Monday, February 24, 2014

Duffy and Deep Poetry

Despite having two people in this household that really do love each other, the only valentine card that was send and stands on the top of the cupboard is from Jakey – a dog that we sponsor through Dog’s Trust.  It’s a big pink card with “Love You” on the front and “Thank You For Being Mine” in the middle.  There is an apology somewhere in the letter Jakey wrote about us not being able to visit him as he is wary of people. 

The other cards didn’t get bought or send because being so busy in the days leading up to St Valentine’s day, we both agreed to postpone it until the Saturday. A posh meal out and some pampering was promised but never happened.

One of my poetry friends bought a poetry book by Carol Anne Duffy.  He reasoned that if she was the current poet laureate then she must be the best poet in the land.  He read us one of her poems – “Valentine” ending with his comment –“What was all that about?”  It had something to do with an onion that made you cry.  I googled a few web-pages, mainly the GCSE revision sites, that attempted to explain the imagery.  I wasn’t far off when I made the connection between onions and Shrek and layers.

I have to admit that I prefer Jakey’s sentiments on love to Carol Anne Duffy’s.  Although I write poetry, I am not a great reader of poetry.  I am very much like many people who don’t “get it”. I buy poetry books on occasion, not because I love poetry but more out of a sense of obligation.  If I want people to read my poetry, I feel duty bound to read poems other people write – but I don’t always enjoy it!  You see, when I write a poem I know what I want to say. When I read a poem someone else has written I can’t always work out what they want to say - like Carol Anne Duffy and her Valentine.

A week or two ago I bought a poetry book “The Heart’s Time” by Janet Morley.  I hadn’t actually intended to buy it.  The CLC Bookshop Facebook page listed resources for Lent and the book was among them.  Poetry and Lent seemed the perfect combination and I went to the shop to have a look at it.  They didn’t have the book but assumed that I wanted a copy and ordered one for me.  It turned out that I did want to have a copy after all. 

The poetry isn’t Janet’s but taken from all kinds of poets – including Carol Anne Duffy – my own comment after reading “Homesick” was “What WAS that all about?” It’s a book about Lent meditations linked to the poems, and Lent hasn’t started yet but I can’t leave a new book unread. 
Each meditation begins with a poem.  Janet Morley then draws out spiritual truths from the poem.  She also points out some of the symbolism and imagery that I would have missed.  I have a tendency to underline bits here and there.

I would like to think that I am now writing better poetry but that wouldn’t be true.  I am not hard-wired to be deep and symbolic.  I can’t write what I don’t really understand and have no desire to hide what I understand in images that confuse.  No onions and very few layers.

What it really boils down to is…I am not very clever so what I write isn’t really clever either.  But it works for me.

Blind Stumbling

I have reached the end
No more paths to follow
or white rabbits to chase
My disquiet drives me towards
a cliff edge and
a steep fall

There is an Answer
Not to be gleaned from the pages of
a self-help manual
or tasted in the pure white spheres of bliss
contained in the medicine bottle
But I am broken
and stand in darkness
feeling myself unravelled
and fragmented
God is here but I am lost
Troubles that should push me
headlong into the shadow of His wings
confine me in a lonely embrace
Guilt rides on dark thoughts
exerting a biting whip

He shouts to me
bidding my surrender
not to circumstances but to His sovereignty
His finger of infinite gentleness
smears a healing word over my eyes
All blindness dissipates as
His light burns away my haze

My eyes are open
to the way ahead
A narrow path perhaps
but well-trod
The cliff edge I imagined
was never there

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Sandbags and Good Deeds

Reading the newspapers earlier this week I came across a small column pointing out the limits of sandbags.  Some parts of Scotland have really escaped the severe rain and wind.  The ground isn’t saturated and there has been very little in the way of flooding.  The River Ness has held its course, perhaps intimidated by the river’s flood defences currently being built. Friends who have a house that looks out onto the river have been issued with sandbags just in case of a flood.

The woman in the article said there were much better ways of defending a home.  Sandbags are, by nature, porous.  Given enough time the water will filter through and the house will be flooded.  Far better, she said, to invest in a metal panel of some kind that could be fixed over the door and along the base of the house.  That would certainly stop the water flooding through.  It may not be as cheap as a sandbag, or as easily portable, but it would be far more effective
A picture came to mind as I was reading about people piling sandbags in front of the door to protect their property from a flood.  The sandbags they trusted were not really that trustworthy at all.  I thought about what other things people were piling up in the hope they would be safe from another kind of flood. 

Sandbags and Good Deeds

A sandbag is a useless aid
Against the rising tide
You pile them up a hundred high
Behind the wall you hide
But sand can never stop the flood
And water filters through
Sandbags never will defend
The home that’s dear to you

A good deed is a useless aid
Against the judgement tide
You pile them up a hundred high
Behind such goodness hide
But good deeds are inadequate
Before God’s sovereign throne
The cross of Christ’s the only key
That claims you as His own

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Walk Slowly

You walk too fast
From here to there
The day is full
No time to spare

You fix your eyes
On urgent things
And trail through mud
And all that clings

You paint a smile
Upon your face
With body poised
You join the race

Walk slowly on
The path today
And gather gems
I cast your way

Witness spring
In small degrees
Stir the buds
On winter trees

See snowdrops weep in
Silent huddles
And rainbows arc in
Oily puddles

As wind tugs clouds
Across the sky
Watch snow swirl down
From way up high

My delights
Are plain to see
So cease from toil
Be still with Me

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"I Swear..."

”I swear that I will do my utmost to preserve and enhance confidence in the financial-services industry. So help me God.”

The oath, according to the news on the radio the other day, is the first of its kind in Europe.  For those who break the oath and fail to abide by the rules there are sanctions - blacklisting or facing fines or suspensions. The quarter part of me that is Dutch is very proud.  The three quarters part of me that is British is rather shame faced. If only it was an oath that all bankers are required to give! 

I can see the minions of the Bank of England running about in panic.  They would probably choke on the words and start to hunt for loopholes to exploit!  In the meantime they award themselves obscene bonuses.

I think the “So help me God” was optional and no one was obliged to put a hand on a Bible as they spoke.

It is all very noble but an oath can just a string of words.  People make them and break them every day of the week. Who’s to say how sincere someone is about that string of words? Are they genuinely committed to preserving and enhancing MY confidence in the financial services industry?  Are they really going to be held to account?

”I swear that I will do my utmost to preserve and enhance confidence in God and in His church. So help me God.”

I don’t think the Bible has a particularly positive stance on oath taking.  Our “Yes” should simply be “Yes” without tying it into anything.  We shouldn’t need anything more than that.  Our honesty should stand by itself.  

What promises do Christians make? The first thing that came to mind was baptism. I know that some churches have a particular liturgy that covers certain things.  I was baptised both as a baby and an adult.  Some folks would hold that once is sufficient and twice is going overboard.  I felt that something was required when I came to faith as an adult.  I am not sure that I remember making any particular promises as I emerged from the Mediterranean Sea once cold and breezy spring Sunday afternoon. 

A quick internet search of baptismal promises reveals this set of questions from one denomination.

As a disciple of Christ will you continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayer?

With the help of God, i will.

Will you proclaim the good news by word and deed, serving Christ in all people?

With the help of God, i will.

Will you work for justice and peace, honouring God in all creation?

With the help of God, i will.

I can’t think of any biblical accounts of baptism where the person being baptised says anything.  It is a presumption that a person will live differently with God at the centre with no need to say that they will.

I am thinking about Lent.  I have a few weeks yet before it begins.  You may take the Roman Catholic girl out of the church, but you can’t take the church out of the girl! It is just in the last few years that my heart has stayed towards celebrating Lent.  I do it not out of a sense of obligation or guilt, but simply because it’s an opportunity to draw close to God.
I found this sentence on a websiteThe renewal of our baptismal promises is the goal of Lent.”

It is a time to think about how thoroughly I immerse myself in the teaching of the Bible and whether my fellowship with other Christians, and with God, builds and edifies.  My prayer life might have improved but there is still a long way to go. It’s a time to challenge myself about whether the message I bring to the world, in words and actions, is a clear one, or a powerful one. I talk a lot about justice and peace but have to question whether I am doing anything to bring them about.

I want to work with God to be all that He intends me to be.

With the help of God, i will.