Saturday, October 24, 2015

This Fallow Field

He gave to us this fallow field
and asked that we might sow
a hundred thousand different seeds
and watch a harvest grow

He put into our hands the tools
the ox and sharpened plough
and sent us out to turn the soil
plant not someday but now

Not ever asked to toil alone
no tasks with labels “mine”
the field was His, the labour ours
no drawn dividing line

We planted potent seeds of love
through kindness on display
and sprinkled seeds of living hope
through lifting words each day

We searched out seeds of spirit truth
and planted wisdom deep
sowed endless joy and laughter loud
and sorrow’s tears to weep

We sowed the seeds of mended life
through hands that touched to heal
With subtle fragrance soothing souls
we learned again to feel

With lifted heads and upraised hands
we planted jubilant praise
We sang our Saviour’s victory hymn
that set our hearts ablaze

We scuffed our knees to rid the field
from bitter weeds of hate
Wielding faith and warrior prayer
we battled long and late

We sowed our seeds not sparingly
not from the miser’s hand
but freely given, we freely gave
and richly sowed the land

Today we see the harvest in
His church, this vibrant place
and the world sees a reflection of
the Father’s loving face

Intentional Seed Planters

I’m into the last week or so of the Bible study notes for September and October.  I have been faithful and not skipped too many days except for last week when I was on holiday. Not only had I taken my study with me but also a new notebook with the intention of keeping some kind of journal of the places we visited, the things we saw, the people we met, the food we ate – the usual fare.  The notebook is as new as it was when I left.  The writer in me didn’t really surface and it was too hot, and I was too miserably bitten all over to that care much. A bottle of insect repellent with all natural ingredients I had picked up from a craft fair, crafted to deal with the West Coast midge did little to stop the nightly onslaught of Maltese mosquitos. But I digress.

The Bible notes have focussed on the book of Luke. I’m more of an Old Testament gal really.  I feel like I have tramped over the gospels so often that it can be difficult to find something new – not that rediscovering something old doesn’t have its appeal.

We were into the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast.  I admit to groaning as a plethora of stuff I already knew flapped around me like bats from an old belfry.  I’d done the autopsy years back when I did my “O” levels, “A” levels and a degree.  I knew context and form and had a mental filing cabinet’s worth of information gleaned from sermons over the years.  I felt justified in groaning but settled down anyway and asked God to show me His truth in the stories.

The Bible I’m using is on my kindle.  Once I am done reading, and making copious notes, that I really need to start looking over, I have developed a habit of “googling” the story and making more copious notes from various study sites.

“Mel,” said God, “You asked for My truth on the story.  Why are you looking for someone else’s truth?”

He boiled the story of the mustard seed down to just a single sentence.

“It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden.” Luke 13:19

The man’s action to take a seed and plant it in his garden was a deliberate action.  He was not a farmer in the parable of the Sower who scattered seeds.  This man took a single seed and planted it.  He didn’t just clear the ground and hope that a mustard seed would casually fall into the ground.  His actions were planned and intentional.

He didn’t just plant any seed.  He took a mustard seed and he planted it. He was not looking for an olive tree to grow in that space or a raspberry bush – but a mustard tree. He wanted a mustard tree – not an apple tree or a date palm.  So he planted a mustard seed.

There is a whole thing about how small it was and how big the tree turned out to be – but he had to plant the seed to get the tree.

Last year, this time last year, I planted a whole load of bulbs. Incidentally it might interest you to know that once upon a long time ago I mistook a daffodil bulb for an onion.  I was in the process of chopping the “onion” up to add to the frying pan when the smell and the stickiness of the “onion” was so unfamiliar to me that I realised my mistake before I tossed it to into the pan.  Spring was greeted with daffodils, tulips and crocuses. Without the planting spring would have meant dandelions and buttercups, which nice as they are, sometimes, were not what I wanted.

My dad had an allotment.  A field on the outskirts of the village was given over to allotments.  The council, perhaps, had done a dig over, divided it into strips and rented them out for measly sums.  There was a long waiting list. Each strip needed a proper going over to get rid of the big stones and the clumps of turned-over grass and weeds.  Once ready, soil worked to a breadcrumb consistency, my dad planted vegetables.  He did not expect a neat row of carrots to simply appear.  He planted stuff.  He planted everything at once and months later we harvested everything at once. We didn’t have a freezer and took bags of goodies to church to hand out to people.  For a few short months were had lots of vegetables.

As Christians I think we all long for vibrant lives.  Many of us settle for something mediocre.  We are almost content with the spiritual dandelions and buttercups that come our way.  But we don’t consciously take a seed – of love, or mercy, or joy or patience – and deliberately plant it.

We listen to a sermon or make copious notes from Bible study notes but we don’t deliberately select an aspect of the character of God we want to see in our lives and plant the seed of it.  We just hope that it will happen somehow.

How do we become an intentional seed planters?

By knowing that we need to be.  Waiting for a tulip to appear when we know we never planted the bulb is a waste of time. Tulips don’t work that way. Or onions or carrots.  Or love or compassion – the really powerful variety!

By knowing what we want to see in the garden of our lives.  We need a vision of what God intends us to be. The man who planted the mustard seed had a picture in his mind’s eye of the fully grown tree.

By taking the seeds and planting them.  Seeds need to be pushed deep into the soil.  Lying a tulip bulb n top of the soil will not get us the tulip in the spring. There it shrivels in the sun or rots in the rain. It needs to be buried deep down. We need to plant our spiritual seeds deep, digging down into our heart.

God has all the seeds of His character we will ever need but leaves the planting of them up to us.

I want my mustard tree and I have the mustard seed in my hand.  It’s time to plant it.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

One Thousand Dulux Shades of Life

found fossil skies and dove slate cloud
warm pewter rain and urban chic pavements
my life has dulled to 32 dulux shades of grey

muted mocha office and roasted coffee briefcase
dusted damson suit and muddy puddle deadlines
Joyless work in 97 dulux shades of brown

lemon drizzle smile and sunny day laughter
soft vanilla calm and wild primrose passion
I miss her in 67 dulux shades of yellow

volcanic splash anger and red stallion rage
ruby fountain sorrow and rose trellis tears
grief poured out in 164 dulux shades of red

woodland fern stillness and forest falls peace
spring meadow serenity and minted glory promise
God comforts me in 76 dulux shades of green

fragrant cloud prayer and velvet ribbon praise
lilac spring dance and cotton breeze joy
gentle restoration in 76 dulux shades of violet

harvest fruit healing and earth glaze complete
honey beam satisfied and golden rambler awake
tossed high, I soar in 65 dulux shades of gold

Author’s Note:- Dulux, retailer of paint and home improvement products, boasts of over 1,000 colours of paint

Saturday, October 10, 2015

"Write With You"

The detective arrives at the crime scene.  There are yards and yards of police tape strewn between the surrounding trees and a small crowd of the curious gathers - late night runners, the river-side dog walkers, the arm-in-arm lovers and the last spill of theatre goers.  It’s still early enough to be the evening side of midnight.

“What do we have, Stenson?”

“Well, the victim is definitely not a poet.  We did a thorough search of her bag.  We found a small red notebook but nothing resembling poetry, rhymed or not, among the pages – not even a rhyming couplet or two.  Notes from church sermons it seems.  We checked all her pockets.  Thought we found something but it turned out to be a shopping list for a Blythswood Shoe Box appeal. Her car is the blue Mazda just over there – it’s clean.  We have combed the car inside and out for poems – the glove compartment, the boot and all the other hiding places.  There was nothing poetic anywhere! – just a collection of faded parking tickets scattered over the dashboard.”

There was, of course, no reason to be carrying anything poetic last night. I had been told quite firmly that all the open mic slots had been filled.  The flyer for “Write With You”, a fundraiser for Syrian refugees, promised a five minute slot for the bargain price of a fiver. I assumed that I could turn up with my poem, pay my fiver and win over the audience with my words.  I checked small print to discover that, yes, I should have phoned, and no, there were no empty slots left.

I thought about not going – an I’ll-show-them reaction.  I would buy a large bar of chocolate or two with the fiver and they would have less to give the Syrian refugees. Ha!

On leaving the house, I had thought that maybe the end of the performance of the open mic poets would dry up and there would be some general invitation – “Anyone else who would like to share?” I thought I had stuffed my latest poem into my pocket on the off chance. The chance never came and the poem wasn’t in my pocket anyway.  I must have left it on the open ironing board beside the front room door.  I did a thorough search of my bag – nothing poetic anywhere.  I am not someone who remember these things by heart. 

The only piece of paper, folded up neatly in my pocket, was a shopping list for a Blythswood Shoe Box appeal.  I turned it over, smoothing out the folds and taking hold of a pen, tried to reconstruct my latest poem. There were phrases that came instantly to mind but not enough to reproduce the original poem.

The absence of anything poetic really bothered me.  What if I was on some kind of reserve list?  What if I was called to the mic?  I wasn’t reserved or called.

In among all the poets were three big names – the heavy guns, all delighted to be asked to participate in the event.  Val McDermid headed the bill with Lin Anderson and Moira Forsyth underneath and in smaller print. They had longer than five minutes and read sections of their books or a short story. Both Lin and Moira were excellent. Val claimed the lion’s share of the evening with reading a section of her book and then being interviewed by the lady who organised the event. The organiser had, evidently, read all or most of Val’s books and asked questions about characters and settings and the process of writing.  For Val it happened in twenty minute slots cemented together with coffee breaks and walks.  I could do that.  It doesn’t sound too gruelling.

The venue of the evening was the Cathedral.  Even having a healthy amount of padding around my rear end, two hours on a pew was beyond me.  I can see why they usually stick to an hour’s service on a Sunday.  Had I been a toddler squirming around in my seat I would have been quietly smacked.

What came to mind was something from earlier on in the week.  I am learning how to creatively communicate Bible truths every other Wednesday. The speaker had talked about getting the attention of your hearer.  A listener ought not to have to write notes form a sermon.  The delivery should be such that they remember what was said. They were reeled in by polished storytelling skills.  Was it the hard pew or their lack of storytelling skills that had me fidgeting? A few thousand sales, if not millions, of their books point a finger firmly at the pew.

Of course, it was a Friday night and I’m never good for anything on a Friday night.  Post-traumatic stress kicks in after a week of work.

Cathedrals might have all the necessary ingredients for choir performances, but with speakers and a microphone there are too many echoes to deal with.  Wearing hearing aids has its advantages.  I rarely switch to the loop setting but last night I was able to hear most things clearly, perhaps more so than most, but it did require me to keep my head at a slightly unnatural angle – upright on a Friday night is not natural!

As I pulled up outside the house at the end of the evening my eye was drawn to a folded up piece of paper on the ground.  It was wet and all but floating in a puddle.  It was my poem – not on the ironing board at home and not stuffed into a pocket firmly enough.

Today I will address the lack of anything poetic on my person or in my car.  I will possess something, somewhere that identifies me as a poet!

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Truth Trimmers

As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.” (Luke 9:57-58)

I came across this verse yesterday.  My daily study is based on some of the middle chapters of Luke’s gospel.  It’s about navigating the ups and downs of life.  The disciples had some incredible ups followed by some miserable downs – much like myself in recent weeks.

Nearly 40 years ago I was that someone saying to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” He didn’t talk to me about fox dens and birds’ nests.  I knew about the part of having no place to lay my head. The journey he called me to make, then, and now, is not one of comfort and physically putting down roots or settling somewhere.  The journey always remains a journey.

The safe place in that journey isn’t in a house or a home, or a secure 9-5 job (with weekends off!).  The safe place is Jesus and He doesn’t make His travel plans according to my whims and fancies.  His priorities need to become mine.

Yesterday was not such a good day.  At work we were fundraising for McMillan Cancer Support. I know what cancer is and why we were raising funds but I spent a few minutes at the start of the day flicking around their website and watching videos of some of the personal stories.  I have my own personal story, not of surviving cancer, but of watching someone else not survive.  It surprised me to realise that it was seven years ago, not just three or four.  Time moves on.

I tracked down my blog entries for that time and found loss and grief, and humour and laughter.  It was not all dark.  But it was a lonely time.  My family don’t live nearby and my friends mostly didn’t know what to do or say.  There wasn’t a fox den or a bird’s nest, a place of peace or rest, built for such a time.

Things happen in the world. Bad things happen. Last week I went to a book signing evening.  A friend had published a book about the Holocaust. There are always untold stories still to be unearthed.  My friend had talked to survivors and written down accounts of their experiences.  Throughout the pages of her book she had sprinkled her poetry. It was more of a memorial of an old ill rather than a celebration of a new book.

A few lines of poetry came to me as I watched the power point presentation

they took my shoes

what use have you of shoes when
you stand on holy ground?

There are no easy answers to satisfy the questions asked about the Holocaust.  In the midst of great suffering there are no easy answers to any questions about the presence of God, the love of God or the omnipotence of God. There isn’t a one-size-fit-all answer to any of it.

There is a sense in which we, as Christians, inhabit a spiritual no-man’s land. We are convinced God loves us and is able to do the impossible – but sometimes the scenery we find ourselves in doesn’t match the truth that we know. 

For some of us it changes the way we look at God – He is a shade less loving or powerful.  We don’t say it out loud, but deep down we think it and it alters the way we live our lives. We cut the truth to suit our circumstances. Trimming the truth is never a good policy.

I know I have the potential to be a truth trimmer which us why I commit myself to reading God’s word as honestly as I can.  I have to choose to surrender the spiritual scissors. 

I might not have the defined space and the fixed boundaries a fox den or a bird’s nest – but I have Jesus.  He is my defined space and my fixed boundary. He knows all the answers and because I am with Him, I am secure and it is enough.