Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Crying to Order

So there I was sitting outside my husband’s workplace.  I was early.  I had stopped off at the recycling bins at one of the supermarkets to dispose of three bags of bottles and jars in assorted colours.  I am not a druth.  The bottles had been collected over a few weeks.  There was something almost satisfying about hearing the smash of glass deep in the container and knowing it was a good smash – not of a window or a dropped wine glass on the kitchen floor. 

I was listening to the radio.  They were talking about audition interviews.  Apparently the boy who played Elliot in ET did a superb final stage audition interview.  He was required to cry when the government threatened to take his alien off him.  They played the relevant clip over the radio and agreed that he cried well.

This led to inviting drama teachers to phone into the show and explain how to cry to order.  I thought this was perhaps a little irresponsible.  It might be suitable for auditions for films when there things were necessary but I could see where crying to order could be exploited. 

One method involved doing something to one’s diaphragm.  Something to do with tightening something up. 

The other method involved thinking about a past memory of something really sad.  Of course, you are warned not to go overboard.  Pick a memory that is sad, but not too sad.  You have always got to be in control.  There are a number of actors that cry well – Julia Roberts, Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman.

I thought I might have a go at crying to order.  I still had a good ten to fifteen minutes before my husband tumbled out of the office door and into the car.  I didn’t really understand the diaphragm approach but I thought I could come up with a few sad memories. 

My eyes were beginning to water and the first tear was about to fall. 

What did I say about being irresponsible?  I very promptly put my sensible head back on.  Yes, I could probably cry to order and do it really well.  Truth be told, the sad memories are very recent ones that really should not be tampered with.

Just because I don’t work at my husband’s office doesn’t mean that I am a stranger to people working there.   I have bowled with these people. I have quiz-nighted with them. They know me well.  I think they might even fear me!  Behind every great man there is a great woman.  My husband is a great man and that makes me a great woman.

I pictured myself sitting there in the car acting my heart out – weeping buckets.  Then I pictured a knock on the car window and a very concerned person looking in.

“Are you OK, Mel? Shall I go and fetch Joe for you?”

Within minutes there would be a trail of folk to the car with cups of sweetened tea and sympathetic cluckings.  There would be a posse roused to track down the man, woman or child (in my line of business it would most likely be a child somewhere between the ages of 11 and 18 years old) and wreak vengeance.

I kid you not!  It is all entirely probable.

Best dry my tears quickly before anyone spots me weeping. I can’t imagine how embarrassing it will be to explain that I am just crying to order just to prove that I can. 

Sitting there in the car, pulling myself together, I was glad to know that people care about me.  Where I am too distressed to know how to accept the comfort of friends and family there is always God.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction…” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Verse 4 goes on to say “…so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God”.

Too many people in really distressing situations cry alone because we don’t always give them the comfort God gives us.  Let it not be so.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Heart's Time

I suppose I could make this into a book review but I choose not to.  Ever the one looking for stimuli to stretch my imagination I noticed a book posted on the CLC Facebook page.  The post was all about Lent resources. 

Last year for Lent Joe and I successfully gave up chocolate.  Long car journeys where a Bounty bar had been a strong feature, Bassett’s Jelly Babies had taken centre stage.  With the phrase “Jelly me!” Joe would slip one jelly baby into an outstretched palm when the road was straight or when queue of cars and lorries was particularly slow.  “Uber jelly me!” was for two jelly babies.  Ah…we thrive on these lovely little routines of ours.  This year the Lent intention was to use the car on only essential journeys.  The definition of “essential” changed with the weather conditions.

I went to the bookshop to have a look at the book – “The Heart’s Time” by Janet Morley.  Packed with poetry and reflective commentaries for each day of Lent and Easter it had caught my interest.  The shop didn’t have the book.  It was assumed that I wanted it to be ordered and a couple of days later I was informed “my book” had arrived.  I have a thrifty gene somewhere in my string of chromosomes.  It takes a lot for me to open the purse and splash out on something but I splashed anyway.  I am a sucker for poetry. 

Because I hadn’t had the chance to ready any blurb about the book I had assumed that it was Janet’s poetry and he commentary about when, where and why it was written.  It was a collection taken from many different poets. 

I read the final poem today – “And that will be heaven” by Evangeline Paterson.  I have checked the rest of the pages to see if there are any more but there is just a long list of poets.

Things that come to mind on finishing the book:-

  • I finished the book!  I am a great starter of things – knitting projects, crocheting projects, gardening projects and reading books.  I am not always a great finisher.  It wasn’t a hardship to keep reading day by day. I love poetry.  That’s not to say that I loved every poem in the book.
  • I now know more poets that I used to.  There have been times, since my book was published last year, when I think about teaching a poetry or creative writing class.  What has always stopped me has been my general ignorance of the subject.  I am a teacher and I am a writer and you would think it was a no-brainer – and it probably is – but the teacher in me and the poet in me are not entirely convinced.  Steps of faith don’t require me to be entirely convinced!  I still like Roger MCGough.  I’ve discovered I like R S Thomas.  Carol Ann Duffy remains a mystery to me.
  • I know less about poetry in general than I used to. A review of my poetry led to a comment, made to me personally, that my poetry was simple and was not meaty enough for serious debate.  Basically, had Janet Morley known that I even existed, my poetry wouldn’t have made it into her book. T didn’t react or take offence as I had never thought they would be debated and discussed. Having read the poems Janet selected – I see what the reviewer meant.   I am not sure that I want someone to have to wade through metaphors and similes, to have to speculate on what I wanted to say. But I confess that I am starting to stretch myself on that score.  Reading through the lists of poets at the back of the book I think I might have been thrilled if my name had been there.
  • I know more about the structure of poetry than I used to.  Janet slings around the technical terms like the pro she is. I came to the book with a smattering of poetic jargon.  I learned from Stephen Fry how to form iambic pentameters.   I had a vague notion of sonnets and haiku. Now I know much more.
  •  I should have followed through with the task at the end of each meditation.  Writers are always looking for things to write about and I didn’t really write that much.  Sometimes the act of writing something down makes it more real and obliges you to do something else – to change something or demonstrate what you have learned in what you do.  I know myself well enough to know how challenging I find that.
  • I underlined things.  I felt that some kind of acknowledgement that I had the read the chapters was required.  I felt that I was breaking some unwritten law but equally compelled that it was necessary.  I guess that it makes the book really and truly mine
  •  The book was just the right thing for me to be reading through Lent and Easter.  It was like peering through windows at what other people were thinking and experiencing about Easter.
I feel like I have been introduced to a roomful of new friends!  We shall try hard to keep in regular touch.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Longing for home
I’m dressed in flesh for
A little while longer
Patient with its limitations
Its hunger and its hurts
Soon will come the time
When I will dismantle
This framework of bones and
Step out of this canvas of skin
Gently will I smooth them out and
Fold them away
Then clothed in my immortality
I will walk again among the stars

"Love. Loss. Hope: The Art of Easter 2014"

It was the final hour of the "Love. Loss. Hope: The Art of Easter 2014" Exhibition at King’s Fellowship. I was minding the quiet room.  

It wasn’t quite the same quiet room it had been the day before, or the day before that, when I had visited with friends and family.  The walls were in the same place and no one had moved the door but the contents had changed somewhat. 

For just a few days the Breathe Chapel in Merkinch had moved into the quiet room with its benches, wood stump tables and ceramic pathway.  The artwork that usually hung on the walls of the chapel, or littered the bookshelves and window ledges was also there breathing peace and rest into the room.

They were moved back to the chapel and a couple of soft sofas, a round glass table and a lamp took their place.  It wasn’t the same quiet room and no one really stopped and sat down on their way through the exhibition.   The room might have maintained its quietness but without the Breathe Chapel breathing their peace it was just another room.  There was no invitation to linger that had been present then.  I might have hurried through like everyone else in that last hour.

Most of the time, I don’t really get art.  I get the obvious stuff – the still life stuff that looks like it’s supposed to look.  It’s the symbolic stuff that escapes me.  It was enlightening to hear the artists explain their ideas as I listened to the commentary on a MP3 player. 

I really liked a painting by Dot Walker entitled “Gethsemane”.  It was at the very start of the exhibition.  I also thought the screen presentation of the work of Nicholas Mynheer was very moving.

Artists use colour and shape and shade where I would use carefully chosen words and meter and rhyme to put across a message about God.  They use paint or clay or wood where I use words. We are creative creatures and mirror God’s love of variety. 

A lot of work went into the exhibition.  So many people contributed – not just the artists and the poets, but also the huge variety of people who recorded parts of the Easter story so that we could listen as we walked around the exhibition.  Lots of people manned the welcome desk or minded different rooms.  The exhibition was a real demonstration of unity among the individual Christians and different churches here in Inverness.

A lot of prayer also went into the exhibition – my own prayers as I minded the quiet room were that people would reflect on the artwork they had seen and allow it to touch the deepest part of them.

It was a touching testimony to Jesus’ journey from death to life. 

Plaudits must go to Heather Greig, the organiser and curator of the project.  She told me at the end of the day that “next year will be better…” This year was really good.

Inspired by all that art I dug out paper, coloured pencils and a box of soft pastels to create my own piece of art. I don't pretend to have any skill and the recycling bin is full of first, second and third attempts. What I had in mind, but no way of doing it that way, was one of those 3D plastic pictures.  You see two different images when you tilt the picture in different ways. What the enemy might have seen as Jesus' defeat on the cross was always a victory.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Speaking Peace to This Soul

I am the sea
In endless shifting scenery
Of blue and green
Mine is the untamed rage
Of a wave whipped fury
I am too deep to plumb

I am the boat
Built solid and strong
Of seasoned wood and workmanship
Yet tossed and tumbling
Tilting and turning
I strain to stay afloat

I am the fisherman
Born to the nets
Fostered to sail and to sea
So fixed and firm, yesterday
My hand trembles today
I am afraid

I am Jesus
And I determine the boundaries
Of wind and waves
I still this storm
I steady this boat and
I speak peace to this soul

Shipping Alphabet Flags

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Pi and I

It would seem that I share my birth date with p - 3.14 or 14th March for those who are slow to make the connection.

Some people in our workplace, on this day, challenge each other to recite p to as many decimal places as they can.  The current record stands in the 600s somewhere.  They also wear witty T-shirts featuring p. Someone who heralds from the Western Isles wears “p in the Skye”.  Another wears “Scotch p” whilst a strapping lad has opted for “Pop p”. I think if I went down that road I might have to be “Humble p”.

Yesterday my husband and I were catching up on TV programmes we had recorded but not yet watched.  One of them was “Person of Interest”.  In this particular episode Harold was on his own trying to save someone from either committing a crime or being on the receiving end of a crime committed against them.  He had taken the post of a Maths supply teacher.  The class was just too reminiscent of many that I have known – totally switched off and playing on mobile phones. Harold tried to inspire a little interest without much success.

He wrote p on the board with a string of numbers after it and asked if anyone knew what it was.  There were blank looks – not because they didn’t know but because they didn’t want to betray their interest.

Harold went on to explain that p consists of a string of numbers that never repeat themselves.  If you were to look through all the numbers that could ever be printed off – an infinite number of numbers – lurking somewhere an amongst the numbers would be your birth date, your home telephone number, your social security number and any other number you can think of.

That did capture the imagination of the class.

P and I might share a birth date but we are not twins.  P has a string of never repeating numbers where I always seems to fall into old habits and thought patterns that constantly repeat.  I find myself falling into old traps that I thought I had dismantled and thrown away. I suppose not all habits have to be bad ones but all habits have the potential to become ruts.

Faith is not about following some formula that always works.  It’s not like the never-let-me-down-once cake recipe.

I think faith is more like p.  Every day is a new never-to-be-repeated adventure.  God is the constant factor but everything else, my worship, my prayers, my sense of His presence, should always be new. I may find God in the familiar places but every encounter teaches me something new or something old with a fresh understanding.

Friday, April 04, 2014


I listened to the radio
While dozing in my bed
A summary of parliament
And all that had been said

I listened to the baying
From a most unruly crowd
And thought that such behaviour
Ought not to be allowed

Nothing spoke of order or
Respect for other views
Words were hurled like boulders
To injure or to bruise

And as they played their savage game
The heart inside me broke
These men of power behaved as if
Life was an empty joke

They cross their “T”s and dot their “I”s
With such a casual air
The safety net that many need
They cut and slash and tear

They live in castles far from me
And feast on gourmet food
For trifling pounds and pennies
The indigent are pursued

There is no honest shepherd who
Will feed and guard the sheep
And stand against the hungry wolf
His flock, in safety, keep

A better world is promised
With all we'll ever need
I fall upon my knees and ask
For God to intercede!

On Parliamentary Debates

It has been one of those weeks that has been tougher than most.  When this little flower-head has been crushed between the cosmic fingers it has not been a pleasant fragrance that has been released into the room.  I know I am only human but there is a huge bit of the divine in me too.  I seem to have missed the opportunity to be a good witness.

It has been the accumulation of lots of little things rather than anything big. To list them would take a few pages and not serve any useful purpose.

The other day was not so good.  I was under the impression that it wasn’t getting-up time.  I thought I had fifteen lazy minutes.  In truth my watch had stopped.  The radio was on.  Radio 4. There are some things that people should not be allowed to eavesdrop on.  What goes on in parliamentary debates falls into that category. 

I listened to the snipping and sniping from the previous day’s parliamentary debate and…how do I put this?  It was frightening.  Someone elected these people – not me – to take control of my country and have authority over things that touched my life.  To say that they were behaving badly was an understatement.  If their mothers had been listening they would have been digging out the soap ready to wash out a few filthy mouths.

They strut and flaunt their feathers
In brash and bold display
And those who see the sordid show
Are drowned in deep dismay

These were grown men acting like squabbling children.  They seemed delighted to score points off one another.  And I thought – we have put these people in control?

It comes as a comfort to me to know there is someone else who has a greater authority over things that touch my life.  The ConDems do not have the final say. They can be overruled.  All it requires is a man or woman of God to pray!