trying to persuade my skin to accept a tan.

The garden project saw me digging out the borders, spending quite a bit of savings money on some plants and battling with the beetles and creepy crawlies. God has been kind enough to take over the watering part of it! Sadly though, one small bedding area seems to have attracted something that eats the plants. All I have left is a few stalks – not leaves and no flowers!

The decorating project is also in hand – though not mine I have to add. I combed my way through the local directory for someone who knew what they were doing and owned a set of ladders to do the hall, landing and stairs! It would appear that summer is a busy time, and, although many were quite happy to have a look and send me a quote for the work, it would be sometime in September before they could start filling in the pocks and crevices with Polly filler.

One man assured me that if anyone could do my hall, landing and stairs in the immediate future, I would have to ask some serious questions about why he was not already busy with other jobs! That man, when I eventually found him – I didn’t ask any questions at all. I liked him! He talked about painting and decorating the way I would talk about writing poetry. Although he had only been in the business three years – as in turning professional – he loved it! Three years? The other man would be totally freaked out with that – him being in the business for three decades! I just liked him, instantly trusted that he would do a good job.

We are going for “Powder Blue” in the bathroom – did I mention that we are having the bathroom done too? We had a new bathroom put in a few months ago, and on account of a hole in the wall where the pipes used to run but no longer do, and even though we have done the bathroom before, we decided to leave that to the expert too. And for the walls of the hall landing and stairs we are going for “Custard Pie”. Why don’t they just say a nice pale terracotta shade? “We have custard pie on our walls.” Doesn’t quite make the grade!

They started today. The nice man bought his nephew with him – his apprentice. I had a quick check to see if he had ever sat in my classroom in a previous incarnation – but no, he was an unknown. I popped out the house to buy a packet of Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers for the men and, on my return, settled down with the laptop in the front room.

I pretty much left them to it. I suppose if I had a hankering to be a painter or decorator I might have watched them, but they seemed to know what they were doing – filling in pocks and crevices with Polly filler.

It was at the end of the day, Just as they were leaving, that the apprentice worked himself up sufficiently to ask the question that had been burning inside all day.

“The Bible upstairs? Do you…are you…a Christian?”

It turned out that he had just recently moved to Inverness. He went to one of the town centre churches. He fair beamed on discovering a fellow walker on the Way. If I was a little concerned about the lack of experience of the two of them, I know now that the apprentice at least will be doing the best job possible – because I am not his boss, but Jesus is! I suspect that his uncle might also be a man of God – which is why I liked him from the start.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Oh Bhoy!

Joe and I went to Glasgow for the weekend. There were the usual family visits to slot into the days, but we were also sightseers!

Having his roots in Parkhead in Glasgow, my husband is a Celtic man and we joined a guided tour of the football ground taking in the behind the scenes rooms and corridors. The Board room was quite impressive with a wall long trophy cabinet. The guide talked her way through the various cup and shields. She just oozed a love of Celtic from every pore. It was almost like listening to a mother talk about her child’s achievements and showing you the handprint pictures on the fridge door – it was that kind of love!

We then progressed up the stairs to the Press Room to watch a short DVD presentation of the history of the club. Neil Lennon was narrating. The golden years of Jock Stein and the 1967 team were praised and the years of not much silverware in the cabinet were glossed over. Again the pride in being a part of Celtic came across strongly.

Next we went outside to sit in the dugout alongside the pitch. We were not allowed to step onto the grass. It was mowed to perfection! Don’t tell anyone, but I sat in Rod Stewart’s seat! He and Billy Connelly have seats for life. Joe was telling me that for a long time, Billy Connelly, or Rod Stewart, one of the two, kept his love of the Celtic quiet and fooled the world into thinking they were a Partick Thistle man(?). Football supporters are fiercely tribal – but none more so than the Old Firm. To have admitted to being a Celtic man would have involved a drop in music or concert sales. Of course, once you are secure, then you can come out of the closet.

I also sat in the “naughty bhoy’s” seat. When the manager is getting a bit too involved in the match and the referee thinks he is misbehaving, he gets sent off out of the dugout. There is a seat just below Billy’s seat where he had to sit and watch the remainder of the game. Joe was telling me that on one of the matches when the manager got sent to the chair, he chose to stay there although the referee said he could come back, because he got a better view of the game from the naughty seat!

We didn’t see any of the players – they were away playing friendlies in other parts of the country. Apparently on the tour it is not unknown to bump into them, even though the places where they hang out, like the changing room, are off limits.

That gets me to Shaun Malony. It was a throw away comment that the guide made that caught my spirit. The difference between a good football player and a great football player is not always about natural abilities and skills. Apparently after the usual training sessions that all the players attended, Shaun Malony would always stay on for two or three hours afterwards practicing. The Japanese striker whose name I can’t spell, Nakamura, or Makamura – he also stayed on for hours afterwards practicing shots. I think it is those extra hours that makes the difference between being good and being great.

What makes you want to stay on for another two or three hours after an already gruelling practice session? I suppose that when a manager has a wide range of players to choose from, you want to be his choice! You don’t want to sit on the reserve bench, or watch the game from stands. You want to give yourself every advantage possible when it comes to fitness and skill – so you stay behind and practise! To want to play that much…you stay on and practise.

As a Christian I am challenged by that. I could just do what is required of me – even then, that is a challenge if you think of those words in Micah 6:8 – or I could be the best that I could be. It is what I do with those extra hours! To want God’s glory demonstrated in everything that you do – that much! “How much do I want that?” I should be asking myself, before I switch of the TV, or mark the page of the book I am reading – and go into the prayer closet, or the Bible, or to the house of a struggling friend and practice!

Be that "me"

I had a very stirring dream last night. It was a Sunday morning and I was leading worship. It was worship such as I don’t think I have ever experienced in the real world. It was incredibly dynamic and powerful. Although there was familiar songs coming up on the screen, and the keyboard players were people that I knew – there was a kind of reckless indulgence in God. We just knew that we were there not to sings songs that flowed, but that we were there to worship God and to usher in His presence.

There were lots of familiar faces and lots of unfamiliar ones too. One of the unfamiliar faces was an older woman sitting on the front row. As we worshipped, the Holy Spirit moved powerfully and she was just knocked off her feet.

Some of the familiar faces were people who had moved to another church in the city a number of years ago. Although we keep in touch, the connection is always tenuous and never the spiritual bond it used to be. Part way through this meeting, one of these people, a man, started to sing prophetically. I can’t remember any of the words of the song just that it was powerful stuff. It felt like we were enacting the passage in Corinthians that relates to worship – everyone coming with something to share.

At the end of the meeting, a rota sheet was being circulated among the worship team. Included among the names were some of the moved-away crowd.

I woke up. I was still there for a while, surrounded by a group of people simply focused on God. I could sense that all those thoughts like “What will people think if I say this?” or “Have I really got this right?” were just put aside. Honouring God was at the forefront of our hearts and minds. I thought about church unity and although to some extent I can understand how different denominations have grown out of one body of people – it just seemed so sad. It is sad that many people, myself included, are unwilling to dismantle differences. People leave one church to go to another and take with them grievances and hurts. People will always get hurt by other people, but sometimes those hurts become the directing force in our lives. God takes second place to our comfort.

The biggest thing though about the dream was the sense of shame that it provoked. There was a corporate shame in the church being so disunited – but there was also a personal shame involved for me. That kind of worship meeting should be a reality and not a dream. I should be an every Sunday experience – not a once in a while, or a Spring Harvest occasion – but every Sunday. Why limit it to a Sunday? Every encounter with God should be dynamic and powerful – and yet, speaking personally, my encounters with God are pale in comparison.

It’s more than whether I am prepared on a Sunday to bring my contribution. Whether I lead worship or not, I still participate. I think it is about where, not just one a Sunday, but every single moment of every day, God is placed in my life.

I am ashamed to admit that too often I am at the centre of everything I do. If I do something, it’s because I want to do it, or I enjoy doing it, or I get something out if it. I am ashamed that my heart is a lot cooler than I realised.

The “me” I saw in the dream was simply sold out for God and making the assumption that everyone else was just as sold out as I was. The “me” in the dream was not “me-conscious” but totally God conscious. The “me” in the dream was not hesitant or cautious but out on a limb. I liked the “me” in the dream.

I think that all God has got to say on the subject is “Be that ‘me’!”

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Fierce love

I have spent part of the morning leafing through my collection of worship songs, preparing for Sunday worship. In amongst all the new songs, there are a few hymns, some of which are simply handwritten on the back of another sheet.

I tend not to pick them. Because they have such regular meters they can often come out quite pedestrian and uninspiring. I know that there are those who would take the words and rework the melody but I like the hymns the way that they are! They stir my spirit and tend to be the songs that I sing for the rest of the day.

I think because of my time in the Brethren Church, hymns tend to me my natural worship language. I like order – clear melodies and structured verses appeal to the poet in me. I have just spent the last few days with Stephen Fry’s book “The ode less followed” and have just written pages of iambic pentameters.

I haven’t sung many of them for a long time, but I am amazed at how well I know the words.

“Living, He loved me
Dying, He saved me
Buried, He carried my sins far away
Rising, He justified
Freely forever
One day He’s coming, Oh glorious day!”

This is a chorus from a favourite. It is creed and sums up so perfectly what Christ has done for me. It is the gospel in a nutshell.

The hymn doesn’t have any verses in it that relate to what I do – only what Jesus did for me. As I sing the chorus - “Living. He loved me” – how does that make a difference to the way I live my life? To be loved unconditionally by Almighty God – wow!

I was thinking about God’s love and the Spirit spoke to me and said, “Do you know that you are fiercely loved?” He kept repeating the word “fiercely”.

The dictionary defines fierce as “violent in force, intense, passionate, strenuously active or resolute.” God does not demonstrate a love that is anything less than these things. How He demonstrates that love might be with the utmost gentleness – but He is passionate and resolute.

Reading Psalm 18 this morning, I could see some of this fierceness in the words. I can fully sympathise with David feeling overwhelmed and weak and being confronted with enemies that are far too strong for him to deal with. He call out to God – and then see what happens – verse 7 – the earth quaked and trembled, the foundations of the mountains shook…Smoke poured from God’s nostrils…fierce flames leap from his mouth….the brilliance of His presence breaks through the clouds…He thunders from the heavens…He shoots arrows and scatters His enemies.” That is fierce!

No wonder so often God tells us not to be afraid! When we get that response from God when we are overwhelmed and cry out to Him – pity that we often cry, but that is all we do – we just cry. Sometimes we just allow ourselves to be overwhelmed without crying out to God and we never give Him the chance to be fierce.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Then sings my soul

A week or two ago I watched a programme called “Why birds sing.” A man was setting out convince a number of scientists that birds sang for the pure pleasure of singing and not just for either attracting a mate or warning off rivals. He insisted that birds sang long after they had found their lady birds and the rivals had flown away. Birds just sang too much for that to be the only reason. One scientist stated that birds with the largest repertoire of songs get the pick of the ladies – they attract more attention. It is not just plumage or nest building that indicate a good gene pool, but also whether the male birds can sing a selection of songs. All these extra songs were just for practice.

At one point, our non-scientist man took a clarinet into the local zoo and settled down in front of one of the bird cages. It sounded pretty much to me that he and the bird were having a jamming session. He would start a musical phrase and the bird would bob his head up and down and join in. I suppose the scientists would say that the bird thought the clarinet player was a very shy lady bird to attract, or a very stubborn rival who wouldn’t fly off.

At another point in the programme he had persuaded a friend of his to re-enact a famous musical duet. In the early days of wireless, the radio people had recorded a duet between a lady on a cello and a nightingale in a wood. He had another cellist set up in a wood playing the same music and hoped that the nightingale would join in. After three hours of playing, the nightingale showed up and added his warble! But again, is it just for the sheer joy of singing or because he perceived the mate or the rival?

The scientists remained unconvinced.

In so many areas of life what happens in the natural world has something to say about what happens in the spiritual world. As people we sing for a million different reasons. In worship we often think about singing, with the words of a song, as a way to draw closer to God. OK, it is more than just the singing – it is the heart attitude, the desire to worship. We seem to use worship to draw close to God - but what about the chasing away rivals? What about worship to send the enemy packing? I am not sure that the lyrics of many of the current worship songs are up to it!

I can remember many years ago, a worship leader recognising that we were all tired and battle weary in the meeting. There are songs that you could choose that I class as “comfort songs”. They assure you that you are the Father’s child, that God is your strength and such stuff. Rather than do that, he specifically chose lively songs about victory and insisted that people dance. There was no stopping between songs with aptly chosen Bible verses or homilies – just one pounding song followed by another. At the end of it the tiredness had gone, the sense of battle weariness had lifted. It was an episode of using worship in a war I suppose.

Incidentally nightingales, like most birds have two voice boxes. They can harmonise with themselves!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

She is about to blow!

It must have been two or three weeks ago that I received an email from a friend that after many years of a marriage that seriously wasn’t working she had decided to seek a divorce. She wasn’t walking away easily and had been fighting for a long time, and perhaps there was a turning point where things might have improved, but it came too late. I have had friends that have not struggled so hard to keep their relationship alive, so I kind of breathed a sigh of relief for my friend. They had tried and it had not worked out and it was perhaps better to walk away and be happier part than miserable together.

She sent the email to a block of friends. I have never really learned how to do that and doubt I have a block of friends I would want to say the same thing to.

Last week, one of the “block” replied. It might have been intended to be solely for my friend, but the way the person had replied, the “block of friends” received the email. I should have stopped reading long before the end of the first paragraph. I am not sure that it wasn’t deliberate, that the sender intended us to get it.

I was not pleasant stuff. That is an understatement!

I can think of only one time when I replied to something far more quickly than I should have. Someone on FW had written a poem that in my opinion glorified war and the mood I happened to be in was “righteous indignation”. I didn’t wait for the fires of passion to cool a little and I rattled off a paragraph of criticism. It wasn’t kind, or constructive, or anything I would normally want to put my name to – but I was wound up and hit the send button. I don’t think my finger had lifted from the keypad before I felt regret. I was ashamed of myself – I had just become so blind to anything but anger about her, that I had shelved reason. I think straight away I wrote an apology – it was stronger than an apology. I asked for her forgiveness. She wrote back eventually, apologising for writing something that I had been so seriously offended by.

I reckon this must have been the position that the replier was in. He was a lot closer to the couple than I was and knew much more of the history than I did. But that said, he said more than he should have. When we are angry or hurt, sometimes it is not the issue of the moment that spills out but every other little injury, bruise and scar we think they may have caused us along the way. So many things he had probably bitten his tongue over in the past just spilled out. It was like a volcano erupting.

I was thinking about it this morning –about volcanoes erupting, and how every little resentment gets thrown out like uncontrolled molten lava. God said to me, “These things will come out. What is inside a person’s heart, in certain circumstances, will come out like that, and it isn’t always pleasant. When the pressure in a volcano builds up, weakness in the rock structure allows the neat and the liquid rock find a way out. In people it is no different – those angry words, unless dealt with will find a way to the surface.”

He was telling me all this for a reason. This morning, I felt like a volcano that was about to explode! I am frustrated about many things – some personal, some not so personal. Things are changing and I am finding it difficult to adapt. It is a battle ground. There are a million skirmishes – some I win, most I don’t. It all became a bit too much and just before we left for church this morning, there was spillage. As ever it was over a small thing, but some of the bigger things slid out too, and with my stiff upper lip I just about managed to contain the worst of it. I thought maybe the best strategy to employ was to go and sit at the back of a Catholic mass and let the liturgy wash over me. God had other plans!

It happened that a friend at church had planned to wash people’s feet. He was talking about serving and imitating Jesus, and out came the bowl and the water and a towel. I had a dream years ago of this same scenario, and all the details came flooding back. It was all very emotional. Although we were given the option of passing on the feet washing, I didn’t really feel it was an option. I felt that my feet were fine, but that state of my heart was a bit of a mess. If someone had told me that the basin held acid, I think I would have still complied!

Something happened – apart from totally collapsing into sobs. It wasn’t so much about what came out – I didn’t think I said anything coherent. It was about what went in. The man’s humility and love for me released a peace that I hadn’t felt for a while.

That doesn’t mean that my problems are solved. A concerned friend spoke to me later on in the afternoon and I was able to share some of my troubles.

I have no wish to explode. I don’t want to make things so bad that they can’t be mended. I don’t want to wish that I could take my words back. I long to do the ostrich thing but I won’t. I will try to allow all the people who love me to help me.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Iambic Pentameters

If Joe asks me tonight what I was doing to today I can tell him that I was writing iambic pentameters!

I started to work my way through the first chapter of Stephen Fry’s book. The first chapter was about meter, that is the rhythm of the poem, and iambic pentameter which is a particular regular rhythm of ten syllables made up of five pairs with the stress being on the second syllable in each pair. Do you have any idea just how much I have always wanted to know that? Seriously! I have probably written poems that follow that pattern, but never known the technical name.

Once all the explanation has been clearly set out, he lets you loose on exercises. You have to write on the book. He has this to say about defacing books – “You may wish to use a pencil so that you can rub out your marks and leave this book in pristine condition when you lend it to someone else – naturally the publishers would prefer you to buy another copy for your friends – the important thing is to get used to defacing this book in one way or another”. I guess the library should be glad that I did not borrow their copy!

The first exercise was identifying the pairs of syllables and the stresses on the second syllable. It wasn’t as easy as it looked and the important thing was reading it out loud. The next exercise was writing some iambic pentameters of your own. He gave a few of his own examples – it is amazing what slips out.

“There’s nothing you can say to ease my pain.”

I once watched a TV program following Stephen Fry interviewing different people who were manic depressive. I watched it because I have a friend who suffers from that condition and I thought maybe he would give me some insight in how to simply be a better friend to her. Stephen Fry was diagnosed with the condition a while back, but it was only after suffering for a long time that anyone sought to identify his condition. I can remember him being asked that if he had the chance of being “normal” would he want that. He thought about it and said “No”. For all the agony that he went through, he didn’t want to give up the ecstasy.

“You sharpness rips my paper heart in two.” That’s another one of his examples. My own were less deep, but then the point wasn’t to be poetic or deep, but just to feel the rhythm.

The man who walks through cowpats often stinks. (That sounds like something Confucius might have come up with)

My cup of tea has gone completely cold. (Very true!)

Graffiti scrawled upon a white washed wall. (I am quite proud of that line – it sounds quite poetic)

The dusty spiders’ webs speak of neglect. (No guessing where the inspiration for that one came from)

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Little Faith

Little faith falters at “suddenly”
Demanding notice
In good time
For hurdles and obstacles along the path
To prepare the heart
Plan strategies
And accumulate resources.

Little faith focuses on storm clouds
Assesses the speed
With which they form
Measures their darkening hues
And predicts the force of the downpour
Mental equations worked out
To the detriment
Of the spirit

Little faith feels
The uneasy shift of the boat
As waves swamp
The sides
And as water levels rise
Fear is fed
And faith seeps away

Little faith fastens an eye
On Jesus sleeping
Unaware and uncaring
Unable to deliver
The captain going down
With the ship
With all souls on board
No future but
A watery grave

Little faith fears
Shrieks and shouts
Above the squall
“We are going to drown”
Blind to other possibilities
Eyes closed to hope
Salvation invisible

Little faith finds
Stirring him from slumber

He stands
He rebukes
Dreadful waves
And dread-filled men
And little faith
Fixed on Jesus
The author, the source
Of all faith
Begins to grow

Three bought, three borrowed

I can’t remember the last time I went to the library. It must have been a very long time ago as the lady at the desk insisted on up-dating my card and checking that I had not moved home or changed my name or anything. I didn’t find what I was looking for but never the less came away with things – a leaflet with details of a poetry contest and three books. The book that I was looking for, according to the computer the keeps a cyber eye on what is where and with whom, was on a shelf in the library at Fortrose, and another copy was due back some time this week in the library at Fort William.

At the creative writing weekend, someone recommended Stephen Fry’s “The Ode Less Travelled – unlocking the poet within.” It was on the shelves at Waterstones and I had neough money in my purse. I find that I am not content to lament that I can’t write poetry as good as Omar Khayyam. I can give up when faced with the masterpieces that other poets write, or I can do something to sharpen the tools that I already possess and become a better poet. So… I no more excuses, I will see where Stephen’s insights and challenges takes me.

A second book I bought, this time from the Christian bookshop was “The Gospel Centred Church” by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester. As much as some of us don’t like to embrace change, our church is changing. In my quiet times and prayer times with God this week, I am being made aware that I am changing too. I was reading the opening couple of chapters of Nehemiah yesterday. From the time he heard the news from Jerusalem to the moment he shared his concerns with the king, there is a period of four months. The study I was reading suggested that during that time, God was building into Nehemiah the vision and resources he would need to be the man for the job of rebuilding the wall. God has a role for me in the church that is perhaps different from what it used to be and I want to be prepared. God would like to build into me a vision of my place and resources i will need. So…having a clearer picture of what church can be all about might help.

Third book bought doesn’t qualify as a book. I sometimes get tired of following a daily Bible study and give myself a break, or swap studies. I have had just such a break and feel the need to get back to structure, so my third purchase was Bible study notes that stretch from July to September.

The borrowed books? One is a children’s Scottish poetry book. I am into poetry at the moment. Adult poetry can be a bit too cerebral.

The second – Stephen King “On Writing”. It must have been Monday morning, fresh from the weekend, with a list of “must have” books that I went on line at Amazon. I compiled an order and was about to hit the confirm button when I noticed the post and package charges – I could have bought another book for what they were intending to charge me. Many of the titles I had foraged through the “used copies” button and none of the qualified for free delivery. Seeing Stephen King sitting on the shelf (his book, not himself)– that is one less book to buy. But will I want to give it back in four weeks time?

The third book – Nigel Tranter “Columba”. As part of the Highland Year of Culture we explored the life of Columba. I was inspired by some of the episodes – his meeting with and scaring off the Loch Ness monster being one of them. We learn a lot about the faith by looking at the lives of heroes.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Just a minnow

Ah love! could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire!
Would not we shatter it to bits - and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!

I grew up in a mostly book free environment, but one book I seem to remember was a small poetry book – “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” I sounded very exotic and I would dearly like to say that reading the book ignited a love of poetry – but I didn’t read it. I looked at the pictures, but poetry never made that much sense to me.

I went for a walk today, high up in the woods that look down on Loch Ness. Following a path marked out with yellow arrows, I climbed higher and higher towards a viewpoint. Some kind soul, in loving memory of a dear wife and mother, planted a bench and engraved on a small silver label were the words of Omar Khayyam. I am sure that if Joe had been with me he would have recognised the words and the source, but I wrote them down in my notebook and googled them when I got home!

A rubaiyat is a quatraine – a four line verse and although Omar Khayyam’s complete work may have many verses, each one stands alone and complete.

I swam around in a small pool at the creative writing weekend and thought I was a big fish because I could string together a few lines that rhymed while others in the group struggled. Then I read Omar Khayyam’s lines on a bench and I was cut right down to size. I am nothing more than a minnow! I am in awe of you, Mr Khayyam!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Sitting this one out

I suppose that when you don’t particularly hold strong religious views, or even fairly mind ones, there are things that you would not give a second thought about that someone else might agonize over. The lady who was leading the creative writing course thought she had just found another source of stimuli for creating story scenarios and characters but the pack of tarot cards really didn’t go down so well at the creative writing course I attended at the weekend.

For the most part, most of the attendees were able to look at the cards objectively and use them as a starting point for a story, much as they had been using postcards and photographs earlier on in the day. The tarot cards proved to be a serious problem for one of the ladies. She had been a missionary out in Kenya fro thirty years and although she appreciated that no one was going to put the tarot cards to any occult-ish use, she didn’t feel comfortable handling one of them, studying it in any literary manner and excused herself from the activity. Her sister showing solidarity went with her and they sat out side on the patio while the rest of us struggled to write anything half decent from the pictures on the cards.

I have to confess that I struggled. I had no problem with the tarot cards as such. It was a piece of card with a picture on it. If anyone had set up an ouija board and told me to use the words it spelt out in an opening sentence to a story, it might have been a different matter. Perhaps if I had some knowledge of how to use the cards to tell someone’s fortune, that might have been a problem too. They were just cards with pictures on them and without the power to scare me.

The struggle was in how the two sisters might have perceived my actions as an act of compromise. I hadn’t gone out of my way to share my faith or anything, but in introducing myself I had mentioned that I was a Christian and had written inspirational poetry that had been published in Christian anthologies. They did not look at me with any kind of expectation that I would join them on the patio and “sit this one out”. I toyed with it. Part of the reasoning behind staying was that I had paid money to come on the course. I didn’t want to spend an hour sitting on the patio. I also didn’t want to give the tarot cards any power over me. I wanted to prove them to be just pieces of cards with pictures on them and nothing more. Sometimes a person’s perception of Christianity is based on what Christians don’t do or what they disapprove of. It becomes very negative and very narrow. There was a kind of wave of not-quite-tutting from the rest of the attendees, although one lady, not me, tried to defend their stand. I am really not sure whether I had made the call. (I had had very little sleep the previous night because of other things on my mind!)

I admired the two for sticking to their guns and I wondered about whether that passage in Romans about not eating food sacrificed to idols might apply to using tarot cards as literary aids. The task was not a good one and provoked not good opening paragraphs for a short story – so I might well have preferred the patio.

The leader the following day must have been aware of the feelings of the two ladies, but that did not stop her trying something similar with horoscopes this time. I caught the eye of the ex-missionary, expecting her to yet again absent herself from that activity, but she just contented herself with shaking her head in despair!

I had more trouble with the horoscope than with the tarot card surprisingly enough, but managed to come up with a wonderful opening paragraph for a story from it!

Young love

I know the summer holiday began on Thursday afternoon and I spent it watching Tim Henman claw his way back into a fifth set in a second round Wimbledon match where he eventually lost to a Spaniard in need of a decent haircut. It is always the Monday that the holiday becomes a reality! That is today! So now I can say to myself and actually believe it that I am on holiday for the next six weeks!

Friday, the technical start of the holiday, was spent in a flurry of cleaning. I usually take a week to work my way to clear the mess accumulated over the last few months but we had guests staying and beds needed to be made ready. A daughter of a friend was home from university and her bed at home had been booked by a more organised pen-friend. We know Dani well – she was our cleaning lady when she was much younger, with her menagerie of pets to support: she was also my piano teacher for a short while until I put myself under too much pressure to earn colourful stickers for playing pieces well; she occasionally gate crashed our Bible studies with her enthusiastic and youthful perspectives. Yes, we know her well – but we didn’t reckon on the new boyfriend coming with her! We have enough bedroom and beds to accommodate quite large families – but I was rather anxious about whether they would use enough bedrooms and enough beds!

Earlier on in the week there had been a conversation about whether the boyfriend would get the grilling from the father – the inquisition that normally comes when romance stirs in the daughter’s heart. The folk there talked about trust and seemed to agree that they trusted the daughter enough for her to make the right decision about the boyfriend – so they didn’t need the grilling.

However, they didn’t have the daughter and the boyfriend staying with them. I felt under pressure to act as parent-in-absentia and although I knew their views on boyfriend grilling, they are not my views! It is fine to say “She’s trustworthy”, or “She sensible and mature”. She is also in love right? He is accessible right? It seemed to me that sometimes being mature and sensible and trustworthy really go out of the window when romance comes into the equation! I am speaking as a woman who has gone through it. You really don’t get as trustworthy and sensible and mature as I was then – but I battled to stay that way when Joe walked into my life.

So as they went out for long romantic walks in the evening I watched the second hand on the clock and hoped they would be home before long. As they sat in the front room at two in the morning, I hoped that talking was all they were doing! I found it hard to draw a line between giving too much space and too little.

In the end, yes – it was about trust. On one of the mornings that the daughter and I had a little time before I drove away to my creative writing course, and she went for a scavenger hunt round Rogie Falls, she told me that they had talked so much. He wanted to know everything about her – and yes, she liked kissing him!

What the two of them really did was to remind me what is was like to be romantic. In the busyness of school and church and home, of ironing clothes, washing dishes and mowing the lawn, sometimes married life gets a little pedestrian. It is like you are oiling the wheels of an efficient machine – and marriage is not supposed to be like that! I am not sure I can physically do a two in the morning chat having discovered quite a bit about the man I am married too. The romantic evening walks might prove a bit much for his dodgy knees and vie with the programmes on TV that we both like to watch. I am sure there is a web-site dedicated the fifty ways to be romantic!

Watch this space I will keep you appraised of my latest moves and chat-up lines.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Silent Prayers

Silent prayers

Guilt gnaws
I don’t pray enough
Coins in my pocket
A candle in my hand
The gaze of Jesus
Safe in his mother’s embrace
Looks down upon
A rippling wave of flames
Candle stubs
Clustered together
Dripping wax
My own
Tall and virgin
Bows to the flame of another
A bright tongue of fire
And strains upward
A thread of smoke
Silent, my candle speaks
Saying what I will not wait
To put into words